Breath of Clarity

Environmental Policy Analysis Discussion #6: B

Amory Lovins conveys, by 2050, a transition to renewable energy costs $5 trillion dollars less than using oil and gas, humbly assuming carbon emissions and all other external costs are worth zero. The cheaper strategy can support an 158% bigger economy. I agree with his idea of focusing on product design to accelerate the transition. For example, his account of considering car design’s relevance in the benefit of switching to electrically-powered vehicles is intriguing. I strongly agree with his point in saying it is important to inform consumers of the characteristics leading to electric being cheaper. I appreciate his feebates, rebates on efficient automobiles payed for by fees on inefficient ones, policy idea. He uses European feebates as an example to prove the theory is actually practical. Considering human population growth is a major factor in global climate change, I also respect his specific, tangible techniques for eliminating needless driving: innovative pricing which involves charging by the mile not by the gallon, ride sharing enabled by IT, smart company growth models that help people need to commute less, and road system efficiency that decreases traffic. Moreover, his concept of “institutional acupuncture” caught my attention. His argument is grounded upon the strategy of figuring out where the business logic is not flowing properly and sticking needles into the issues. For example, he makes a sound point in saying oil is getting uncompetitive even at low prices before it is unavailable at high prices. I am particularly fasciated with his depiction of integrative design as he explained the savings involved in energy-efficient buildings is proportional to the amount of changes made. Specifically, the theory’s application to pumps is powerful. Overall, he did a great job of explaining how changes to improve energy-efficiency have small capital costs compared to the previously used supplies.

His main point is there is no sacrifice involved in the transition to 100% renewable energy. Therefore, there is nothing to fear. So, the answer to his initial question, Could we have fuel without fear? is yes. Lovins showed example of success renewable energy is already bringing so the U.S. does not need to feel as though it is the first nation conducting a trial. Explaining how other countries, such as Germany (whose number of renewable energy workers has already surpassed the number of oil, gas and coal workers), is ahead on the transition helped solidify his argument. He also explains nuclear power plants are having trouble raising private construction capital while renewable sources are generating support of venture capitalists. Moreover, Lovins emphasized the lack of risk around national security, water, finance, and health involved with switching to renewables. I also agree with his technique of sharing the environmental benefits after his economic argument, even though his tactics is projected to reduce fossil carbon emissions by an impressive 82%. To grab the attention of those who are afraid to make the transition to renewable energy, it is important to portray the switch as an economically-driven decision. Doing so cultivates a unity of opinion needed to make his vision a reality.

However, I see challenges in realizing the vision as well. I was surprised Lovins said no act of Congress is required to bring his idea to fruition. Considering there are already a plethora of subsidies in existence that make oil and gas still able to have a place in the market, the renewable energy industry needs legislative support to keep up and to catalyze the transition. Since renewable energy technology is still so new, policy is needed to cultivate a consensus attitude of adopting the transition. For example, without the continuation of tax credits that have motivated people to purchase electric vehicles thus far, it is difficult to guarantee whether electric vehicle consumption would persist at the same rate. It is interesting to contrast the different outcomes a country experiences based upon its policies. I found an article highlighting contrasts between Nigeria and Germany conveying a series of legal mechanisms, particularly the use of a feed-in tariff, enabled the latter to promote the installation of renewable electricity systems (Oniemola 2011). My recommendation is for the U.S. to use European countries as a model in policy-making.


Lovins, Amory. 2019. “A 40-Year Plan for Energy.” TED. Accessed October 17, 2020.

Oniemola, Peter Kayode. 2011. “Integrating Renewable Energy into Nigeria’s Energy Mix through the Law: Lessons from Germany”. Renewable Energy Law and Policy Review. Accessed October 19 2020.

Comment by Chris Bonham:

Hi Mary,

Very thorough synthesis of Lovins (2019) perspective on how to transition from away from fossil fuels to more sustainable renewable energies and save $5 trillion in doing so. I also agree that we the knowledge and tools to do it and yet, it’s rather disappointing there is no policy requiring the transition. I’m also glad you mentioned the idea of taxes on polluting sources paying for the incentives for greener alternatives. A combination of taxing polluters and providing incentives to transition could work for cars, buildings, factories, energy, and much more.

