|In the early '70s, Amory Lovins introduced us to the
concept of the Soft Energy Path. I remember his argument in favor of it.
It's cheaper. The Hard Energy Path is what we are on now. It is expensive
and unsustainable. Amory introduced the concept of negawatts. It is
cheaper to use energy efficiently than create new central generation
facilities. A penny saved is a penny earned. If you build new generation
stations to power the new population, it's going to cost a lot of money.
More people need more energy. You are better off using less power by using
it more efficiently. Single family homes and all other buildings, should be designed to use a
minimum of energy. I met a man from Atlanta several years ago who
complained that his power bill in the summer was over $500 a month. Wouldn't it be
smarter to design the house to stay cool in the summer? You would have to
put a lot of tax-deductible dollars into hardware and software systems
when building the house to effect the difference in the total of mortgage
payment and utility payment.
People don't really want kilowatts, they want light and warmth and coolth and mobility. The Soft Energy Path asks the question, "What is the best way to provide these things?"
The Soft Energy Path (SEP) says that it makes more sense to design and build things with energy efficiency in mind than to continue to use energy inefficiently. A Soft Energy Path employs more people and creates opportunities for local tradesmen, manufacturers and installers.
One of my favorite examples is lighting. The following is borrowed from Rocky Mountain Institute's Lighting Brief.
"Lighting uses about a fourth of all electricity used in the United States, consuming the energy produced by 120 large power plants (about 4/5 directly and 1/5 in extra air conditioning energy to remove unwanted heat). By using the most efficient sources of electric light in the most effective ways, and by capturing more of the daylight reaching our homes and businesses, we can profitably save up to 90% of this electricity."
A 20 watt Compact Fluorescent
bulb puts out the same amount of light as a 75 watt incandescent bulb.
It last for 10,000 hours and costs
$7.05. An incandescent bulb lasts less than a thousand hours and costs
about 2 bucks. You figure it out.
Instead of using an electric
light, consider a solar light. These can be specified
in new homes and be relatively easy to install in existing buildings.
|The reason why we are told that we
need more generation plants is for a growing America. That's plausible.
We need more new homes, new factories and more office buildings for a growing
population. What we should require or incentivize for is technology that
puts the least drain
on the grid.
In 1989, Lovins gave an address
before the Green Energy Conference in Montreal. An excerpt:
If the builder of a new home were to invest $10,000 in a solar
photovoltaic array and solar water heating, that investment would result
in a monthly mortgage increase of about $65. That investment of $65 a
month would be offset by substantially more in reduced utility bills. PV arrays have a life of 30
An opportunity exists today for home owners and home builders to let Uncle Sam pay part of the bill. Improvements made to use energy more efficiently are part of the mortgage, the interest on which is tax deductible. It is unlikely that congress will ever pass a law giving utility payments tax deductible status. You will always pay your utility bill with after-tax dollars.
The big question is: Can we do it in time? Can we change the views of Americans about energy policy and get enough done in time to avert tragedy? The tragedy being that of suffering a flicker, a large variation in normal weather patterns that could last 10 years or longer. Agriculture and many other things change. Imagine the disruption if the American Midwest experiences five or ten years of more drought. Canada would become the bread-basket of North America.
For information about the impact of climate change on your region or sector, please visit http://www.climatehotmap.org/impacts/index.html
Americans like to do things in a
big way. We like to build big: big nukes, big dams, big coal mining
operations. The new buzzword is distributed generation. This is another
way to say build small. Now, more than ever, it makes more sense to
not build another nuke or big coal-fired plant and place an
order for the same dollar amount among the current manufacturers of
photovoltaic arrays and solar water heaters, local contractors and
installers. The employment benefits go to local communities and not to a
small group of boomers who go from big project to big project. Or
|I continue to be amazed at the level of subsidy that the Hard Path participants enjoy today. Isn't this a mature industry that ought to be able to pay its way without subsidies from the federal government? Shouldn't the utility ratepayers foot the entire bill for their nuclear generated electricity? If they had to, their homes would be worthless because no one would buy a house with a $37,457 annual utility bill or whatever it would cost. Who knows what the actual number would be. Could East Coast victims of acid rain get a judgment from the ratepayers of Mid-West utilities that created the NOx and SOx that made the rain acidic?|