Amory Lovins in 2011.
Amory Bloch Lovins
November 13, 1947
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Occupation||writer, advocate, scientist|
|Known for||Advocacy of efficient energy use and soft energy paths|
|Awards||World Technology Award, Right Livelihood Award, Blue Planet Prize, Heinz Award, Environment Prize, Bundesverdienstkreuz|
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Amory Bloch Lovins (born 13 November 1947) is an American writer, physicist, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He has written on energy policy and related areas for four decades, and served on the National Petroleum Council, an oil industry lobbying group, from 2011-2018. In 1983, Lovins was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for "pioneering soft energy paths for global security." He was named by TIME magazine one of the World's 100 most influential people in 2009.
Lovins has promoted energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy sources, and the generation of energy at or near the site where the energy is actually used. Lovins has also advocated a "negawatt revolution" arguing that utility customers don't want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services. In the 1990s, his work with Rocky Mountain Institute included the design of an ultra-efficient automobile, the Hypercar.
Lovins does not see his energy ideas as green or left-wing, and he is an advocate of private enterprise and free market economics, the source of his multi-million dollar net worth. He notes that Rupert Murdoch has made News Corporation carbon-neutral, with savings of millions of dollars. But, says Lovins, large institutions are becoming more "gridlocked and moribund", and he supports the rise of "citizen organizations" around the world.
Lovins has received ten honorary doctorates and won many awards. He has provided expert testimony in eight countries, briefed 19 heads of state, and published 31 books. These books include Reinventing Fire, Winning the Oil Endgame, Small is Profitable, Brittle Power, and Natural Capitalism.
Born in Washington, DC, Lovins spent much of his youth in Silver Spring, Maryland, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and in Montclair, New Jersey. In 1964, Lovins entered Harvard College. After two years there, he transferred in 1967 to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied physics and other subjects. In 1969 he became a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford, where he had a temporary Oxford master of arts status as a result of becoming a university don. He did not graduate, because the University would not allow him to pursue a doctorate in energy, as it was two years before the 1973 oil embargo and energy was not yet considered an academic subject. Lovins resigned his Fellowship and moved to London to pursue his energy work. He moved back to the U.S. in 1981 and settled in western Colorado in 1982.
Each summer from about 1965 to 1981, Lovins guided mountaineering trips and photographed the White Mountains of New Hampshire, contributing photographs to At Home in the Wild: New England's White Mountains. In 1971, he wrote about Wales' endangered Snowdonia National Park in the book, Eryri, the Mountains of Longing, commissioned by David Brower, president of Friends of the Earth. Lovins spent about a decade as British Representative for Friends of the Earth.
During the early seventies, Lovins became interested in the area of resource policy, especially energy policy. The 1973 energy crisis helped create an audience for his writing and an essay originally penned as a U.N. paper grew into his first book concerned with energy, World Energy Strategies (1973). His next book was Non-Nuclear Futures: The Case for an Ethical Energy Strategy (1975), co-authored with John H. Price. Lovins published a 10,000-word essay "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" in Foreign Affairs, in October 1976. Its contents were the subject of many seminars at government departments, universities, energy agencies, and nuclear energy research centers, during 1975-1977. The article was expanded and republished as Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace in 1977.
By 1978 Lovins had published six books, consulted widely, and was active in energy affairs in some 15 countries. In 1982, he and Hunter Lovins founded Rocky Mountain Institute, based in Snowmass, Colorado. Together with a group of colleagues, the Lovinses fostered efficient resource use and sustainable development.
Lovins has briefed 19 heads of state, provided expert testimony in eight countries, and published 29 books and several hundred papers. His clients have included many Fortune 500 companies, major real-estate developers, and utilities. Public-sector clients have included the OECD, UN, Resources for the Future, many national governments, and 13 US states. Lovins served in 1980-81 on the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Research Advisory Board, and in 1999-2001 and 2006-08 on Defense Science Board task forces on military energy efficiency and strategy. His visiting academic chairs most recently included a visiting professorship in Stanford University's School of Engineering.
