The Time for Energy Efficiency is NOW

Thoughts from Amory Lovins

 by Sally Campbell

“Fire made us human, fossil fuels made us modern, but now we need a new fire that makes us safe, secure, healthy and durable. Energy-saving technologies keep improving faster than they’re applied, so efficiency is an ever larger and cheaper resource. I am a man without a furnace”

Amory Lovins, known as the ‘Einstein of energy efficiency’, is one of the leading advocates of energy conservation and explains why this could be a turning point for climate economics. ‘It’s the largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest way to address the crisis’.

Temperatures dropped far below freezing this week in Snowmass, Colorado. But Amory Lovins, who lives high up in the mountains at 7,200ft above sea level, did not even turn on the heating. That is because he has no heating to turn on. His home, a great adobe and glass mountainside eyrie that he designed in the 1980s, collects solar energy and is so well insulated that he grows and harvests bananas and many other tropical fruits there without burning gas, oil or wood. By designing it to collect energy and to need no heating, it saves 99% of the space- and water-heating energy, and 90% of the electricity otherwise required. “And it’s cheaper to build and saves construction costs,” he adds.

“Public discourse about climate change has resulted in the erroneous idea that it’s all about cost, burden and sacrifice. If the maths was correct, everyone would see it’s about profit, jobs and competitive advantage.”


Lovins’ house in Snowmass, Colorado. Photograph: Judy Lovins

He wrote his first paper on climate change while at Oxford in 1968, and in 1976 he offered Jimmy Carter’s US government a blueprint for how to triple energy efficiency and get off oil and coal within 40 years. In the years since there is barely a major industry or government that he and his Rocky Mountain Institute have not advised.

But for much of that time efficiency was seen as a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies. Now, he hopes, its time may have come. Lovins is arguing for the mass insulation of buildings alongside a vast acceleration of renewables. “We should crank [them] up with wartime urgency. There should be far more emphasis on efficiency,” he says.

“Solar and wind are now the cheapest bulk power sources in 91% of the world, and the UN’s International Energy Agency (IEA) expects renewables to generate 90% of all new power in the coming years. The energy revolution has happened. Sorry if you missed it,” he says.

But just as with the 1970s oil shocks, the problem today is not where to find energy but how to use it better, he says. He sees Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as an outrage, but possibly also a step towards solving the climate crisis and a way to save trillions of dollars. “Putin may inadvertently have put the energy transition and climate solutions into a higher gear. Whether or not we end up in a recession because of the disruption, due to Putin’s war, may prove to be a great thing for climate economics.”

The future must be in the mass retrofitting of buildings with insulation and heat pumps and what he calls “outsolation”. “You can design out the pipes by putting a sort of tea cosy around houses, like the Dutch Energiesprong exterior retrofit. They can superinsulate your house to net zero standard in a single day whilst you’re at work, and meanwhile they’ve dropped in a very efficient heat pump core for mechanicals, and put on a super-insulated solar roof. And when you get back, you pay them rather than your energy companies.”

Far better and more cost-effective in a historic emergency like this is for governments to invest in efficiency and to remove the many perverse subsidies and obstacles to people and businesses buying energy efficiency. It needs creative thinking, too. Why pay architects and engineers for what they spend, not what they save? Why reward energy companies for selling more energy, not cutting bills? Why not use the tax system to speed the uptake of renewables?

Only half-jokingly he urges a mass movement to knit millions of cheery yellow and blue woolly hats. That, and people turning down their thermostats by two or three degrees would save billions of cubic metres of gas or heating oil.

“Putin’s war is being financed by those who buy Russian fossil fuels. We have a new energy crisis, and efficiency is the largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest and fastest way to address it,” he says.

Lovins has promoted energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy sources, and the generation of energy at or near the site where the energy is actually used. He has written 31 books, including Small is Profitable and Natural Capitalism.

“I’m not an environmentalist. I’m a cultural repairman. It’s all about efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, prosperous and life-sustaining.”

Hopefully this winter will see woolly hats, thermostats lowered, more big sweaters, vests and bed socks! Those old enough to have survived childhood with frost on the inside of our bedroom windows on cold nights, no central heating and dependent on a fire in the family sitting room, know we can survive the change we have to make in energy consumption, step by step. We can be cultural repair people, as Green Island Project is encouraging us to do on Arran, to halve the island’s carbon emissions by 2030. This Green Islands Project in partnership with Eco Savvy, North Ayrshire Council, and Adler and Allan, consultants in environmental risk reduction, is funded by UK Community Renewal Fund.


We can help our neighbours, share suggestions, even learn to knit. Nothing like a cosy wrap around on a chilly evening. What we do know is we have to change our behaviours. Look at our own carbon footprint and help Arran as a community halve our CO2 emissions by 2030. Work is already underway with businesses and homes on Arran.

Sally Campbell
October 2022