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Lovins plugs energy efficiency and innovative technology at PSU talk

September 04, 2009
PLYMOUTH — Plymouth State University got the academic year off to a supercharged start with the help of the legendary scientist and energy efficiency expert Amory B. Lovins, who received an honorary degree at the annual Convocation Ceremony held on Tuesday.

Lovins is the author, with E. Kyle Datta, of Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security, and over 30 other publications. Prior to the Convocation Ceremony, he electrified an audience assembled to hear him lecture, outlining the diverse set of innovative technologies and business strategies that he says will pave the way forward to an energy efficient economy, providing the solution to global oil dependence and the climate threats posed by increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

It all starts with energy efficiency, said Lovins. Some of the nation's biggest corporations are already "substituting efficiency for fuel", taking measures that have succeeded in cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions while saving millions of dollars. United Technologies has cut its carbon emissions by 45 percent in the last five years. General Electric has cut emission by 30 percent "without paying attention" according to Loins. The big "chip makers" set out to cut carbon emissions 65 percent below the 1990 by 2010. "Three years ago they were already 80 percent below 1990 levels and they made $3 million substituting efficiency for fuel," said Lovins.

"How fast would we have to save energy to save the planet," asked Lovins? He said that if we just let energy use per dollar of GDP drift downward, as it has naturally in the past few years, by one percent per year, then we will all be "toast" by the year 2100. If, however, we are able to reduce energy use by two percent, that would stabilize levels of carbon emissions. A 3-4 percent reduction per year would stabilize the climate.

And Lovins makes it seem not only possible, but interesting and exciting as well.

"We have a long way to go," admits Lovins. "Nationwide the story of electricity is still largely a story of coal. But the roadmap for getting the country completely off oil by 2040 is detailed in his latest book, and at the website at www.oilendgame.com

He detailed the "recipe for tripling the efficiency of cars, trucks and planes", utilizing new ultra-light carbon fiber materials to increase fuel efficiency, and employing cheaper, smaller propulsion systems. He radiated optimism about the "exciting" things happening in Detroit, particularly at the Ford Motor Company, where they are "changing managers or their minds".

He spoke about the way in which regulatory reforms can change the economic landscape for energy conservation, as it has in California where the utilities are rewarded not for selling more energy, as in most states, but for cutting the bill an approach he suggested might be replicated here in New Hampshire and across the country.

While New Hampshire is ninth in the nation in terms of energy productively, Lovins says there is more that we can do, especially in the field of increased availability of "micropower" alternatives, including the cogeneration of electricity and useful heat together, and greater development of renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal and small hydro power.

The revolution is already happening, according to Lovins. "In 2007 the United States added more wind power than the total amount of addition coal power added in the previous five years put together," observed Lovins. "In 2008, the world invested $100 billion in renewable power.

He vividly detailed the way in which "passive heating and cooling systems and integrative design strategies can realize remarkable energy savings in construction. "If you optimize a building as a system you can get big savings cheaper, than producing small ones," said Lovins, using the example of his own home in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, in which he raises a banana crop despite the fact the he has no heating system. "I don't need one," said Lovins. I have insulation, ventilation and heat recovery."

According to Lovins, there are thousands of energy saving technologies coming on to the market every day that will make the job of cutting energy use easier and simpler in the future. The good news according to Lovins is that a comprehensive global strategy, employing energy efficiency technologies and other approaches can eliminate the need for nuclear power as an energy alternative entirely, thereby reducing opportunities and incentives for nuclear proliferation worldwide that threaten our global security.

Lovins is the Chairman and Chief Scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) which was co-founded by Lovins in 1982, starting as a small group of policy analysts specializing in energy and resources and has grown to a staff of more than 80 scientists analysts and advocates for "the restorative" use of resources. More information can be found at the website at www.rmi.org.

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