Amory Lovins came to prominence in 1976 when he published an article in Foreign Affairs called "Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?" Lovins argued that the United States had arrived at an important crossroads and could take one of two paths. The first, supported by U.S. policy, promised a future of steadily increasing reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear fission, and had serious environmental risks. The alternative, which Lovins called "the soft path," favored "benign" sources of renewable energy like wind power and solar power, along with a heightened commitment to energy conservation and energy efficiency. In October 1977, The Atlantic ran a cover story on Lovins' ideas.
Amory Lovins advocates "soft energy paths" involving efficient energy use, diverse and renewable energy sources, and special reliance on "soft energy technologies". Soft energy technologies are those based on solar, wind, biofuels, geothermal, etc. which are matched in scale and quality to their task. Residential solar energy technologies are prime examples of soft energy technologies and rapid deployment of simple, energy conserving, residential solar energy technologies is fundamental to a soft energy strategy.
Lovins has described the "hard energy path" as involving inefficient energy use and centralized, non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels. He believes soft path impacts are more "gentle, pleasant and manageable" than hard path impacts. These impacts range from the individual and household level to those affecting the very fabric of society at the national and international level.
Lovins on the Soft Path is an award-winning documentary film made by Amory and Hunter Lovins. It received many prizes: "Best Science and Technology Film, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1983; Blue Ribbon, American Film Festival, 1982; Best of the Festival, Environmental Education Film Festival, 1982; Best Energy Film, International Environmental Film Festival, 1982; and Chris Bronze Plaque, Columbus International Film Festival, 1982."
Lovins wrote that nuclear power plants are intermittent in that they will sometimes fail unexpectedly, often for long periods of time. For example, in the United States, 132 nuclear plants were built, and 21% were permanently and prematurely closed due to reliability or cost problems, while another 27% have at least once completely failed for a year or more. The remaining U.S. nuclear plants produce approximately 90% of their full-time full-load potential, but even they must shut down (on average) for about 1 out of each 18 months for scheduled refueling and maintenance. To cope with such intermittence by nuclear (and centralized fossil-fuelled) power plants, utilities install a "reserve margin" of roughly 15% extra capacity spinning ready for instant use.
Lovins also argues that nuclear plants have an additional disadvantage: for safety, they must instantly shut down in a power failure, but due to the inherent nuclear-physics of the systems, they can't be restarted quickly. For example, during the Northeast Blackout of 2003, nine operating U.S. nuclear units had to shut down temporarily. During the first three days after restarting, their output was less than 3% of normal. After twelve days of restart, their average capacity loss had exceeded 50 percent.
Lovins provided his general assessment of nuclear power in a 2011 Huffington Post Article, saying that "Nuclear power is the only energy source where mishap or malice can kill so many people so far away; the only one whose ingredients can help make and hide nuclear bombs; the only climate solution that substitutes proliferation, accident, and high-level radioactive waste dangers. Indeed, nuclear plants are so slow and costly to build that they reduce and retard climate protection". With respect to the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, Lovins wrote: "An earthquake-and-tsunami zone crowded with 127 million people is an unwise place for 54 reactors".
In terms of the UK, Amory Lovins commented in 2014 that:
Britain's plan for a fleet of new nuclear power stations is ... unbelievable ... It is economically daft. The guaranteed price [being offered to French state company EDF] is over seven times the unsubsidised price of new wind in the US, four or five times the unsubsidised price of new solar power in the US. Nuclear prices only go up. Renewable energy prices come down. There is absolutely no business case for nuclear. The British policy has nothing to do with economic or any other rational base for decision making.
A negawatt is a unit in watts of energy saved. It is basically the opposite of a watt. Amory Lovins has advocated a "negawatt revolution", arguing that utility customers don't want kilowatt-hours of electricity; they want energy services such as hot showers, cold beer, lit rooms, and spinning shafts, which can come more cheaply if electricity is used more efficiently.
According to Lovins, energy efficiency represents a profitable global market and American companies have at their disposal the technical innovations to lead the way. Not only should they "upgrade their plants and office buildings, but they should encourage the formation of negawatt markets". Lovins sees negawatt markets as a win-win solution to many environmental problems. Because it is "now generally cheaper to save fuel than to burn it, global warming, acid rain, and urban smog can be reduced not at a cost but at a profit".
