Amory Lovins’ “soft energy path” promotes a profitable blending of efficient energy use with safe, sustainable sources to provide the same or better services while saving money, abating pollution and climate change, reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation, and increasing global security. In speeding the free-market adoption of such an approach, professionals at Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org), Snowmass, CO, have assembled the following intellectual tools to achieve this:
• End-use/least-cost thinking. “What are the jobs for which we need energy, how much and what kinds of energy do we need for each task, and what is the cheapest way to supply that energy?” The price of obtaining the services or results (lighting and heating), not of the energy (kilowatt-hours of electricity) that drives them, is basic to RMI’s thinking about using all kinds of resources more productively.
• A watt saved is a watt earned/demand-side management. Most utilities now realize it’s usually cheaper to help customers save electricity than try to sell them more of it, because selling more means having to build more expensive, economically risky power plants. RMI suggests the cost of saving electricity or any sort of resource should be weighed alongside the cost of producing more of it.
• What ever exists is possible. A good idea is often slow to catch on because people assume that if it worked, somebody would have done it already. RMI documents the best and most profitable energy-efficient technologies, industrial and architectural designs, and business practices, on the premise that if they exist, they must be possible.
• Systems thinking. Defining problems singly, without due attention to their causes or connections, results in narrow solutions that merely shift a problem or create a new one. Systems thinking considers the bigger picture to find solutions that avoid unintended consequences and produce cascading benefits.
• Tunnel through the cost barrier. Contrary to the standard view that efficiency is a process of diminishing returns, it’s possible, using highly integrative design, to achieve very large efficiency gains more cheaply than small ones. This results from the conscientious application of techniques described in Natural Capitalism (www.natcap.org).
• Market-oriented solutions. For least-cost solutions to win out, the market must offer a level playing field. Many of RMI’s activities promote this, such as urging policymakers to desubsidize energy prices and remove barriers to energy efficiency.
• Regulatory change. RMI has been a driving force in showing how regulations can provide energy utilities with profit incentives to invest in least-cost efficiency, including ensuring that electric-industry restructuring encourages competition and maintains such public goods as efficiency, renewables, and research and development.
• Small is profitable. Smaller, decentralized electricity supply sources can be cheaper, cleaner, less risky, more flexible, and quicker to deploy than giant plants. RMI is at the forefront of quantifying the benefits of this approach.
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