free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 221. AMORY LOVINS: THE REAL GENIUS

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

221. AMORY LOVINS: THE REAL GENIUS

Among commentators on the peak oil/energy scene, I like Amory Lovins the best. His thinking is the closest to my own.


Amory Lovins: The Genius

First of all, he hasn't got a drop of doom in him. This is Amory from a new article in Discover magazine:
When I give talks about energy, the audience already knows about the problems. That's not what they've come to hear. So I don't talk about problems, only solutions. But after a while, during the question period, someone in the back will get up and give a long riff about all the bad things that are happening—most of which are basically true. There's only one way I've found to deal with that. After this person calms down, I gently ask whether feeling that way makes him more effective.

As René Dubos, the famous biologist, once said, "Despair is a sin."
Secondly, he's of the opinion (like me) that we don't need oil. His most recent book is called Winning the Oil Endgame, and here's the blurb:
Winning the Oil Endgame offers a strategy for ending US oil dependence, and is applicable worldwide. There are many analyses of the oil problem. This synthesis is the first roadmap of the oil solution -- one led by business for profit.
As you can see, Amory thinks we have a bright, capitalist future without oil, and thus qualifies as a genuine peak oil heretic.

Third, he's got this great idea called "End-use/least-cost analysis":
Until then, the energy problem was generally considered to be: Where do we get more energy? People were preoccupied with where we could get more energy of any kind, from any sources, for any price—as if all our needs were the same. I started instead at the other end of the problem: What do we want the energy for?

You don't generally want lumps of coal or barrels of sticky black goo. You want comfort, illumination, mobility, baked bread, and so on. And for each of these end uses we should ask: How much energy, of what quality, at what scale, from what source will do the job in the cheapest way? That's now called the end-use/least-cost approach, and a lot of the work we do at Rocky Mountain Institute involves applying it to a wide range of situations.

End-use/least-cost analysis begins with a simple question: What are you really trying to do? If you go to the hardware store looking for a drill, chances are what you really want is not a drill but a hole. And then there's a reason you want the hole. If you ask enough layers of "Why?"—as Taiichi Ohno, the inventor of the Toyota production system, told us—you typically get to the root of the problem.
This nicely captures what's wrong with most of the peak oil debate. Too many people (like "Dick Cheney" peak oilers) are hung up on our "need" for oil and gas. (HOW WILL WE MEET THE DEMAND??!!!??) We need to stop obsessing about where to get the stuff, and, instead, think through what the hell we're trying to do with it.

Amory's Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), located in frigid Aspen, Colorado, is a model of energy efficiency, which even has banana gardens. So why don't we all live in houses like this? Lovins 4,000 square foot home has a monthly electrical bill of $5 with 20-year-old technology. So why exactly do we "need" nuclear and coal power plants?

Amory definitely cuts to the root of our problems, but it's funny how peak oilers respond to him. They don't talk about him much. Some see him as a another deluded soul, dreaming of an optimistic future which will never come. But some respect him. Which is weird, because he is basically Peak Oil Debunker #1.
-- by JD

18 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 1:49:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Good stuff! I was just wondering if you were going to do a post about Amory Lovins.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 2:41:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

amory most often gets nailed for supporting the hydrogen economy. he's an easy target in that area and his attackers ignore the rest of his amazing ideas.

hang on. one sec.

/me puts on lemming hat

Hooooray, we're saved!!!!!!11 GO AMORY!!!!11

/me puts on savinaar hat

Thanks for the laugh!

/me puts on dan b. hat

when do we start?

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 7:50:00 AM PST, Blogger LogicPanda said...

I think this is great. The doomers all need to understand that even though oil may run out, it is certainly not the end-all be-all of human existance. Now I'm sure if some of these guys devoted as much time to solving the problem as they do to Shatner-esque screaming (KHAAAAAAAAAAAN! ....OOOIIIL?), then maybe some more much-needed energy (ironically) could be given to solving the problem of alternative energy.
These guys crack me up.. maybe I should advertise "oil storage units" and fully-armed survival bunkers on the peak oil site.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 7:55:00 AM PST, Blogger Chris Vernon said...

