Monday, 3 March 2014

Negawatts and negalitres: steps to a sustainable future

Conservation and efficiency should be measured in negawatts (for energy) and negalitres (for water). These steps have been proposed to the UN General Assembly's OWG studying targets and indicators for Sustainable Development Goals. 

The idea originally came to Amory Lovins when a coal-burning utility sent him a bill with a typo: "negawatt" instead of megawatt. Inspiration struck, when he realized that to consumers there was no difference; that avoided use (i.e. conservation by the consumer, or energy efficiency by the producer) would always be cheaper than new "hard energy". A win-win. But North American utilities have a different ideology: they prefer to blindly continue using massive amounts of fossil fuels, to predict endless rises in demand, lure industry with artificially with cheap rates, and lobby legislators to stick it to householders. So his Rocky Mountain Institute has led a campaign for "soft energy" for more than three decades. See his video Reinventing Fire, reviewed in our blog in 2010.

Measuring energy in negawatts negalitres would not only demonstrate cost savings. It would deliver more human benefit from the same throughput of resources, a concept that needs to be applied to all products of the Earth if planetary boundaries are to be respected, and human needs to be met.
Ecojustice: planetary boundaries and human needs: Kate Raworth's Oxfam doughnut

According to Lovins, gradual but mindful personal lifestyle changes can provide:
20% of negawatts from personal conservation + 20% from energy efficiency = 40% reduction
courtesy smartenergyliving.org
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists' figures, that is the equivalent of eliminating over 500 coal plants! Despite the claims of industry lobbyists, the process could be gradual, eliminate no jobs, and start with the dirtiest plants. A mandatory 5% yearly reduction in all fossil and mineral energy sources over 17 years would result in over 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and noxious pollutants.

And renewable energy increase of 5% a year is quite possible! For example, by solar rooftops. They may already be cheaper than normally generated electricity, according to to new report by Rocky Mountain Institute.

References: RMI, The Economics of grid defection, Feb 2014; OWG, Focus areas of the SDGs, Feb 2014; GEAS report Feb 2014, summarizing IPCC5 and UNEP EmissionsGap Report 2013.

Related concepts: Herman Daly on "throughput" in a steady-state economy, cradle-to-cradle design, Lovins' negawatt and soft energy path (20% efficiency + 20% conservation= 40% reduction in use of present fossil source and GHG emissions), County of Maui water conservation, GCI contraction and convergence, CBDR, Raworth's Oxfam doughnut (satisfy human needs while respecting planetary boundaries), a mandatory renewable portfolio standard, solar rooftops in the US, zero-energy bottle lighting in Kenya.

Thanks to Quaker economic analyst Jack Bradin for this overview. See also David Roberts, "Preventing climate change and adapting to it are not morally equivalent" Grist 16 Sep 2014

1 comment:

William Holcombe said...

Very nice brief accessible analysis with very information-rich graphics.

Bill Holcombe