Published on Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Paul Hanley, The Vancouver Sun
It’s become clear after the recent BP oil disaster that the time to rethink energy has certainly arrived
Is it possible to energize our civilization without fear? Fear of oil spills and oil wars, fear of nuclear meltdowns and nuclear waste, fear of global warming and polluted air and water?
It is, according to Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), among the world’s most respected authorities on alternative energy strategies. In a new video available at http://www.rmi.org/rmi/ReinventingFire#video, Lovins makes the case that a richer, fairer, cooler, safer world is now possible because saving and replacing fossil fuels works better — and costs less — than buying and burning them.
Events such as the U.S. Gulf Coast oil spill — the Three Mile Island of deepwater drilling — expose the true costs and dangers of fossil fuel. Supposedly, we use oil as a fuel because it is cheaper and easier to use — and more profitable — than alternatives such as wind, solar or conservation. But that assumption changes when drilling for deep-water oil goes awry and it costs the oil producer billions to deal with the mess.
Switching to alternative energy may not be a choice but a necessity. As author Jeff Rubin points out, U.S. President Barack Obama’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling is a potential game changer.
Rubin notes that before the Gulf accident, the oil industry was betting on deep-water drilling to fill the growing oil-supply gap resulting from annual depletions of oil reserves and to provide net increases in global production. Over the last decade, oil production from deep-water drilling has grown by 4.3 million barrels per day, accounting for almost half the increase in world oil supply.
“Virtually every positive outlook on global oil supply hinges on large increases in deep-water production,” says Rubin. “But in exactly whose backyard are those increases going to take place? Will any country be willing to face the environmental and economic costs that America is facing? And will any oil company be willing to risk the staggering liabilities that BP shareholders will soon have to pay?”
“If the answer to these questions is no,” says Rubin, “get ready for a world of shrinking oil supply.”
And what is the alternative to plentiful oil? Unfortunately, the “fear factor” for alternatives like coal, oilsands, and nuclear options is also high. That’s why RMI is promoting a “fuel without fear” scenario Lovins has dubbed Reinventing Fire. The approach outlined by RMI promotes an energy revolution on four fronts:
Transportation: Moving people, freight and the platforms that carry them uses most of the world’s oil. Smart design can make platforms lighter and more efficient while enhancing performance, safety and comfort. RMI’s implementation strategy aims to spur mass markets that will induce manufacturers to retool and redesign all types of vehicles.
Buildings: Despite new codes, design tools, technologies and early success stories, commercial building stock is no more energy efficient than it was 25 years ago. In 2030, approximately 60 per cent of current commercial building stock will still be in use. Clearly, buildings need to be a major part of any effort to get off fossil fuels. RMI’s RetroFit initiative uses integrative design, astute timing and powerful partners to make these improvements bigger and cheaper.
Industry: Few power and industrial plants, commercial and residential buildings, vehicles and transportation systems are as energy efficient as they should be. Factor Ten Engineering (10Xe) aims to revolutionize how engineering is taught and practised, so very large energy savings cost less. RMI’s projects have demonstrated impressive potential to apply such integrative design across the range of industrial processes, as well as to buildings and vehicles.
Electricity: Electricity generation is the largest user of fossil fuels, chiefly coal. RMI’s energy practice is leading a multi-year effort to develop a credible and advantageous transition from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Its Next-Generation Utility initiative will show that replacing coal and nuclear power with a portfolio of dynamic demand and supply side resources — distributed and renewable — is both cost-competitive and highly reliable.
Events like the Gulf oil spill make it clear that the time for tinkering with the energy system is ended. We need a change in energy strategy and we need it now.