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Rocky Mountain Institute Co-Founder Advocates Energy Revolution

March 05, 2010

Category: Environmental Science, Events


LovinsBy Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service

He made it sound so easy.

Catawba College welcomed Amory Lovins, one of the world's "top thinkers and environmentalists" and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) based in Colorado, to Keppel Auditorium Feb. 23.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 700, Lovins discussed doable ways to cut our dependence on oil.

"It's not a fantasy," Lovins said. "It's available, practical and profitable now."

A speaker who prefers his wit dry, Lovins opened with the following question: Do you prefer to die of climate change, oil wars or nuclear proliferation?

How about none of the above?

Companies are looking to cut dependence on oil and electricity, because 2/5 of fossil carbons are going into the air, Lovins explained.   Vehicles can be built lighter and more aerodynamically, saving 2/3 fuel usage. Toyota is developing a vehicle that is the size of a Prius, but that uses half its fuel and 1/3 of its weight. Lovins noted that very little of the energy used by today's vehicles actually moves the driver — about .3 percent.

Lovins"That is not very gratifying," he said. That is because vehicles are so weight-dependent for motion. He proposed radically simplified manufacturing. Ultra light carbon fiber is tougher than titanium, but because of its lower weight saves energy.

"Oil is becoming uncompetitive at low prices before it becomes unavailable at high prices," Lovins said.

Integrative design can be used in everything from vehicles to homes. Lovins showed photographs of his home in Colorado, espousing its energy-efficient properties.

Energy efficiency, Lovins said, must start downstream. If you save energy, you save costs.

Factor 10 Engineering is a program that is reforming how engineering is practiced and taught. "We need to do it better," Lovins said. "It's not exotic. It's just rigorously applying engineering principles."

Lovins has led the redesign of more than $30 billion worth of facilities in 29 sectors for radical energy and resource efficiency.

Although Lovins said there is a "nuclear renaissance" taking place with new construction of nuclear plants, it will "scarcely be able to offset old units' retirements in the next couple of decades.

"If we want to get off coal power, which accounts for half of our electricity, what do we do instead?" The answer, Lovins said, may lie in photovoltaics — solar energy. The aim, he said, is to upend the traditional energy pyramid that has coal and nuclear at its base, natural gas and oil in the middle and energy efficiency and renewables at the top. The new model would substitute combined heat-and-power and demand response and electric vehicles in place of gas and oil.

"It's reinventing fire," he said, "and who wouldn't be in favor of that?"
He then added, "Not all fossils are in the fuels."

Lovins took questions from the audience, which included guests from Asheville, Charlotte, Elkin and Winston-Salem.

Lovins is the author of 29 books.   His visit to Catawba was sponsored by the Center for the Environment. Rocky Mountain Institute will partner with the Center to bring a National Youth Environmental Summit to campus in July 2011. For more information, visit www.rmi.org.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.


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