Who needs oil anyway?

Categorie(s): Saving Energy, Sustainable Energy, thematic lessons

Amory Lovins drives a hybrid that gets 64 miles per gallon (=3,7 liter/100km)and lives in a solar-powered house that is so energy-efficient he’s able to grow bananas in an indoor jungle high in the Colorado Rockies. Yet he – he was one of the most influential energy thinkers three decades ago during the last oil crisis – is no anti-establishment foe of the free market.

He says: ”The United States can end its dependence on foreign oil and make money along the way
Oil prices have hit record highs this year as U.S. soldiers fight in Iraq, the country with the world’s second-largest oil reserves a war fought really about fossil fuel.
“The United States can get completely off oil and revitalize its economy,” says Lovins, “Saving and substituting for oil costs less than buying oil. Getting completely off oil makes sense and makes money.”

A  book by Lovins and his think-tank colleagues, “Winning the Oil Endgame“ offers a technology-driven blueprint to wean the country off petroleum within a few decades: first, double the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and airplanes; then replace gasoline with alternative fuels such as ethanol and hydrogen. The transition to a post-petroleum future will generate jobs, create new industries, reduce greenhouse gases and improve national security, he says.
For now, automakers and energy firms need to adopt new strategies to promote this oil-free future. It will require an investment of $180 billion over ten years. That’s less than the U.S. involvement in Iraq will end up costing.

Many experts agree that the country’s oil dependency is unsustainable and encourages global warming and geopolitical instability. Automakers are already developing more fuel-efficient vehicles that run on hybrid-electric engines, clean diesel, biofuels and hydrogen fuel cells.
To fuel a quicker transition to alternative fuels, Lovins says the government should spend more on research into fuel efficient technology, advanced materials and alternative fuels. To pay for such programs, Lovins proposes fees on gas-guzzling vehicles and the opposite — rebates — for fuel-efficient vehicles. In addition, low-income Americans would be assisted financially to buy or lease efficient vehicles.

Lovins’ message doesn’t sit well with the auto industry. “It’s consumers, not think tanks, who determine whether more energy-efficient technologies will succeed commercially” they say. “Consumers are in the driver’s seat. “Many consumers don’t want to sacrifice performance, passenger room, cargo space, safety and even towing ability for greater fuel efficiency.”
Lovins acknowledges the challenges, but is convinced that good sense — along with environmental sustainability — is on his side.
“I realized that energy was at the root of many security, development and environment problems,” says Lovins, who gained national attention in 1976 with his essay, “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken.”

His plan in brief:
Oil consumption can be reduced by half by doubling fuel efficiency, mainly through ultra light vehicles with advanced materials such as carbon fiber that improve both safety and performance. “Modern material can be used to make cars both light and safe,” he says.
Meanwhile, the nation must transition to alternative fuels. Lovins advocates making ethanol from plant waste, such as corn stalks and poplar trees.
Another alternative is hydrogen, often touted as the fuel of the future. Hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen without harmful emissions. Lovins wants to boost the efficiency of natural gas and use the saved energy to produce the hydrogen.
If his ideas were widely adopted, Lovins calculates that the US could stop importing oil by 2040 and run without oil by 2050.
“We’re in that period where one idea is dying and another is struggling to be born.

Source: Associated Press
Through www.ENN.com
Abridged for sustainablefootprint.org
This text can very well be used in your introduction for the Designing Assignment.

You can suggest to design cars that use much less energy technically, but also by their design, by other imaginative possibilities of transporting humans or goods.


1. Do you understand this text completely?
a. What is meant with the word ‘hybrid car’?
b. What is meant with the words ” solar powered house’?
c. Can you explain how these systems work?
d. And why they are more energy-efficient?
e. If there are other terms in the text that you do not understand completely, find out what they mean, and what they have tot do with saving energy.

2. Choose one of the problems Lovins addresses and study it using other sources (books, websites, interviewing people)
a. Take subjects like:
“Global Warming and our daily energy consumption”
“Geopolitical stability, what has oil to do with it?”
“How can we make our energy footprint smaller and still live comfortably”
“How can we convince the automobile industry to make more sustainable cars?”

3. Make a presentation of your result, present it to your class or youthgroup, or write an article for your schoolpaper, or for a local paper.

4. Make a bet with your teachers or friends to show that you can live a week or a month with half the energy you use now, or a competition to see who can save most energy
(Do not forget to agree first how you can measure energy consumption!)
Using biofuel seems te be a good solution, but think again!
When we use grain to make fuel for cars, more people will go hungry because the prices will rise.
This happend already.
Read about the clash between motorists and people
It could cause drought like in Hungary.

But there is also good news:
It is possible to grow biofuel in a sustainable way, read  ‘sugar palms in Indonesia’ or ‘biofuel for local use’