01 October 2009

Alternative Energy Myths

Tim recently sent me an awesome article from Foreign Policy: Seven Myths About Alternative Energy

Several points stood out for me...

Nuclear is super expensive and take a long time to implement. Amory Lovins estimates that nuclear costs 3 times what wind power does.

There's a lot of people running after developing sexy new technologies (sigh...biofuel...), while focusing on unglamorous efficiency has the potential to cut 20% to 30% of the world's energy consumption by using technology that's already widely available.

Efficiency also does not ask people to change their lifestyles -- it finds ways to do the same activities with less energy, as opposed to conservation, which asks people to cut back on activities to preserve energy.

For example, power companies make more money when consumers use more electricity and they need to build more power plants. However, California has implemented measures to decouple consumer electricity use from the energy company profits. Thus, companies have been enabled to work with consumers to reduce energy consumption.

As a result, electricity use per capita in California has remained flat over the past 3 decades, while in the rest of the US, it has jumped 50%.

Here at Masdar, there's lots of plans afoot to experiment with different techniques of enabling people in the city to use less energy. I think an important part is giving a clear signal to individuals about how much energy they are using. For example, imagine a small number display next to each appliance that displays the energy use/cost.

I think that most people want to use less energy, but there's a wide range of how far out of their way people are willing to go to use less energy. If the default option is "use less energy", if it's the easiest path, then the majority of people will take it.

The sustainability movement needs more persuasive technology, or rather, persuasive applications of the technology we already have.


rif said...

Not saying that it's one way or the other, but Amory Lovins is not exactly an unbiased source of information about the costs of nuclear power.

Stupin said...

Yup, agreed. But I would be willing to bet that efficiency measures are cheaper than nuclear energy.