As you suggest, it certainly appears the US is behind Europe in the transition to cleaner energy. I found one study particularly piqued my interest, advocates for a 100% global renewable energy macro-grid. Essentially, through Global Energy Interconnections (GEI), a macro-grid would be implemented connecting all nations in the world to 100% renewable energy. Of course there many attributes, costs, and risks that must be considered, energy efficiency, sustainability, security, economic affordability, geopolitical, environmental stability. Yet, the benefits include a zero carbon energy platform once installed, and energy can be routed according to needs. For example, massive wind farms could be erected in windy areas such as Antarctica and solar farms in sunny areas such as around the equator and these “hubs” can route energy to places without much wind or sun (Bompard et al. 2018). I really love this idea of thinking of the planet as a whole and utilizing it in the most efficient way to benefit everyone as a whole!

Bompard, Ettore, Daniele Grosso, Tao Huang, Francesco Profumo, Xianzhang Lei, and Duo Li. 2018. “World Decarbonization Through Global Electricity Interconnections.” Energies (Basel) 11, no. 7: 1746. https://DOI:10.3390/en11071746.

Lovins, Amory. 2019. “A 40-Year Plan for Energy.” TED. Accessed October 22, 2020.

Comment by Professor Morgan:


Lovins also coined the term NegaWatt to describe the watt you do not have to generate because of energy efficiency. So super energy efficient buildings “produce” negawatts because the electric supply system does not need to build additional power plants to produce more watts. It is a clever way of measuring and valuing energy conservation.

Comment by Shelby McKean:

Hi Mary,

Great post this week! You really gave a clear understanding of the video. I think the most important part of the video is what you said was Lovins’s main point. As you said, the main point was that we already had everything we had to improve our environmental standing. We already have the resources to be 100% renewable energy. We need to start to realize this and make the slow but vital transition to these energy sources.

Comment #1:

Original Post by Casey Kahler:

Amory B. Lovins video was a breath of fresh air with his optimism and desire to make a change. Lovins vision for our energy system in the US is to redesign our thinking and way of life to ultimately save 5 trillion dollars by 2050. Ways to encourage this shift in thinking is to redesign vehicles and increase their overall fitness and the use of feebate programs incentivizing the switch to carbon-free systems. One idea that I found really intriguing is the “Super Window” idea that was installed at the Empire State Building. Aside from reconfiguring our current way of life by switching out cars and windows; he also discussed the importance of modifying our current electric grid (Lovins 2019). Our current grid is out of date and has to be replaced by 2050. Lovins (2019) estimated it will cost $6 trillion without inflation. This being said it was addressed how improving our grid and making the switch away from carbon would cost roughly the same price. With this in mind he proposed the use of micro-grids. By distributing renewables on micro-grids, this allows for the grids to be connected or stand-alone at need. Ultimately, this aids in maximizing national security, customer choice, innovation, and entrepreneurship (Lovins 2019).

I definitely agree with Lovins that a change and desire to step away from the use of carbon is needed for our environment. In my renewable and alternative energy course we’ve been discussing our electric grid and the challenges that it’s currently facing (i.e. blackouts, natural disasters, and accessibility for terrorist attacks). In the US, we don’t have one national grid but instead three regional grids. I really like the idea of micro-grids because it would allow our entire nation to be connected and transport energy to areas in need. Some of the big challenges in regards to this innovative thinking is our current administration. President Trump rolled back regulations such as the Stream Protection Rule and the Clean Power Plan. In addition, he has proposed opening up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement (White House 2019). I truly believe that for our nation to move to a carbon-free lifestyle we need to reinstate policies and initiatives to promote the use of renewables and changes to our grid.


Lovins, Amory. 2019. “A 40-Year Plan for Energy.” TED. Accessed October 20, 2020. to an external site..

White House. 2019. “President Donald J Trump is Unleashing American Energy Dominance.” Last modified May 14, 2019.

My Comment:

Hi Casey,

I appreciate the way you’re linking optimism about the U.S. energy sector’s future with financial savings. I agree the ability of Lovins to ground his arguments in economics brought a unique sense of hope. People who are only familiar with the innovative renewable energy industry entailing financial sacrifice would be particularly uplifted with this idea compared to you and I. When I went door-to-door marketing residential solar panel systems, many homeowners were not aware pricing has changed relative to ten years ago. With technology already proving itself, being on a trend of increasing efficiency, prices are projected to continue falling. I wonder whether the projections Lovins provided used the current prices of wind and solar or incorporated the trend that renewable energy is going to be progressively cheaper from now until 2050 into his calculations.

