AmoryLovins - -’ testifying on Capitoll-lill Lovins...

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Unformatted text preview: /,-’/ testifying on Capitoll-lill, Lovins emerged PROFILES as the demand—side management version of a rock star. Symposia were held to de— M“ bate his ideas, and critiques were pub— . lished by, among others, the physicist and Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe. (Lovins, in turn, wrote a response twice as long as Enoironmentm’tsm’r most optimistic gum. Bethe’s critique, and Bethe conceded sev- BY ELIZABETH FLOLBEKF eral points.) Thirty years later, the world faces an— and a watch other energy crisis, and Lovins still sees limitless opportunity. He maintains that ut an electromagnetic signal exactly the US. can eliminate its use of oil by the same frequency as the earth's. He is 2050, even while reducing its coal and tour in the afternoon. Built into a moun- routinely described, even by people who natural—gas consumption, enjoying un- tainside above Snowmass, Colorado, it has don‘t particularly like or admire him, as a precedented prosperity, and preserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Al— flat roof, and several “genius.” Lovins first came to national attention though Lovins was one of the first to ap- dangers of global warming, in 1976, when he was twenty-eight. In an he believes that the problem seems so daunting only be cause those studying it have got the math wrong. “Cli— mate protection, like the Hubble space telescope, has been spoiled by a sign error," he told me. Lovins is a prolific writer— of books, of articles, and of technical treatises. During my first visit with him, he informed me that he had picked out a few of the most important ones for me to take home: papers on tepics like microgeneration, “super- efficient" building practices, I and data—center design were - ' . arranged in stacks that cov- ered nearly the entire surface of a large dining-room table. necklace of turquoise beads, serves as his oil-ice and “bioshelrer,” that is supposed to preventjet lag by send- for self—guided tours weekdays ing 0 Amory Lovins's home, which also is open from nine o’clock in the morning until curved stone walls, a sets of solar panels, some of which rotate to track the angle of the sun. The build— ing’s double-paned windows g I __ _ _ _ ‘ _ are lined with a polyester ELWQ - _ l ._ film that allows visible light :- "'" H " I ' " ' ' to pass in but prevents ther— mal radiation from getting out, and the space between the panes has been filled with krypton. Although winter— time temperatures on the mountain routinely drop be- low aero, the building has no fiJInace‘, it is warmed by sunlight and by heat that has been collected in, among other places, a pond that lies between the Xerox machine and the dining room. The first time i visited, Lovins had just finished doing some laundry in his front-loaded, energv—saving washing ma— chine. lle took the damp clothes out oft-he washer tuid hung them in a little glass— ccilinged room. It was a bright blue morning, and Lovins predicted that the clothes would be ready to wear by nightfall. In the win— ter, if the sky is overcast, it can take up to two days for items like bluejeans to dry completely, but essay published in Foreign .Afihirs, he as— might be the this is no problem, he assured me, pro— serted that the United States could com— had ever met. vided one is capable of thinking more than pletely phase out its use of fossil fuels and he might be th do so not at a cost but at a profit, “We twenty-four hours in advance. stand here confronted," he wrote, quoting Lovins is a short man with a salt—and- inge of tousled Pogo, “by insurmountable opportunities.” 3 in the midst At the time, the country wa d the first en— through a hundre gallons of gasoline, which at curt preciate the ing for several hours, and as l was packing up my things to go Lovins went to check on his laundry. it was nearly dry, he reported cheerfiilly. As I was driving back down the mountain in my rental car, it occurred to me that Lovins most impractical person 1 Then it occurred to me that e only truly practical one. “I don 'r doprobi’ems, "Amory Looms says. “I do solutions. his year, Americans will consume close to four trillion kilowatt hours of electricity. In addition, We will burn d and forty—three billion CHI ICE; pepper mustache, a fr black hair, and droopy brown eyes that give him a passing resemblance to Ein- stein. He wears Coke~bottle eyeglasses, a of what might now be calle ergy crisis, and the article created a stir, 9‘4 THE NEW YOlMiEll. JANUARY 22. 