Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

Liveblogging a talk...

I have very mixed feelings. He started out with the foolish claim that increasing energy efficiency will decrease usage - in practice it depends on the elasticity of demand. On the other hand, he is giving lots of examples of corporations that cut energy use and emissions in order to save money. He advocates saving the environment by making money, through selfish businesses. Furthermore, he claims that we can move away from oil to cheaper fuels without national legislation, acting only at the state level and through private action.

I find his claims rather hard to believe, and it seems likely to me that he is exaggerating the benefits and minimizing the costs because of his ideological bias. For example, he says that cars can be made more efficient for free - making them more aerodynamic does not result in any higher manufacturing costs. If that was true, wouldn't selfish businesses have done it by now? Same goes for his claim to be able to make an SUV that gets 100MPG and costs a couple grand extra.

On the other hand, his focus on saving energy by saving money is refreshing, and means those of his ideas which actually are realistic can (and apparently do) become a reality.. He cited Schumpeterian creative destruction positively - and "central planners" negatively. And he embraces technology as the primary way to make the world a better place. This is not your average anti-progress treehugger. I'm down with that. Here's a great example:

"If climate is a problem, surely you agree that we should buy the most solution per dollar per year." - advocating energy efficiency and micropower as ways to get more carbon reduction per dollar than building nuclear power plants. He claims that private markets will not finance nuclear power, only central planners, and that this is evidence that it's not actually profitable. Anyone know if it's true?

Other choice quotes:

"Just let all ways to save or produce energy compete fairly - no matter which they are, where they are, what technology they use, how big they are, or who owns them. Who is against that? The so-called conservatives, really socialists in sheeps clothing."

"The greatest threat to national security is national energy policy.", "Current system strongly favors overcentralized system architecture, creating fat terrorist targets".

Ok, fine, I'm sold. I think his claims are too good to be true, but I sure like his approach.

He just brought on Wal-Mart's VP for sustainability - coincidentally, I'm wearing a Wal-Mart employee shirt today :). Wal-Mart is leveraging its buyer power to force suppliers (ie truck companies) to become more energy-efficient because it helps its bottom line. For example, truckers let their vehicles idle to provide heat and cooling while they are stopped, which is incredibly inefficient. By adding small auxilliary power units to 7000 trucks, they run a small generator instead of a giant truck engine, saving lots of fuels.

I wanted to ask him about the assumption that usage won't go up when efficiency does, but I have to run to another mtg and the Q&A hasn't started yet. I guess I'll try emailing him...

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