I’ve been slowly making my way through a backlog of podcasts since getting my new iPod for Christmas, and recently listened to a fascinating series of lectures on energy efficiency by world renowned expert, Amory Lovins. These lectures are being made available for free from the Social Innovation Conversations channel of the Conversation Network.
In the series, Lovins contends that the United States can cut oil imports to zero by the year 2040, and describes in great detail how that great feat can be accomplished by applying current and future advancements in energy efficiency. He covers a lot of ground, from efficient buildings, to lighter and smarter vehicles, to the energy generation industry, to the financial and political implications of a nation free of foreign oil. He’s never preachy, instead bringing concepts down to the bottom line ($$) – something everyone can get behind.
While listening to his lectures, I constantly found myself being challenged by many of Amory’s facts and recommendations. One of the biggest ideas, and the basis for much of Lovins’ work, is that energy efficient buildings, vehicles, are not , in fact, more expensive than their regular versions. Sure, if you only look at the up-front sticker price, the non-efficient stuff appears to be cheaper. But once you start doing net present value calculations and factor in the savings from reduced energy spending, the efficient technology pays for itself in only several years. For example, Amory’s 4000 square foot home/office in Snowmass, Colorado, is so efficient that it doesn’t require a regular furnace and generates a monthly electrical bill of only five dollars.
Lovins also proved wrong my longtime belief that nuclear power is the only viable large-scale replacement for coal and oil. Taking into account the time it takes to plan and build a nuclear power plant, along with the total costs for construction, operation, and disposal, small decentralized generating stations end up being far less expensive. In most cases, they can be setup over a weekend, and can be moved to new locations as demand requires.
I could go on and on, but instead, I’ll let you listen to the lectures for yourself. Amory Lovins is clearly a genius, and one of the biggest thinkers in the areas of energy sustainability. If you’re even slightly interested in these topics, check out this series. You can also find much more information on the website of Amory’s creation, the Rocky Mountain Institute.