An Hour with Amory Lovins

In case you missed it amid the flurry of climate-related news last week: On September 30, Amory Lovins, founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and an honest-to-goodness energy guru to many, spent an hour in conversation with Michael Krasny and callers to KQED’s Forum program. You can listen to the entire archived broadcast or scan some of the highlights here, compiled by Climate Watch intern David Ferry.

On China:

“We can count on China to lead the world out of the climate mess…Even though the U.S. has led the world in wind installations the past three years, this year China’s going to pass us so fast we won’t even hear them go by. China’s doubled its wind installation each of the past four years, and there’s a new paper in Science from Harvard and Tsinghua in September saying that China can meet all its electric needs–not the growth but the total–till at least 2030, cost effectively, from its wind resources.”

On Nuclear Power:

“Basically nuclear and coal plants are getting walloped in the global marketplace by efficiency and renewables and cogeneration because they’re a lot cheaper and they have less financial risk so they can attract private investment.”

Grading the Obama Administration on Renewables:

“Greatly improved and I think on the whole doing very well.”

On the Upcoming UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen:

“I’m cautiously optimistic…But remember that governments are usually the last to figure these things out. Most governments still think climate protection is costly. They haven’t figured out yet that economic theorists got the sign wrong and actually climate protection is profitable. Once you change the conversation from cost, burden and sacrifice to profit, jobs and competitive advantage it makes the politics a whole lot easier.”

On Energy Efficiency & Steve Chu’s “Low-Hanging Fruit” metaphor:

“The technologies keep improving faster than we use them, so efficiency is an ever bigger and cheaper source–it’s as if the ‘low hanging fruit’ had fallen on the ground; it’s mushing up around the ankles, it’s spilling in over the tops of our boots and the efficiency tree keeps dumping more fruit on our heads.”

On Large-Scale Solar Farms v. “Distributed” Power Generation:

“The sun is distributed for free. Why gather it in one place and then pay to spread it out again? The National Renewable Energy Lab says if we put solar cells on seven percent of the structures in this country it would run all our electric needs without using any land. And for that matter, the wind potential on available windy land in this country is several times our total electric need and the footprint is actually very small.”

On Whether Climate Change is Irreversible:

“There are a half-dozen known mechanisms of rapid climate change. Several of them show like they may be starting up, so it’s urgent to reverse that…we have plenty of technology already available to stabilize climate to the extent that irreversible changes have not already started. We don’t know what that extent is, so we ought to go full bore on best buys first and hope that we’re in time.”

You can also take a virtual tour of Lovins’ home in Colorado, which doubles as a laboratory for energy innovation.