I am glad you emphasized the current grid being outdated. Sixty percent of U.S. distribution lines have surpassed their 50-year life expectancy, according to Black and Veatch, while the Brattle Group estimates that $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion will be spent by 2030 to modernize the grid just to maintain reliability (National Conference of State Legislatures 2019). Big infrastructure projects, like transmission lines or power plants, inherently come with a larger risk of stranded costs, which are created when a utility investment becomes unusable due to shifts in policy (National Conference of State Legislatures 2019). Energy transmission, distribution and generation infrastructure is built to meet peak system needs, which may only occur for a few hours per year (National Conference of State Legislatures 2019). This is a costly approach to meeting needs, since much of the system’s capacity goes unused for most of the year. The advent of new grid management technologies and approaches, however, provides an opportunity to significantly decrease these peaks, reducing the infrastructure needed to reliably meet peak load (National Conference of State Legislatures 2019). So, merely considering the grid, innovative technology is the less expensive option.


National Conference of State Legislatures. 2019. “Modernizing the Electric Grid: State Role and Policy Options”. Accessed October 21 2020.

Response by Casey Kahler:

Hi Mary,

Thank you so much for your response and sharing your own personal experiences too! My parents in the last year have switched to solar panels and it was amazing hearing how prices have changed over the years. I do feel as if there is still a lack of education and public knowledge as I was shocked when hearing the estimates. Obviously, it’s still a big investment but hearing their electricity bills now illustrates how it pays off in the long run!

Thank you for sharing the points from the National Conference of State Legislatures on how the energy transmission and distribution are built to meet peak needs but those only occur a few hours each year! I didn’t know that and it’s crazy to think the amount of time and money being put into this to only have something occur for a few hours annually! All the more motivation to create not only a more innovative grid but also better management practices too to help reduce costs. Do you think it comes down to politics to address these concerns or with your experience going to door-to-door are people receptive to energy companies discussing the need for changes?

My Response:

Hi Casey,

That’s awesome their house is running on clean energy! Some equipment manufacturers have an app that allows homeowners to track their own system’s production on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. It is fun to see how the solar system parts function. I always enjoyed showing people the shade patterns on their roofs. I also appreciate how both more product research and development as well as tax credits have contributed to price changes over the years. People are shocked to hear how low the estimates are, particularly when the system is financed and it’s being compared to monthly utility bills. Also, since the price of the utility company in California (PG&E) is increasing, financing a solar system is preferable because homeowners would be able to know their monthly bills are fixed.

Politics and canvassing go hand in hand. My pitch at the door was focused on using the tax credit to explain why people are going to save money by installing. So, both national and state politics are important in terms of keeping the tax credit in effect. However, with the tax credits fading out, the dropping of prices due to advancements in new versions of the technology is very crucial. Since advancement in technology is very much so due to funding, it is dependent on politics. Politics is important for the purpose of making solar the inexpensive. Without it being inexpensive, people are not nearly as intrigued and open to listening. While door-to-door sales is helping spread the word about solar, it would be useful to implement additional educational outreach strategy. In the residential industry, companies should be focused on strategic business partnerships as a way to gain new clients. For example, a solar company can partner with a sustainable clothing brand. Also, it would be useful for educational outreach to target people who are already interested in environmental issues. Sometimes those are the folks who want to go solar and just don’t yet know how much cheaper it has gotten. Dedicating resources to teaching high school students about the potential savings solar can bring would encourage students to go home and explain to their parents why it makes sense to at least get a complimentary estimate. Also, people are more likely to start being interested in the topic and want to be taught about it after they see their neighbors doing it. So, any way to incorporate a trendy element is helpful. Further, politics is needed for installation of larger renewable energy projects such as micro-grids and community wind power.

Response by Casey Kahler:

Hi Mary,

Oh my goodness that’s so cool how some manufacturers have an app! Honestly, that seems like such a smart technological advance because not only can the homeowner benefit it but it’s also an educational component to it too which makes it easy for homeowners to share their progress with others too! Also, I never thought about strategic partnerships as you mentioned but it makes all kind of sense. Why not have companies who share similar values try and grow their customer base from each other! So neat! Thank you for sharing all your personal experience—it really means a lot! J

Comment by Professor Morgan:

Casey and Mary,

I’ll pick up on the solar and super windows theme. We just designed and built a Passive House which is super energy and water efficient in every aspect including triple pained windows that are incredible. Even on a cold day you can stand next to a full wall of glass and not feel the cold come in. We are adding solar now and that will complement the mega-insulation, on-demand hot water heater, and mini-split heat pump HVAC system. You could say we are taking the consumer driven market approach to supporting energy innovation.