Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Amory Lovins and His Nuclear Illusion – Intro

Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) just released a 52 page paper (pdf) ranting that nuclear power is “not all it’s cracked up to be”. The report claims that the nuclear industry is misleading people that nuclear power is “competitive, necessary, reliable, secure, and vital for fuel security and climate protection.”

I’ve read and studied RMI’s claims and their “methodology”. From my examination of Lovins’ sources, it appears that many of his conclusions and claims are based on selective readings. When those readings are taken in context, they lead to very different conclusions than are presented by Mr. Lovins.

Over the next two weeks I will explain why I believe the RMI paper adds little value to the current public debate about energy policy. In the blog posts to follow, I will also show you the overall picture of how much energy we consume, how much efficiency can contribute, which energies are really making a difference, what RMI’s “solutions” really supply, and what’s up with their favorite, “micropower.”

While I disagree with much of the paper, I have gained a new appreciation for some of Amory Lovins’ and RMI’s ideas. I am a big fan of energy efficiency and I think decentralized sources of energy and cogeneration provide some great benefits. With that being said, I want to ensure that you understand the errors and limitations I found in Mr. Lovins’ latest proposals so that you can decide for yourself how seriously to take his “Nuclear Illusion”.

4 comments:

ken said...

Looking forward to reading your posts.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. I'm also looking forward to a look back at your archives, where we'll be able to see a clear pattern on behalf of RMI and Amory Lovins when it comes to cooking the books with their "research".

Joseph Somsel said...

While I too am a supporter of energy conservation (who isn't?) but let's differentiate between voluntary conservation and legal mandates, either direct or hidden.

The first category is both a rational calculation based on individual situations and a moral virtue ("waste not, want not.") Free markets are good at this - watch as GM shifts productions from big SUVs and trucks to smaller cars in response to cutomers' demands.

The second category is more difficult to defend, based as it is on government coercion. The hated 55 mph speed limit was enforced on the highways by men with guns on the government payroll.

A subset of that second category exists and may be justified where the one making decisions affecting operating energy costs is not the one paying for the operating energy costs. My prime example of this is the new California Energy Commission rule in Title 24 that limits the water velocity in swimming pool filter and heating systems. A pool salesman is motivated to cut the first costs of installation by using smaller pipes yet a little extra money spent in bigger pipes saves the ultimate owner a lot on electric costs of operation.

This is a useful arena for building codes. Unfortunately, we've seen this relatively hidden avenue abused by devotees of people like Lovins and government bureaucrats.

miggs said...

As you finish your posts on this subject, I'd ask you to make sure you give sufficient attention to energy efficiency and cogeneration, as you mention. Whether nuclear power should be a bigger part of our energy mix is a fine question, with good arguments on both sides. Whether current power plants should continue their gross inefficiency -- throwing out two-thirds of their fuel before the electricity even hits the grid -- should not be. I'm associated with Recycled Energy Development (recycled-energy.com), a company that does cogeneration and waste heat recovery for manufacturers. The fact is that the current system is inexcusable, with regulations protecting monopoly electric utilities and making it difficult for more efficient options to emerge. The market must become more free; the result would be lower energy costs AND greenhouse emissions, since that's what cogeneration does.