Amory Lovins on Winning the Oil Endgame
By EV World
[ Publisher's comment: All readers can download the Q&A session that followed Amory Lovins' presentation. 5.16MB MP3 format. ]
"Whalers ran out of customers before they ran out of whales."
So reads the beginning slide in Amory Lovins' hour-long "Winning the Oil Endgame" presentation at the Lied Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
That aphorism embodies the underlying premise of Lovins' vision of a more environmentally benign future driven by a "Natural Capitalism" -- which happens to also be the title of a book he co-authored -- in which businesses aren't coerced into compliance, but they actively lead change, driven by the profit potential of going green.
In the case of the collapse of the romantic, but brutal whaling industry of the mid-19th century, better, cheap alternatives appeared to supplant whale oil illumination; substitutes like coal oil, then kerosene and eventually electric lighting.
The CEO and Chief Scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute "think-and-do-tank" sees the same thing happening someday to the world's oil companies. For the physicist-turned-energy-efficiency-evangelist, peak oil isn't an issue. Not because he doesn't believe there is a limit to the amount of petroleum mankind can pump out of the ground, but because he is convinced that we will find alternatives before the day of reckoning arrives.
And one of the most powerful responses is the invention of super-strong, ultra-light composites developed by one of his spin offs, Fiber Forge. A car formed of this plastic-carbon fiber composite would offer all the performance -- and many times the safety -- of a conventional steel car while requiring a fraction of the motive power, which can come from not only hydrogen fuel cells, but also vehicle-to-grid, plug-in hybrids, a new note in his energy opus.
In his talk, which we urge you to take time and listen to in its entirety using either of the MP3 players above, he makes a compelling case for his vision of doing more with less. It is an amazing tour de force of facts, figures and humor. Even we are EV World learned a great deal of new information. You can also download the online version of Winning the Oil Endgame for free, along with its supporting data from RMI's dedicated web site.
Some of the more intriguing insights in his talk is the projection that if the United States invests just $180 billion over the next 17 years, half of it to retool the car, truck and aircraft industries for great energy efficiency and the other half to construct a modern biofuels industry (e.g. cellulosic ethanol), the nation would enjoy a $70 billion annual net return (against $26/barrel oil). We'd emit 25% less carbon dioxide, create 1 million new jobs -- 75% in rural areas -- and save another 1 million at-risk jobs in the auto industry. Lovins contends that we could do all this with no new taxes or regulations.
"We're not going to the sausage factory in Washington (D.C.) for any of this," he noted wryly.
While he recommends some policy initiatives later in the talk to help expedite the transition, he argues that the key to making this happen consists of two technologies: making vehicles lighter and slippery, and giving them advanced propulsion (electric-drive powered by advanced gasoline engines, diesels and fuel cells). Here he spends a significant portion of the presentation laying out the details of how he sees this unfolding, pointing out that few people buy vinyl records anymore or standard cathode ray television sets. It didn't take regulations to change the market, it was technological advances that killed the phonograph player and old-style tube television set.
"If we do the same kind of redesign on cars and make efficiency a by-product of breakthrough design, then we do an end-run around the political gridlock, and the automakers would have a much more robust business model. They would only have to worry about building better, cheaper models than their rivals instead of worrying about random variables they can't control like oil price and public policy," he comments.
Be sure to listen to or download his presentation in its entirety. It's a 15MB MP3 file, so make sure you have a reasonably fast Internet connection first. The follow-up question and answer session is available for download, as well, using the link at the top of the page.
Finally, Amory Lovins appeared on the Charlie Rose program to discuss many of these issues and we've taken the liberty of embedding that video on this page as well.
Our thanks to Amory, the Lied Center and the University of Nebraska for permitting EV World to record and podcast this remarkable talk.