2007 prices will cost us some three hundred and sixty billion dollars, and twenty—six billion gallons ot‘jet fuel, worth fifty billion dol— lars. To heat our homes and businesses this winter, we will purchase sixty-two bil- lion dollars’ worth ofnatural gas and heat— ing oil, andjust to grill our weenies we will buy some seven hundred and seventy—one million dollars' worth of charcoal bri- quettes. In 2007, total energy expenditures in the U .S. will come to more than a qua— drillion dollars, or roughly a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product. With so much at stake, basic econom~ ics suggests that any significant inefl'icien- cies should have been wrung out of the systen'i long ago. It follows that further eftorts will cost more than they will re— turn. This reasoning is pervasive in the US, its most prominent spokesman be— ing Vice-President Dick Cheney, who once dismissed energy conservation as a "sign of personal virtue.” Lovins’s fiinda— mental premise is that this fundamental premise is wrong. “You know, there’s this oldjoke about the economist who’s taking his mannerly granddaughter for a walk,” he told me. “She says, ‘Oh, Grandpa, I see a twenty- dollar bill lying in the street. May I go pick it up, please?’ He says, ‘Don’t worry, my dear. It‘it were real, somebody would have picked it up already.’ " Lovins likes to say that he takes economics “seriously, not lit— erally." In his view, the streets are littered with meow—dollar bills. Lovins makes his living as the CEO. of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a con-- suiting firm that he tounded twenty-five years ago with his more at the time, Hunter. R.l\-I.I. used to operate out of Lovins’s Snowmass home; in recent years it has outgrown these quarters—it now em— ploys more than people—and has ex— panded into new oil-ices, some in Boulder and the rest down the road from his house, in a building that once belonged to a foundation created bylohn Denver. Lov~ ins calls the firm an “entrepreneurial non— profit," and its stated goal, which he often recites word for word, is to foster “the efficient and restorative use of re— sources to make the world secure, just, prosperous. and lite—sustaining.” Some of R.i\"l.I.’s clients embrace this goal in its entirety, others at best selectively. (While I was visiting Lovins, he delivered the “edit‘ient and restorative“ spiel to a repre— sentative ofthe Singaporean government who had come to discuss manufactur- ! | ing“, her response was to giggle nervously.) ' R.M.I., for its part, does not demand commonality of purpose. In “Why We Work with the Military,” an essay posted = on R.M.l.’s Web site, Lovins rejects the ' criticism—sometimes voiced by his own employees—that by consulting for the .- Department of Defense the institute is simply helping to kill people in a more en- ergy—efhcient manner. “A molecule of oil burned or carbon dioxide released has the , same consequences no matter who used it,” he observes. Other R.M.I. clients have included San Diego Gas ScElectric, ' Royal Dutch Shell, and Anglo American I PLC, one of the world’s largest mining companies, A few years ago, Texas In— struments hired R.M.l. to help design a new chip-manufacturing plant in Rich— i ardson, Texas. It is expected to use twenty per cent less energy and thirty—five per cent less water than a typical chip factory _ of comparable size. It also cost thirty per cent less to build. “Amory doesn't take a bullying, nega- _- tive approach,” Paul Westbrook, Texas Instruments’ manager for sustainable de— velopment, told me. “Hejust says, ‘Here’s : a better way, and here’s why it works.’ : And you think, Well, we’d be kind of I dumb not to do that." One of the ways the new Texas Instruments plant will save energy is by capturing heat that normally would have been discarded as waste. ‘We implemented heat recovery, and, lo and behold, we didn’t need as many boilers," Westbrook said. A lot of Lovins’s ideas sound radical i and fiituristic—ultra—light cars made of carbon fibres, vehicles that generate elec— I tricity when they’re not on the road, an ' economy powered by hydrogen. At the same time, he is a passionate advocate of what he calls “good, old-fashioned Victo— rian engineering,” and believes that a great many problems can be solved using high~ _ school physics. (Lovins can spend hours describing the energy savings that follow . from steps as simple as increasing the di— : ameter of pipes.) This combination of ' high— and low-tech enthusiasms makes i his outlook difficult to categorize. Once, when I casually used the phrase “thinking outside the box," Lovins interrupted me. 3 “There is no box," he said. ' Perhaps R.M.I.’s most influential cli- ent these days is Wal-Mart. Just to cart around goods that it sells in its stores, the . - , it a F WESTON-E AND PAHSCJN No.5 Newbury Str'eel. Boslon, MA E32115 {61 .a‘J 955-1858 - WWW.“i'E‘FilOi'iEEirldpSi'Snfi.CDl‘li THE NEW YUlil'iEli. ' diamond. and Sapphire pussy willow brooch and pair earrings by SHOWN ACTUAL SIZE Oscar Heyman $9,500 Pair jade and baguette diamond earrings $14,500 his first JANUARY 22. 2007 Un usual Estate Jewelry (plafimrn 6. 