Last month John Robb mentioned that he doesn't think that Lovins macro case works. I'm not sure what he means by the macro case. My evaluation of Lovins continues to be:
- Lovins, like anyone who sells to politicians, presents too binary a view. By this I mean that he sells his ideas as if they were the silver bullet that will solve all problems. Politicians and the naive public always look for a simple answer, and there is always some fraudulent advocate that will promise a simple answer. So Lovins sells a simple partially fraudulent answer. The short summary of Lovins is "reducing energy intensity is the solution". I can agree that reducing energy intensity as a key component of the solution, worthy of 80-90% of the investment resources.
- Specific proposals for reducing energy intensity are much less reliable. The savings from more efficient lighting was a clear winner. Some of his automotive ideas look very questionable.
I also note the McKinsey report that claimed that the US could hit the IPCC goals for carbon reduction merely by implementing energy intensity reduction technologies that are known, and that have a positive ROI on the investment. In effect, hitting the carbon goals would be "free". This does match many of my experiences with manufacturing and other investments. But the report gave no backup data that could be checked. It did not give methodology that could be checked. So after a while I gave up looking and won't even link to it. Claims like that need backup data and methodology that can be checked independently.
But the anecdotes continue to flow. The most recent that I saw was in Aviation Week (hiding behind a paywall). An Irish aviation manufacturing site found that they could get a 60+% reduction in carbon footprint with easy changes. No major investments were needed. They did not quote an exact ROI, but indicated that the investments had a very rapid payback.
The constant flow of simple improvements with ROIs in the range 25-50% continues, but they are all anecdotal and lack proper statistics on how widespread they really are. So while they are consistent with Lovins claims and the McKinsey claims, they do not provide enough information to assess how much their aggregate improvement will be. That is part of my problem with what Lovins claims.
From a decision making perspective this does not matter much. Actual available investment money, available construction resources, and allowable downtime are all limited. There is some evidence that all of the available resources can be put towards investments with good ROIs. These ROIs are based on process improvements and energy use reductions. Regardless of the percentage it makes sense to allocate the investments to those projects first. Some money does need to go into research. But there is no good case for most of the trendy fads like grid solar or grid/hybrid cars unless all of the excellent ROI projects are already funded. It makes more sense to invest in projects that maximize the energy use reduction per dollar spent.
So at this kind of macro level I agree with Lovins on the prioritization of energy intensity reduction, although I have not seen data to confirm the anecdotal belief that it will be sufficient.