8 Convenient Truths about Climate Change and Energy

Amory Lovins is definitely a physicistAmory Lovins is an American physicist and energy efficiency guru who has been working on the topic since the 1970's. He's not exactly a household name, but he is well respected in energy efficiency circles.

He has produced some outstanding material on energy efficiency. I also believe he coined the term 'negawatt' which probably influenced the naming of 'negergy'.

In light of the ongoing "carbon tax debate" I thought it's time I revised some of the ideas communicated in his piece from Roll Call in 2009... From an Australian perspective.

1. Your opinion about Climate Change is irrelevant

Here in Australia, energy consumption is responsible for about 75% of our carbon emissions. Why are we focusing on abstract issues like carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes? We could (at the very least) be getting down to work on energy efficiency. Maybe energy efficiency could be the common ground in this debate.

Who would rationally argue against pursuing energy efficiency targets? It creates jobs, it strengthens our energy independence, reduces emissions and minimises environmental impact.

Your opinion of climate science shouldn’t change what you do about energy. - Amory Lovins

2. Saving energy is cheaper than buying it

This is probably the hardest concept for most of us to adequately get our heads around. Of course, there are often up-front costs involved. But, there upfront costs to most investments. It just so happens that the return on your investment in energy efficiency tends to be very high.

Protecting the climate is not costly, but profitable. - Amory Lovins

The example that Lovins uses to communicate this is a story from DuPont. Apparently they reduced their energy usage by 7% while simultaneously increasing production by 40% (1990 to 2004). In other words, they roughly halved their energy intensity.

3. Massive gains are possible

Just take a look at the analysis on energy productivity done by Mckinsey in 2007 as one example. Their analysis concluded that we could have halve demand growth by 2020 for an internal rate of return of 10% or higher.

Even that is probably too conservative. If you look at 'integrative design' or 'whole of system design' savings can be far greater. To give a simplistic but illustrative example: why change the set-point of your air conditioner when you could (with integrative design) do away with your air conditioner all together?

4. Oil waste is an opportunity

Australia is a net importer of oil despite our extensive reserves and active extraction. With a focused campaign to improve transportation efficiency we could reverse this trend and in the process sure-up our energy security.

Think its not possible? You might like to consider the fact that the average passenger vehicle is just 1% efficient at moving it's driver from A to B.

America’s warfighters needn’t battle over oil we would no longer use. - Amory Lovins

5. We no longer need coal power

Energy saving technologies are booming. Soon we will be reducing our energy consumption as fast as our plasma screens and air conditioners were increasing consumption in the 2000's.

Furthermore, electricity generation is fast shifting from big, inefficient and centralised power stations (such as coal) to distributed generation. Distributed generation can be renewable (eg. roof top solar panels for households) or more efficient use of fossil-fuels (eg. co and tri-generation for industry).

Renewables in 2008 even got more global investment than all fossil-fueled power plants!

6. Nuclear power is not viable

Even before the current crisis in Japan, nuclear power was going downhill fast. Nuclear is far too cumbersome, expensive and risky to be considered a viable option. It is not the carbon-free panacea that its proponents claim. What about the energy intensive mining, refining, transportation, construction, decommissioning and storage processes? What will power that: more nuclear power?

Nuclear power’s commercial collapse continues

7. Base load electricity production is not a problem

Have you heard about base load? It's the amount of power that we are always using. Look at our electricity consumption around 3am and you have our so called 'base load.' The factories that don't power down, the lights you didn't turn off at work, the standby power in your living room and your off peak hot water system.

It's our 'lowest' but 'always on' energy consumption. And it's very significant. So significant that some claim we need big power stations to satisfy this demand. Numerous studies have debunked this theory.

We can do it with renewables and distributed generation. It doesn't need to be big to power base load.

8. Ending our coal dependence is possible

Burning brown coal is about the dirtiest way to make electricity, yet we do it in abundance here in Australia. There is certainly no shortage of alternatives: energy efficiency can, on its own, go a long way to reducing our coal consumption. Beyond that we can start looking at the enormous renewable power potential in Australia. You need look no further than the 7 GW+ of wind power projects in the pipeline, for just one example.

Getting off coal is now feasible at costs ranging from negative to modest. - Amory Lovins

Natural Capitalism 10th Anniversary EditionIf you're intrigued by some of these ideas I suggest you buy a copy of Natural Capitalism. It's a book by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunters Lovins. Originally published in 2000, they released a 10th anniversary edition last year: ~AU$24 from Book Depository (free shipping worldwide).

Amazon, on the other hand, is only selling the original publication (for ~AU$21 including shipping at time of writing). Amazon can also be better value if you're buying a number of books in one order. Check out Amory Lovins' full listing.

- Ryan McCarthy

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