1950-80) 35 a... company employs; some sixty-eight hun— dred trucks, which annually consume at least a hundred and “verity-five million gallons of diesel fuel. In 2005, after con- sulting with Lovins, VVal—h-“lart an~ nounced plans to double its fieet‘s fuel efiiciency over the next ten years, from an average of six and a half miles per gallon to thirteen. Already; all of the company’s trucks have been outfitted with auxiliary power units so that the driver doesn’t have to keep the engine idling just to run the air—conditioner. “in a room often people talking about why it can’t be done, Amory is the one working on the five ways to get there,” Andy Ruben, VVal—Mait’s vice—president tor corporate strategy and sustainability, told me. "l don’t do problems” is how Lovins once put it to me. "I do solutions.” LOV’iHL-i, who is fifty-nine, grew up in towns along the Eastern Seaboard; when he was a child, his family moved from Silver Spring, l\"laryland, to Elms- ford, New York, and then from Mont- clair, NewJersey, to Amherst, Massachu- setts. His father, who designed optical equipment, spent a lot oftime in his home workshop, tinkering, and in this way Lovins, too, became interested in gadgets. While he was still in high school, he built i1 nuclear Inflé’n‘leth—FCSOHHHL‘C SPCCUOITI— eter in his basement, and discovered what he calls a upeculiar and still unexplained solid—stare eliect” having to do with co- balt. When he went off to Harvard, he helped pay his way by doing consulting work in experimental physics for, among others, the Lincoln Laboratory at l\-'1.l.T. Lovins enjoyed college~~in addition to physics, he studied law, linguistics, and chemistry. But when, in his junior year, he was told he would have to complete a major he dropped out and moved to En— gland. He attended Oxford until he was once again pushed toward a prescribed course of study, at which point he quit school again. By this time—1971—Lovins had come under the influence of David Brewer, the charismatic founder ofFricnds of the Earth, and he went to work for the organization in London. One ofBritain’s largest mining companies, Rio Tinto, an~ HOUHL‘CCl ii pill” to mine for COPPCI' in ‘d Hid.— tional park in ‘Wales, and at Brower's urg- ing Lovins spent a year writing a book 36 THE NEW YOliliEli, JANUARY 22. 2007 about the park. The book, "Eryri, the Mountains of longing,” was instrumen- tal in blocking Rio Tinto’s plan. in the process of writing it, Lovins began to question the utility of his earlier research. (Today, Rio T into is a client oleVll) “it gradually occurred to me that the problems I was working on, whether they were tertiary structure ofproteins or straight physics, were interesting but not very important,” he recalled. “Even un— derstanding mitochondrial—membrane kinetics, which i briefly dabbled in, would be not nearly as important as solving basic problems ofenergy resources, envi— ronment, development, and security. Be- cause it didn‘t much matter how well we understood these other matters if we weren’t here.” Much ofLiwins's early work centered on atomic energy. He wrote a series ofpa~ pers arguing that the whole “atoms for peace” idea was misguided: there was no way to promote nuclear power without also promoting nuclear proliferation. (One of these papers spent two years under review by the U.S. government, which feared that Lovins had drami the connection between processed fuel and bombmaking a little too clearly, the paper eventually appeared in Nature) In his 19% Foreign imam article, which was ti— tled “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Takerfi,” Lovins urged that the U .5. stop exporting nuclear technology and, simul- taneously, that it phase out its own atomic— energy program. in the same piece, he warned that some of the alternatives to nuclear power were no less dangerous. At a time when the phrase “global warming” was barely in circulation, he observed: The commitment to a long—term coal economy many times the scale of today’s makes the doubling ofauiiosplieric carbon di- oxide coi‘icentration early in the next century virtually unavoidable, with the prospect then or soon thereafter of substantial and perhaps irreversible changes in global climate. Only the exact date of such changes is in question. Lovins’s opposition to both nuclear and coal—fired plants raised an obvious :0 problem. How did he expect an energy“ intensive economy like the U.S.’s to func- tion? The way out of this bind, Lovins ar- gued, was to reimagine it. People weren’t interested in energy for its own sake but, rather, for the benefits—hot showers, cold drinks, dry clothes—that it con- ferred. If Americans could get the same benefits using less energy, then they would, in effect, have found a new energy source. Meanwhile, instead of building large centralized power stations, they could gradually shift to localized sources of renewable power, like solar cells. Lovins labelled a future dominated by an ever greater number ofever larger power plants “the hard path”; the alternative he called “the soft path.” “The hard path entails serious envi- ronmental risks, many ofwhieh are poorly understood and some of which have probably not yet been thought of,” he wrote. “The soft path . . . hedges our bets. Its environmental impacts are relatively small, tractable and