Dispatches from Summer Study: Something of a Study in Contrasts

Another American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings has come and gone from the beautiful Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California. But the reverberations of the talks, discussions, and connections made will reverberate until the next Summer Study in 2014. The 2012 Summer Study was the biggest yet, with more than 1,100 participants. And the food was pretty good, despite the usual grumbling (you try cooking for 1,100 people!) And the beer selection at the socials was more than adequate.

The Plenary speakers on the first three evenings are an important part of the Summer Study. Below is my take on the Sunday night Plenary. Descriptions of the other two talks will follow in the coming days.

Sunday Plenary: Something of a Study in Contrasts

Jane Long, Chair of California’s Energy Future Project, spoke on “California’s Energy Future—The View to 2050 Summary Report.” The study, conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology, is a work in process. Amory Lovins, Chairman and Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which he cofounded in 1982, discussed his latest book, Reinventing Fire. It would not justify the work of both speakers to say that Long’s is the voice of reality and Lovins’ is the voice of a dreamer, but a casual observer might make that mistake.

Long asked the ques­tion “Is it possible to meet California Governor Jerry Brown’s Executive Order to go 80% below 1990 green house gas (GHG) emissions by 2050?” The California legislature passed Assembly Bill (AB) 32 in 2006, requiring a drop in GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The study looked at four actions to reduce emissions: reduce the demand for fuel and electricity; increase the demand for electricity; use renewable resources to produce electric­ity; and finally, to “de-carbonize” whatever fuel we still need to use. The three sectors of efficiency and electrification to target: buildings, industry, and transportation

In order to meet the goal of Governor Brown’s Executive Order, every square foot of building space would need to be touched. The retrofit of existing buildings would be the major cost, surprisingly, while making new buildings more energy ef­ficient is much less expensive, compared to business as usual. (Long raised a question that she hopes is discussed here at Summer Study. Is it better to demolish buildings rather than retrofit them?) To achieve an 80% reduction in 1990 GHG emis­sions by 2050, automobile fuel efficiency would have to reach an average of 75 mpg.

And if we could reduce building energy use to the extent possible, achieve the higher average mpg of cars and trucks, and reduced industrial energy use as much as possible given existing and technology now being developed, make good use of biofuels, and catch and sequester as much carbon as we can, we would still need 27 billion gallon of gasoline equivalent (bgge)/year of fuel whose carbon we can’t sequester. There is just not enough space to inject and store the carbon in a way that is safe and reliable.

To solve our fuel challenges, we need research. We do that pretty well. But to increase efficiency, we need policy changes, and that is a much greater challenge because it has to do with changing people’s thinking and behavior.

Amory Lovins’ RMI has been described as a think-and-do tank, which seems to make it the perfect answer to Long’s chal­lenges. Lovins began by asking the audience, would we rather die of oil wars, climate change, nuclear holocaust, or none of the above?

Lovins asked us to re-think our assumptions about energy. Can we conceive of fuel efficiency in cars in the range of 125-240 mile per gallon equivalent (mpge) (these are electric cars)? It’s possible with cars made from lightweight carbon fiber. Can we imagine buildings in cold climates that meet 90% of the heating energy needed during the coldest winter nights without fuel of any kind, but with smart, integrative design strategies instead? These are things happen­ing right now behind the scenes.

We also need to change our ideas about oil company exec­utives. Some are asking the right questions and preparing for a carbon-less economy because it makes good business sense. The military wants to wean itself off of fossil fuels because it feels its future security depends on it. And while it does so it teaches the rest of us how it’s done.

Amory Lovins’ TED Talk:


Foreign Affairs Article:


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