Lovins explains that many companies are already enjoying the financial and other rewards that come from saving electricity. Yet progress in converting to electricity saving technologies has been slowed by the indifference or outright opposition of some utilities. A second obstacle to efficiency is that many electricity-using devices are purchased by people who won't be paying their running costs and thus have little incentive to consider efficiency. Lovins also believes that many customers "don't know what the best efficiency buys are, where to get them, or how to shop for them".
In 1994, Amory Lovins developed the design concept of the Hypercar. This vehicle would have ultra-light construction with an aerodynamic body using advanced composite materials, low-drag design, and hybrid drive. Designers of the Hypercar claim that it would achieve a three- to fivefold improvement in fuel economy, equal or better performance, safety, amenity, and affordability, compared with today's cars.
In 1999, RMI took this process a step further by launching a for-profit venture, Hypercar Inc. This independent company, in which RMI has a minority interest, is now taking the lead in advancing key areas of Hypercar research and development. In 2004, Hypercar Inc. changed its name to Fiberforge to better reflect the company's new goal of lowering the cost of high-volume advanced-composite structures by leveraging the patents of David F. Taggart, one of the founders of Hypercar, Inc.
Lovins does not see his energy ideas as green or left-wing, and he is an advocate of private enterprise and free market economics. He notes that Rupert Murdoch has made News Corporation carbon-neutral, with savings of millions of dollars. But, says Lovins, large institutions are becoming more "gridlocked and moribund", and he supports the rise of "citizen organizations" around the world.
Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest chronicles the rise of millions of non-profit citizen organizations around the world -- the greatest social movement in history. As central institutions become more gridlocked and moribund, a new vitality is beginning to spread renewal through the stem to the flower.
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Institutions and energy specialists have criticized various positions taken by Amory Lovins. One of the main points of contention is the assumption by the RMI of a linear relation between improvements in energy efficiency and reductions in aggregate energy consumption. The Jevons Paradox suggests that improvements in energy efficiency actually lead to an increase in energy use, as a result of decreasing cost. This "rebound effect" is downplayed in the analyses performed by Lovins. Other assumptions made by Lovins have also received criticism. For example, in Lovins' book, Reinventing Fire, it is assumed that 50% of all electricity in the US could come from wind in 2050. Other authors find that this is capped probably around 30%. Similar overestimates are identified in PV (solar), where estimates are made for about 30%; this is seen as implausible. Moreover, according to the authors, no analyses are given about the need for huge volumes of electricity storage, which would be needed when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.
Amory Lovins has received ten honorary doctorates and was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1984, of the World Academy of Art and Science in 1988, and of the World Business Academy in 2001. He has received the Right Livelihood Award, the Blue Planet Prize, Volvo Environment Prize, the 4th Annual Heinz Award in the Environment in 1998, and the National Design (Design Mind), Jean Meyer, and Lindbergh Awards.
Lovins is also the recipient of the Time Hero for the Planet awards, the Benjamin Franklin and Happold Medals, and the Shingo, Nissan, Mitchell, and Onassis Prizes. He has also received a MacArthur Fellowship and is an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and an Honorary Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council. Furthermore, he is on the Advisory Board of the Holcim Foundation.
On 17 March 2016, Lovins received the Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse (Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit) from the Federal Republic of Germany for intellectually underpinning Germany's Energiewende, most notably with his concept of "soft energy" and how that promotes peace and prosperity.
Lovins is a senior Ashoka Fellow in 2009. Ashoka Fellows are leading social entrepreneurs recognized for their innovative solutions and their visionary, pragmatic approach to changing patterns across society.
In 1979 Amory Lovins married L. Hunter Sheldon, a lawyer, forester, and social scientist. Hunter received her undergraduate degree in sociology and political studies from Pitzer College, and her J.D. from Loyola University's School of Law. They separated in 1989 and divorced in 1999. In 2007, he married Judy Hill, a fine-art landscape photographer.
All sources of electricity sometimes fail, differing only in how predictably, why, how often, how much, and for how long. Even the most reliable giant power plants are intermittent: they fail un-expectedly in billion-watt chunks, often for long periods.