reversible.” Several years later, perusing a report put out by the Colorado Public Utilities Commis— sion, Lovins came upon a Inisprint: some- one had typed an “n” for an “m” in the word “megawatt.” He coined another new term: “negawatt.” A megawatt is a watt of electricity that does not have to be generated because an energy-saving mea- sure has obviated the need for it. By re— placing a scvcnty—five-wart incandescent light bulb with a fourteen-watt compact fluorescent bulb, an individual can, for example, produce sixty—one negawatts. By replacing ten incandescent bulbs with ten compact fluorescents, the individual can generate six hundred and ten nega- watts. Negawatts tend to produce more negawatts; for instance, a house lit with compact fluorescents requires less air- conditioning, since fluorescent bulbs emit a fraction of the heat ofincandescents. The same principle can be applied to all forms of energy, including oil. Lovins likes to call the United States the “Saudi Arabia of nega—bartels.” his past fall, Lovins came to Man— hattan for a conference sponsored by former President Bill Clinton. The eve- ning before the conference began, I went out to dinner with him at a Japanese res- taurant in midtown. We were ushered into a room in the back. A cone—shaped light fixture hanging from the ceiling cast a pallid gleam onto the table. A few feet away, a row ofrecessed lights threw circles ofbrightness onto nothing in particular. “This is what happens if your lighting is designed by electricians," Lovins told me, glancing around. ‘Vv’ho wants spots of light on the carpet?" He noted that all the bulbs were incandescents, and that the bulb hanging over the table was on a dim- mer, which further reduced its already minimal efficiency. Lovins estimated that a better-designed system could cut the restaurant’s lighting costs by eighty per cent. 'There’s upwards ofa hundred giant power plants to be saved by proper light- ing systems,” he observed, before turning his attention to the sushi menu. To spend time with Lovins is to see the world as one long string of bad deci— sions. Waste and profligacy are every- where: in inefficient lights, heat—leaking windows, gas~guaaling trucks, poorly de— signed eateries. it's not that people are stu— pid, exactly. It’s that their intelligence is limited. When they make decisions, they tend to worry only about their own self— interest, which they see in such narrow terms that they miss the larger opportuni— ties all around. Take, for example, the electrical sys- tem of an average office building. “If we were to dig into the ceiling ofmost of- fices where the wiring is for the lighting, we’d probably find that the wire size was specced by the low-bid electrician to meet the National Electrical Code,” Lovins told me. "The code says you need wire so fat for so much current. Well, it turns out that wire-size code is meant to prevent fires. What would be economically opti- mal in terms of resistance losses would be wire twice as fat, which means four times as much copper. Now, the electrician isn’t going to pay your electric bills, right? If you had such an altruistic electrician that they were willing to put in four times as 1113.11}! pounds of copper to get you a DUC— year payback on your electric bills, they wouldn't get thejob, because theywouldn’t be the lowebid electrician anymore." The problem here is what’s known as a split incentive, but might better be called a mis~incentive If the parties figured out how to diwy up the savings, they could both make money, but, because ofin— grained habits, or a lack ofcreativity, these savings are never realized. “Let me give you a specific case— a nvo—hundred-thousand—square-foot “COMM we up tile dosage? Irtfll bawfi'eftngr.” curtain—wall office tower near Chicago," Lovins said. “Chicago is cold in the win- ter and hOt in the summer, and this was a very uncomfortable building all year round. in the winter, it had frost growing on the walls. The window seals were start— ing to fail, because they were twenty years old, so they were going to have to rcglaze the whole glass curtain wall. Normally, you would put in the same glass that's al- ready there, which in this case was dark, double—bronze, heat—absorbing glass with a gray film. It let in nine per cent of the light, so the place was as gloomy as a cave. We designed a super—window that would let in nearly six times as much visible light but a tenth less unwanted heat. It cost an extra seventy—eight cents per square foot of glass. If you combined those super- windows with retrofits that bounced the daylight all the way through the floor plate and with very efficient lights and lighting controls and office equipment, you could cut the peak cooling load on the hottest afternoon more than fourfold. That meant that instead ofjust renovat- ing the big old air-conditioning system you could replace it with one that’s four times smaller, And that would cost two hundred thousand bucks less, and tha...
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