Upcoming Speaker and Energy Guru: Use Efficiency, Renewables, but Not Nukes
February 2, 2010
Energy thinker Amory Lovins will speak at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College on Feb. 23. Lovins is co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute, a "think-and-do tank" that applies market-based solutions to efficient use of resources. Time magazine last year named him one of the world's 100 most influential people. He talked with energy and environment writer Bruce Henderson; comments are edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. You say nuclear power plants cost too much. Wouldn't they create new jobs?
Net jobs go down because it's the most capital- and least labor-intensive energy. It's temporarily a good opportunity for the nuclear welders, certified concrete experts and electricians who do specialized construction. The long-term jobs are few and especially few per dollar, because the plants will cost in the $10 billion to $20 billion range. You would have gotten more jobs spending money almost any other way, particularly in efficiency and renewables.
Q. Do you think another nuclear plant will be built in the United States?
It is possible if the government will pay for it, but not if you ask the capital markets to pay for it. They've already clearly said they're not interested. In the rest of the world, the last time I looked there were 56 units under construction. Thirteen of them have been listed as under construction for over 20 years, 24 of them have no official start dates and over half of them are late. Seventy percent of them are in China, Russia, India and South Korea. None of them was exposed to fair competition with cheaper alternatives.
Q. You say addressing climate change can create profits, jobs and competitive advantages. What's stopping that from happening?
Mainly curious politics, in which those who call themselves conservatives are pushing the most egregious forms of corporate socialism. If I look at Southeastern states (with laws allowing utilities to start recovering costs before power plants are finished), many of those restrict or even bar fair competition by alternatives. Customers will pay for the (nuclear) plant, whether it runs or not. Well, this ought to be abhorrent to conservatives, who should be well aware that when you remove accountability for risky behavior you encourage it. That's why we just crashed the capital markets.
Q. Duke Energy is investing in small, scattered power plants such as rooftop solar panels. If more electricity is generated that way, will utilities become dinosaurs?
Duke is not a dinosaur; it's an extremely capable company. I think they, like everybody else, are trying to figure out what is the new business model. It may make sense, for example, for utilities to buy and install your solar cells and even run them for you. After all, utilities are in effect large capital and engineering firms with customer relationships. They ought to be good at all pieces of that in competition, presumably, with private sector providers.
Q. If an energy-minded consumer has an extra $50 a month, where should he or she invest that money?
If you want to make a very low-risk, high return, be more comfortable and do good for the world, you should put it toward making your house more efficient. That will typically mean stopping up the square yard of holes in your house, ideally getting a house doctor to come diagnose your house's chills and fevers; insulation; and you may need better windows. It means whenever you buy a new appliance, get the most efficient that you can. And of course lighting is always an easy one to improve, initially compact fluorescents but very quickly LEDs are going to take over, and you can already start to buy those at Wal-Mart.
"Applied Hope" by Amory Lovins (RMI Annual Report, 2008);