Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chapter 15: More Profit With Less Carbon

In 1977 a physicist Amory B. Lovins published a book titled Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Duable Peace in which he expressed his view that the U.S. should move away from the "hard path" - being fossil fuels and nuclear energy - to the "soft path" - solar power, wind power, biomass, etc... - as it would be better for the environment. Since then he has become and energy guru of the environmental movement.

The key concept of this chapter is: the advantages to business and the environment of energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The author of the chapter begins by describing a misunderstanding about the climate debate. No it will not cost more for transportation, hot showers, etc should we use less fossil fuels to slow global warming and no, the costs will not be prohibitive. The author then states that if done right, climate protection would actually reduce costs. Energy efficiency offers an "economic bonanza" as it is cheaper to save fossil fuel than buy it. Some examples of companies reducing energy costs include DuPont (a chemical manufacturer) has increased production by 30%, cut energy use by 7% and greenhouse emissions by 72% over the last decade saving them $2 billion. BP, an oil giant cut its energy bill by $650 million over ten years by reducing their CO2 emissions 10% below their 1990 level.

The U.S. currently uses 47 cents less energy per dollar then 30 years ago which has decreased costs by about $1 billion per day. The author claims that despite these facts, energy efficiency has not caught on because "many people have confused efficiency (doing more with less) with curtailment, discomfort or privation (doing less, worse or without)." Along with poor habits and ingrained rules the government and people do not realise how much they can gain by energy efficiency or how to go about being efficient.

The section titled: The Efficiency Revolution describes many cheap technologies such s window coating, cheap compact fluorescent lamps and electronic speed controls. The author then describes scenarios in which companies and people made simple changs or implemented ideas tht helped dramatically increase energy efficinecy. In the 1990's Pacific Gas & Electric built a suburban tract in California that could stay cool in the summer without an air conditioning system. If widely adopted it would cost $1,800 less to build and $1,600 less to maintain than over its lifetime. In the non-profit group he co-founded - Rocky Mountain Institute (RIM) - a team has developed new construction designs that offer energy savings of 89% for a data center, 75% for a chemical plant, 70-90% for a supermarket and 50% for a luxury yacht. The designs all have lower capital costs than conventional designs. They also has proposed refits for current oil refineries, mines and microchip factories that would lead to a 40-60% energy reduction and repay the costs in just a few years.

Transportation in the U.S. consumes 70% of it oil, generating a third of its emissions. Cars are very inefficient as only about 13% of fuel energy reaches the wheels. The remaining 87% comes as heat, engine noise and lost to idling and accessories (such as AC). A RMI report made in 2004 claims that lighter cars will be more fuel efficient (physics does back this up). "Carbon fibre can absorb 6 to 12 times as much crash energy per kilogram as steel does". Their analysis also includes a prejection which states that full adoption of efficient vehicles and buildings by could cut the current 28 million barrel a day 2025 projection in half. Alternative sources of fuel would reduce U.S. carbon emmission by 26%, cut pollution, remove the risk in supplying soldier with fuel in war and reap other obvious and less obvious benefits.

The chapter also includes graphs titled Electricity Alternatives and An Oil-Free America but I was unable to find a copy to put on this blog.

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