I don’t think many so called doomers (at least not the scientifically/technically competent ones) believe that we can’t physically/materially support billions of people in relative comfort without much oil, you can get an idea of this just by looking at energy use per capita and seeing how much it varies between countries with similar qualities of life. It’s pretty clear that we can run the world on a quarter of the energy we’re using now and then use renewable/sustainable energies to provide most of that remaining quarter. The difficulty is the politics, the people, the embedding infrastructure, the momentum, the real world situation.

Something like a third of UK energy use is domestic with around 80% of that used for heating, mostly natural gas (numbers of the top of my head but they are roughly right). It is perfectly possible to build a house in the UK that hardly needs to expend any energy in heating using passive solar, thermal mass, ground source heat pumps and PV etc. So no heating fuel crisis in the UK? Wrong, since we can’t knock down and rebuild the current housing stock that’s taken over 200 years to build in the 15 years it’s going to take for North Sea gas to run completely dry and we’ll be short of gas long before that.

Is peak oil a massive world changing problem? Theoretically no (which I think is the point you’re making with this site), realistically yes though.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 8:33:00 AM PST, Blogger LogicPanda said...

Chris, your words are well-put, but I do have a comment to add on this particular part.

...since we can’t knock down and rebuild the current housing stock that’s taken over 200 years to build in the 15 years it’s going to take for North Sea gas to run completely dry and we’ll be short of gas long before that.

You're absolutely correct. That's quite a difficult undertaking. However, when faced with few options, and the knowledge that it needs to be done, an admirable try should be put forth instead of commencing with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. We have the means to at least put a dent in the problem.. so why not look to getting it done? That's all I'm saying, buddy.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 10:57:00 AM PST, Blogger Chris Vernon said...

However, when faced with few options, and the knowledge that it needs to be done, an admirable try should be put forth instead of commencing with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. We have the means to at least put a dent in the problem.. so why not look to getting it done?

You're quite right, however where the wailing and gnashing of teeth comes in is when we don't see anything happening, in fact we see the UK government planning for a doubling in air travel by 2030 and a doubling of air freight in half that time, building more roads, prompting new energy (renewables/nuclear/clean coal) with hardly even considering conservation, chronic underinvestment in regional railways I could go on...

Yes the problem is solvable (if by solvable we mean avoiding a die-off and maintaining a reasonable quality of life for all), but it's the eleventh hour and we've hardly started yet. There must come a time when it's too late to solve (by the above definition) the problem we face. When is that, 5 years before peak, peak year itself, 5 years after peak? At what point to we have to grab the bull by the horns and actually implement the stuff JD presents here.

What gets the doomers going is that they can see a global peak within the next decade or so – I think this site also agrees with that – but they don’t see the problem being addressed.

Only the most optimistic of people expect industrialised society to sail over the peak unscathed without having to make a conscious effort to address it, I think that expectation is unrealistic.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 1:05:00 PM PST, Blogger LogicPanda said...

There's ample room for discomfort and unrest, due to governments not being progressive with their energy policies, oil corporations that will attempt to keep the demand for oil going, and a general apathy on behalf of most of the Western world's population.. but I think you and I both agree that it won't come down to a Mad Max scenario. Now, pardon me for speaking for you, JD, but I think that one of the goals of this blog is to stir up some conscious effort towards solving the problem.
As a side note, I'm amazed I'm this composed on my 26th hour of being awake.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 1:52:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

What a hypocrite! It's true Mr. Amory Lovins pays only $5 for monthly electricity bill. But does he forget to tell us what it takes to build and maintain his luxury 4000 square feet biosphere which he calls home? What amount of energy does take to manufacture all the glass and building material to put his little experiment together? How much money does it cost?

And to maintain all his plantations it costs lots of fertilizers and lots of waters. He is probably consuming way much more fertilizer and running water than an average American household. What amount of energy does it cost to produce those fertilizer? What amount of energy does it take to dig and build all those aquaducts and pump the water so he can water his garden?

It's a luxury that the general populace simply can not afford, both in terms of money and in terms of energy consumption. I wish every American household can have a little piece estate like his. But doing that would exhaust the limited fossil fuel of our planet several times over.

