Energy Efficiency Can Address Climate Change, Drive Prosperity, and Strengthen National Security

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Distinguished American energy expert Amory Lovins today published what may be the most important findings for climate change since Lord Nicholas Stern published “The Economics of Climate Change” in 2007.

“In the same way that no one expected the cost of solar and wind to plummet, driving faster adoption that cuts their cost further, we have overlooked the ability of modern energy efficiency to do the same thing” said Amory Lovins.

Current climate change thinking argues that the world has to use energy at least 3% more productively each year in order to stay below 2 degrees. Amory Lovins argues that the world’s ability to sustain such rapid savings (slightly above the 2015 peak of 2.8%/y) is far greater—and can prove even more profitable—than had been thought.

In the paper, titled “How Big Is the Energy Efficiency Resource?”, Lovins shows that the potential for energy efficiency has been massively understated and its cost overstated, by analyzing not whole buildings, vehicles, and factories, but only their individual parts, thus missing valuable ways to help the parts work together to save more energy at lower cost. Lovins shows a pathway to staying well below 2 degrees is more achievable that any current climate scenarios assume or suggest.

“In the same way that no one expected the cost of solar and wind to plummet, driving faster adoption that cuts their cost further,” Lovins explained, “we have overlooked the ability of modern energy efficiency to do the same thing.”

The paper cites strong empirical evidence that the scope for energy efficiency is actually severalfold larger and cheaper than had previously been thought. Unlike renewable energy, whose cost has plunged in the past decade, energy efficiency had been assumed to cost more as the cheapest methods are exhausted. This widespread assumption, based on economic theory not engineering practice, was overturned by an Editorial published today in the respected peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters.

Documenting practical examples from buildings, vehicles, and industry, the report shows that several times more energy can be saved, often at much lower cost, than climate models assume, governments assess and reward, or industry expects and adopts. To achieve the full potential for saving energy, emissions, and money, the paper highlights the importance of “integrative design” as a key to unlocking unprecedented energy efficiency gains.

“Integrative design makes bigger savings cost less because it doesn’t add stuff; it leaves stuff out,” said Lovins. “It designs energy-using systems not as isolated components but as a whole, so the parts work together to create bigger savings than the sum of the parts.”

Lovins also argues that energy savings (about two-thirds from technologies) is currently doing three times more each year than renewables do.

“Both are vital; both reinforce each other; but It is the sum of both parts that matters for climate. Renewables, however, get nearly all the headlines, because unused energy is invisible,” said Lovins.

The findings are freely available and published at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aad965 and available on video.

For media inquiries please contact: Nick Steel at nsteel(at)rmi(dot)org, tel:+1 347-574-0887

Notes to Editor:

A 4-minute video abstract narrated by Dr. Lovins shows simple practical examples. It is posted at the same site as his scientific paper released today, both freely downloadable.

About Amory B Lovins
The 70- year-old co-founder and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory B Lovins [hyperlink to rmi.org bio page] has spent the past half-century analyzing energy efficiency and renewable supplies, often as an advisor to business leaders and governments worldwide. In 1976, he came to prominence with his groundbreaking work on a non-fossil-fuel, non-nuclear response, money-saving response to the Middle East oil crisis. His suggested ‘soft path’ combined efficient use with renewable supply. It caught the eye of then President Jimmy Carter, influenced his prescient efficiency-centric policies, and turned out to offer the only accurate published foresight about long-term US energy demand. Among many international awards, in 2016, Lovins received the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit, Germany’s highest civilian award, for his contributions to Germany’s energy transition. He has taught at ten universities, authored 31 books and 630 papers, designed numerous superefficient buildings, vehicles, and factories, and been named by Time magazine among the world’s 100 most influential people and by Foreign Policy among the top 100 global thinkers.

About Rocky Mountain Institute
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing.

More information on RMI can be found at http://www.rmi.org or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst

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