One of the leading advocates of energy conservation explains why this could be a turning point for climate economics
By John Vidal read the complete article »
Temperatures dropped far below freezing this week in Snowmass, Colorado. But Amory Lovins, who lives high up in the mountains at 7,200ft above sea level, did not even turn on the heating.
That’s because he has no heating to turn on. His home, a great adobe and glass mountainside eyrie that he designed in the 1980s, collects solar energy and is so well insulated that he grows and harvests bananas and many other tropical fruits there without burning gas, oil or wood.
Nicknamed the “Einstein of energy efficiency”, Lovins, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has been one of the world’s leading advocates and innovators of energy conservation for 50 years. He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.
But for much of that time efficiency was seen as a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies. Now, he hopes, its time may have come. Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.
“Solar and wind are now the cheapest bulk power sources in 91% of the world, and the UN’s International Energy Agency (IEA) expects renewables to generate 90% of all new power in the coming years. The energy revolution has happened. Sorry if you missed it,” he says.
But just as with the 1970s oil shocks, the problem today is not where to find energy but how to use it better, he says. The answer is what he calls “integrative, or whole-system, design,” a way to employ orthodox engineering to achieve radically more energy-efficient results by changing the design logic.
Take his house, he says. By designing it to collect energy and to need no heating, it saves 99% of the space- and water-heating energy, and 90% of the electricity. “And it’s cheaper to build and saves construction costs,” he adds.
“It turns out that if you make [a] car out of carbon fiber, you also save two-thirds of the investment in water and half the energy space and time needed to put the car together. And it needs a lot fewer batteries because it’s holding less weight because the carbon fiber is light. You pay for the carbon fiber by needing fewer batteries and smaller propulsion system all round.