Amory Lovins, the celebrated "green capitalist" of the environmental movement, has insisted for years that energy efficiency will pay for itself and return a good profit on the necessary investment in the process.
In the September issue of Scientific American, Mr. Lovins describes his dog as part of the heating system in his Colorado home. (The house loses only 1 per cent more heat than the sun provides for him -- which loss, he says, can be replaced by the 100 watts of heat generated when he throws his dog a ball.)
Mr. Lovins says the United States now uses 47 per cent less energy, per dollar of economic production, than it did 30 years ago, delivering savings of $1-billion (U.S.) a day, "a huge universal tax cut." Let's go further, Mr. Lovins says. The conversion of coal into incandescent lights in people's houses is only 3 per cent efficient. So, one should buy the more expensive fluorescent bulbs that last 10 times longer.
Mark Jaccard, the Vancouver economist who champions fossil fuels as the primary energy source for the next 100 years, doesn't altogether disagree with Mr. Lovins -- or with people who advocate popular alternative energy technologies as fixes for the oft-proclaimed demise of crude oil. In his new book, Sustainable Fossil Fuels (Cambridge University Press), Mr. Jaccard assigns an essential "backstop" function to these technologies. Methodically, however, he analyzes each and strips away the promises that they probably can't keep. Mr. Lovins, he says, could be half right.
Take the energy-saver light bulbs. Mr. Jaccard was himself an early advocate, buying 10 of them a few years back. In one of his classes at Simon Fraser University, he calculated the financial return he expected from his investment. He dropped one of the bulbs himself, wiping out all the energy savings he expected. The bulbs wouldn't fit in some of his fixtures and he was compelled to buy new ones. Four of the bulbs wouldn't work. His children broke another one. In the end, the family disliked the "hospital hue" cast by the last of the innovative bulbs. They are still tucked away somewhere in a drawer.
Mr. Lovins says efficiency investments can save 70 per cent of the energy produced in the next 30 to 50 years. Without much higher prices or very restrictive regulations, Mr. Jaccard says, make it less than 35 per cent. "My experiences in the past 10 years have put a damper on my faith in [extravagant]estimates -- even in the estimates that I once produced myself," he says. "I no longer believe that these dramatic improvements can be attained so easily and at such low cost." For one thing, he says, the advocates of superefficiency don't account for the "rebound effect" of energy conservation -- the increase in energy consumption that conservation induces. A driver who gains a 10-per-cent increase in vehicle efficiency, for example, will drive 2 per cent more miles -- a 20 per cent "rebound."
"I am reminded of the Greek myth about Sisyphus' wasted efforts in rolling a rock uphill," Mr. Jaccard says. "I picture my colleagues in U.S. and European laboratories working late nights to design a 15-per-cent efficiency improvement in this year's models of TV sets and coffee makers, only to find consumers adopting wall-size TVs and deluxe cappuccino machines that require three times the energy."
Conservation, in other words, is responsible in part "for the outdoor patio heaters, spas, extra-large sport utility vehicles, natural gas fireplaces, coffee mug heaters, desk-top water coolers, home-based entertainment centres, indoor and outdoor decorative lighting and back-massage chairs."
And conservation itself isn't cheap. Between 1980 and 1995, Mr. Jaccard says, U.S. utility companies spent $20-billion persuading their customers to use less energy.
All in all, people in developed countries consume a great deal of energy, most of it relatively cheap. Mr. Jaccard says the average North American family, using all of its energy-driven machinery at once -- the furnace, the cars, the appliances -- would consume the equivalent energy of a Roman landowner with 6,000 slaves. Or a 19th century landlord who employed 3,000 people and 420 horses. Even with aggressive energy conservation, people in 2100 can be expected to use more energy than they do now. People in the developing world will, too. (Mr. Jaccard tells environmentalists to get over their "distaste" for cars. They're not going away. And stop thinking of them as cars, he says. Think of them as personal mobility devices.)
Expect energy consumption, therefore, almost to triple in the next 100 years, from 429 exajoules in 2000 to 1,200 exajoules in 2100. Named after James Prescott Joule, a 19th-century English physicist, a joule is roughly the energy needed to put Newton's apple back on a branch. An exajoule is one quintillion joules. A quintillion joules is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes. Multiply that by 1,200 and you get the measure of the task.
Mr. Jaccard says governments must send decisive long-term policy signals immediately to induce necessary scientific and industrial innovation. Old-fashion subsidies, however, won't be needed. Mr. Jaccard says "free-riders" capture 80 per cent of them, using public money to do what they would have done without it.
Mr. Jaccard is an international authority in energy economics with impeccable environmental credentials. He presents the case for clean fossil fuels with calm detachment, with good humour, with style and grace. Although he is on the cutting edge of energy analysis, he is not alone. Energy Probe's Tom Adams, for one, has championed clean coal in Ontario -- where the provincial government persists in its determination to rid the province of clean-coal electricity.
Make no mistake. Mark Jaccard's Sustainable Fossil Fuels is a beacon for rational decision making in the 21st century. Buy it and read it. It could change your world forever.