Yes he is paying only $5 in direct electricity bill. But he is indirectly consuming way more than his fair share of the fossil fuel energy, than an average American household.

Quantoken

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 6:10:00 PM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

Quantoken, is this another of your "facts"?

Yes he is paying only $5 in direct electricity bill. But he is indirectly consuming way more than his fair share of the fossil fuel energy, than an average American household.

if so, care to back it up with numbers?

yes, he's rich, but he also built a one off. if the market was there for truly energy efficient homes the assembly line would drop the costs dramatically.

also, there is a ONE TIME investment of energy in building a house. then minor investments in upkeep. followed by the energy required by the house itself, which in this case is incredibly small.

hate to burst your bubble, but my parents, immigrants to the U.S. who came here with pretty much nothing, not even a command of the english language, 10 years later built a house in NY for about $150K which was almost entirely passive solar heated. this is NY with brutal winters, mind you. our heating was electric but was needed only after a few days of cloudy days in the winter.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 8:29:00 PM PST, Blogger LogicPanda said...

Quantoken, reading your post, I have to say.. that you have the some of the strangest syntax I've ever seen. Are you from a primarily English-speaking nation/region?
At any rate, that's neither here or there. Let's talk about fertilizer. A hundred years ago, farmers used plows that were pulled by mules. A fossil-fuel-free way to work at agriculture, correct? They still had a source of fertilizer readily available.. manuer. Point being, you don't have to use oil to fertilize land. If an alternative energy source is provided for the machines that work in the field (which is entirely possible), then fossil fuels really don't enter into the equation at all.
Being born and raised in rural Alabama, in a farming family.. I think I've seen a thing or two relating to the issue.
Your argument seems driven by the desire to "be right," regardless of whether or not you're shooting down a perfectly good idea. I had several other things to say, but I think popmonkey did a good job of beating me to the punch.

Cheers.

 
At Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 8:57:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I have this great book called Cradle to Cradle, which talks about what the authors call "eco-effectiveness". I.e., let's not just make a flawed solution more efficient. Let's come up with a new solution that isn't flawed at all.

The book gives the example of wood-pulp. Demand from wood pulp is increasing. Everyone's worried about where the wood pulp is going to come from. Nobody's asking: what do we want it for? Wood-pulp in itself is not very useful. We only want it because we need a surface to print words on.

The traditional solution would be to use virgin pulp to make paper and then recycle it. However, the quality of the recycled paper is not very good and making it requires harmful chemicals to strip the ink and dissolve the paper, which is perhaps even worse for the environment than cutting down trees.

But what if, instead of trying to make more efficient paper, you just stripped back to the core of the problem, which is: how do we make a surface to print words on?

The actual book is like a demo of this approach. It's not made from paper at all, but from a type of polymer which is water-proof, crumple-free, feels much nicer than normal paper and can be recycled indefinitely with no loss of quality. It's eco-effective, desinged with the end use in mind instead of just trying to reduce the use of wood pulp. There are plenty of other examples in the book (which is by an architect and a chemist) about how to apply the principle. It's really what Amory Lovins has been saying.

Peak Oil is just the same, it's a layered problem. On the surface, it's about figuring out new sources of fuel. On a deeper level it's about making more efficient vehicles. On the deepest level of all it's about working out how to get people from A to B, with whatever vehicles and fuels will do the job best.

This is what doomers miss. The challenge is not how to fuel an SUV without oil. It's how to move people between locations without oil. Listening to the doomers you'd think Edwin Drake invented the space-time continuum.

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 3:17:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Oh I forgot, you could go even deeper than that. Why do people want to travel at all?

So they can get to work? Let's use telecommuting so they don't have to.

To buy stuff? Let's get it home delivered.

To socialize? Let's make sure streets have a sense of community and parks or eating places are always a few blocks away.

Now, why do people even need to work? Let's eliminate work with technology! OK I'm only half serious on the last one. :-)

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:35:00 AM PST, Blogger al fin said...

Roland is beginning to get at the best approach. To solve problems--even problems that appear insoluble to some--you have to think like a problem solver.

