In a crowded Mayser Gymnasium Oct. 12, Amory Lovins, environmental scientist, physicist, author, and co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, gave a hopeful talk, “Astonishing Energy Futures and the Future of Global Change.”
As Franklin & Marshall College’s 37th Mueller Fellow, Lovins has worked on energy policy for more than four decades. He is a pioneer in energy efficiency and resource sustainability. He has authored more than 30 books, including 2011's “Reinventing Fire." Time Magazine named Lovins one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2009.
Lovins spoke at Common Hour, a community discussion conducted every Thursday classes are in session. He opened his talk with photos of his Old Snowmass, Colo. home, which uses a variety of renewable energy sources.
“An integrative design gives benefits to each expenditure,” he said. Individual families can use solar panels, thick walls, and heat-retaining windows at a low cost.
He discussed cost benefits of electric vehicles, and environmental benefits of using LED lights and photovoltaics, which use solar panels to generate energy without pollution. He explained how LEDs can save one-eighth of the world’s electricity, and how they are replacing the world’s kerosene market, which costs $38 trillion each year and results in the deaths of approximately 4 million people.
“Renewable costs just keep falling,” Lovins said. Unsubsidized solar and wind power is winning on global markets, even though “we’re still told only coal and nuclear plants can keep the lights on because they’re on 24/7,” he said.
The scientists said wind and solar are spoken of as “variable,” but variable does not necessarily mean unreliable. “In an orchestra, no instrument plays all the time, but the ensemble creates continuous music,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest hindrance of energy efficiency is “political distraction,” Lovins said. He said by focusing on efficiency at a small level, “we can work from the bottom up to build community and national security.”
In the U.S., buildings could increase energy productivity three to four times by 2050, thereby tripling efficiency. This would save $5 trillion and expand the economy by 158 percent without using oil, coal or nuclear energy, Lovins said.
Such a change could be led by for-profit businesses, without having to go through Congress, Lovins said. Similar rates are also possible in China, where the economy could grow by more than 500 percent.
“The Model T got 62 percent cheaper in 15 years. Solar just got 80 percent cheaper in five years,” he said. “Focusing on outcomes, not motives, can turn gridlock into a solution.”