Acclaimed environmentalist proposes fuel independence

According to a leading thinker on green energy, America’s dependence on fossil fuels may be on its deathbed.

Amory Lovins, the co-founder of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, thinks so, he told a crowd gathered Wednesday at the Burke Auditorium in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ Kroon Hall. Lovins, who has been an environmental adviser to corporations and governments in more than 50 countries for the past four decades and was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2009, addressed a packed crowd of students, professors and community members. At the talk, Lovins focused on his latest book, “Reinventing Fire,” which details strategies for reducing fossil fuel usage through efficient energy policies.

“We humans are inventing a new fire,” Lovins said. “[It is] not scarce, but bountiful — not costly, but free.”

Lovins’ strategy for ending the United States’ current “aging, dirty, insecure system” of energy consumption is to use efficiently the renewable energy sources already available. While the focus of most strategies is on increasing the supply of energy, Lovins’ is on decreasing the demand for energy, Joseph Teng FES ’12 said after the talk. Lovins said he believes that through structural changes to infrastructure, such as electricity, transportation and buildings, the demand for energy will drop to a level that can be managed by renewable energy resources.

Lovins said that transportation can be made more efficient by promoting hybrid vehicles called carbon-fiber electric cars. Germany currently leads the world in such technology, he said. The same technology that can revolutionize cars can also be applied to larger vehicles, such as trucks and airplanes, he added.

In addition to his proposals for changes in transportation technology, Lovins advocated for structural changes in buildings in order to save energy and electricity. He cited the Empire State Building as an example of a structure using integrative design. The Empire State Building saves 40 percent of its energy since installing windows that allow for the passage of light, but not heat into the building. One of the tricks to integrative design, he said, is to have one structure perform multiple functions for a single price.

Another way to implement integrative design, he added, is to change buildings’ pipe structures. He said one facility increased its energy efficiency by replacing crooked, small pipes with large, straight ones. Prior to this change, friction in the crooked pipes eliminated 90 percent of the available energy.

A reduction in fossil fuel usage can be accomplished without national government involvement, he added.

“It is really interesting to have one of the godfathers [of energy renovation] talk about how we can revolutionize the system without any major federal policy,” Teng said.

Using energy-efficient policies, Lovins said he believes by 2050 the United States can save $5 trillion, increase the size of the economy and eliminate its use of oil and coal.

“For people working in this area [of study], it is refreshing to hear somebody who can inspire us to go out and do more work,” said Jake Seligman FES ’12, who attended the talk.

Currently, the United States gets 45 percent of its electricity from coal and about 1 percent from coal.

Correction: Feb. 20

A previous version of this article stated that the United States gets 41 percent of its electricity from oil and 40 percent from coal. In fact, the United States gets about 45 percent of its electricity from coal and only about 1 percent from oil.

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