Who thinks like that? Engineers, computer scientists, physicians, researchers, etc.

Who thinks like a doomer--the opposite of a problem solver? Sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, journalists!!!!, and to a large extent teachers and professors. If the student is being taught doom, how can he help but regurgitate doom?

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 10:38:00 AM PST, Blogger dub_scratch said...

If Amory Lovins is a genius, he is wasting his genius on one of the worst greenwash frauds of our time: namely the hydrogen car-sprawl economy. Just imagine folks, solar powered strip malls. That's what Amory Lovins dreams of. The latest on Mr Lovins is he likes going around promoting solar powered fuel cell SUVs. Nothing wrong with SUVs and our car dependant system. We only need to find some new technology to make that sustainable.


What fucking garbage. This snake oil sales job does more for promoting the continued misinvestment in Traffic Jam Nation then for sustainability and energy efficiency.

Listen here JD: if we are going to see society stump the doomers with an intelligent response to the oil endgame, we are going to have to see a total abandonment of ALL fuel efficient or alternate fuel car technologies. That means every greencar dream gets scraped, from biofools, to hype-brids, to fool cells, to elec-trick vehicles, to cars that run on chickenshit. Because the task needed to get us beyond oil is doable, but it is too huge for anything as frivolous and wasteful as personal transportation.

So until I see more folks like Amory Lovins abandon their green car dreams, I am going to remain unconvinced that our collective genius will effectively transition our society out of oil.

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 5:32:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

chris l,
Obviously I agree with about cars. They lower your standard of living, pollute the environment, and cause blight everywhere they replicate. Amory definitely needs to be called on that point. He needs to go back and study Mr. Ohno's idea a little more carefully (as would Mr. Ohno if he were still alive). He doesn't ask "Why?" enough times.

Q: Why do we need cars?
A: To get from point A to point B
Q: So why don't we just put point A next to point B?
A: ... hmmm

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 5:39:00 PM PST, Blogger JD said...

Who thinks like a doomer--the opposite of a problem solver? Sociologists, political scientists, philosophers, journalists!!!!, and to a large extent teachers and professors. If the student is being taught doom, how can he help but regurgitate doom?

Great point al fin. That's what makes doom so stupid and dangerous. It's like hypnosis, or a self-fulfilling prophecy. If students and the public are taught that there is no solution, it's no surprise when they don't come up with one.

 
At Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 7:45:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

We're still going to need car-like vehicles in some places, most notably rural areas. It's all very well going carless in the city, but if you live 20 kilometers out of a country town with no public transport, it's very difficult indeed. It wouldn't be too hard to replace rural oil use with alternative fuels, electricity or hydrogen, and I think this is a good idea.

It would also help to have alternative fuels in:
- Ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, other municipal vehicles
- Vehicles for disabled people
- Small inner-city delivery trucks so that carless people can order large volumes of groceries on the internet

Otherwise, yes, we can do without cars. Note that the above applications probably represent about 5% of current oil consumption. And for the many people who simply can't imagine going without a car, a hydrogen car is better than an ICE in my book. I don't think Amory Lovins' ideas about cars taint all the rest of his good ideas.

 
At Tuesday, October 3, 2006 at 3:04:00 AM PDT, Blogger stranger said...

"So why don't we all live in houses like this? Lovins 4,000 square foot home has . ."

Few people can afford his house. Also, where does he get his food other than bananas? Is it grown without fossil fuel inputs?

Panda logic:
"However, when faced with few options, and the knowledge that it needs to be done, an admirable try should be put forth instead of commencing with the wailing and gnashing of teeth."

Debunking 'peak oil', which is obviously the intent of this blog and some of the commenters here, trys to undermine peoples ability to gain the "knowledge that it needs to be done" If people dont know or believe theres a problem, they wont try to fix it. Why focus on the extreme opinion of 'doomers' and debate that, when you can look at the realistic problems and go about solving them. In other words, by trying to 'debunk' the idea of 'peak oil'(that global oil production will slow, then decline), youre asking the question:"is there a problem?" and answering "no, because. ." The question(s) should be: "what are the problems and how do we fix them?"

 

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