Democrats & Liberals Archives

Achieving Energy Independence

Everybody is in favor of America becoming independent of foreign sources of energy. Republicans say let’s build up our energy sources at home; never mind environmental problems and global warming; it’s more important to keep our economy strong. Democrats say protecting our environment and preventing global warming is more important than digging for oil. Amory Lovins, the great environmentalist, says that we can become energy independent and at the same time increase business prosperity and reduce global warming emissions. All of us must get together and do it.

Amory B. Lovins wrote an article "More Profit with Less Carbon," which was published in the September 2005 issue of Scientific American. I give the gist of it here. But I believe you will want to read the whole article and several more on the same subject in this special issue.

Contrary to what we have been led to believe, there is no conflict between improving the environment and boosting business. Lovins shows us we can protect our climate and increase our energy independence, and at the same time reduce costs and aid business. He recommends 2 ways to do this: increasing fuel efficiency and inventing renewable energy sources.

Lovins offers many ideas about some ordinary things any one of us can do:

  • Buy fluorescent lamps - they use 75-80% less electricity, last 10 to 13 times as long as incandescent bulbs and cost only $2-$5

  • Use Double-pane Windows - They keep your home insides warm in winter and cool in summer

  • Use Insulation - A well insulated home does not need as much energy to heat it or to cool it

  • Buy Efficient Appliances - They are now on the market and use less electricity

  • Buy Hybrid Car - You get great gas mileage and you save money
Lovins thinks in terms of systems. Energy is used for different purposes and in each case it is part of a system. Energy is needed in a home, which means that to save energy we must consider all elements of a home that is lived in - not merely the heater and air conditioner. And this is what Lovins did. Here is his description of his home:

"Consider my own home, built in 1984 in Snowmass, Colo., where winter temperatures can dip to -44 degrees Celsius and frost can occur any day of the year. The house has no conventional heating system; instead its roof is insulated with 20 to 30 centimeters of polyurethane foam, and its 40-centimeter-thick masonry walls sandwich another 10 centimeters of the material. The double-pane windows combine two or three transparent heat-reflecting films with insulating krypton gas, so that they block heat as well as eight to 14 panes of glass. These features, along with heat recovery from the ventilated air, cut the house's heat losses to only about 1 percent more than the heat gained from sunlight, appliances and people inside the structure..."

And now for the costs:

"Eliminating the need for a heating system reduced construction costs by $1,100 (in 1983 dollars). I then reinvested this money, plus another $4,800 into equipment that saved half the water, 99 percent of the water-heating energy and 90 percent of the household electricity. The 4,000-square-foot strucdture - which also houses the original headquarters of Rocky Mountin Institute (RMI), the nonprofit group I cofounded in 1982 - consumes barely more electricity than a single 100-watt lightbulb....Solar cells generate five to six times that much electricity, which I sell back to the utility. Together all the efficiency investments repaid their cost in 10 months with 1983 technologies; today's are better and cheaper."

Most of our energy is wasted on transportation. Again, we must look beyond the engines. Of course, we need more efficient engines. Hybrids help us here. But Lovins makes the point that the car's engine spends most of its energy dragging a heavy car body. So, to increase efficiency, he recommends the use of lighter materials, such as carbon composites, which are also crashworthy.

Efficient use of energy can boost business and should be pursued immediately. A long run effort is also needed to invent renewable sources of energy. The best renewables today are wind power and solar. According to Lovins, such a program can enable us to reach energy independence in 2050.

Instead of endless arguments about the nonexistent envirornment/business clash, let's do something to increase fuel efficiency and encourage the building of renewable energy sources. We need a federal commission whose purpose is to achieve energy independence by 2050 - or maybe sooner. This commission could use some of Lovins' work to inform the country how citizens may contribute to the goal, advise industry of good technical approaches and coordinate the efforts of politicians, engineers, architects, consumers and others.

Energy Independence - we need it for our prosperity and for our security.

Posted by Paul Siegel at October 6, 2005 3:19 PM
Comment #84062

Would it be feasible for states to pass laws requiring new homes in open areas to be built with solar panels?
I’m not sure of the price of a solar system, but I doubt it would be a lot compared to everything else that goes into building a new house.

Posted by: TheTraveler at October 6, 2005 3:46 PM
Comment #84067

This is a matter of economics. You don’t need the government to pass laws, you just need energy costs to skyrocket along with real estate costs.

Americans will find a way to get more from less. There was just no incentive when gas was 1.37 per gallon.

Please, for all that democracy is, let’s not let the goverment force it.

Posted by: jacktruth at October 6, 2005 4:24 PM
Comment #84070


Mostly I agree with the notion of Energy Independence and have been looking at ways to do this for myself and my family for years.

There are a few issues that I have with your piece though.

Buy fluorescent lamps - they use 75-80% less electricity, last 10 to 13 times as long as incandescent bulbs and cost only $2-$5This actually isn’t the most energy efficient technology we have. There are new LED based lights that are even more energy efficient than flourescent because they give off nothing but light. Incadescent does not lose any energy to released heat. It also will not ‘heat your house’ in the summer requiring higher cooling costs.

Also, currently the price point (return of costs back through savings) on many of the more efficient methods of energy are not at a good point atm. They are lowering and with advances in technologies in the near term this may not be the case.

I would suggest more use of Nuclear (which I think Lovins mentioned too but I don’t have the article in front of me) to help provide clean fuel. There is also the ability to turn coal into diesel and fuel cleanly.

Lots of great ideas, we just need to get the technology up a bit to make them economical. I think we are really close!

Posted by: Rhinehold at October 6, 2005 4:31 PM
Comment #84072

Wow, I butchered that one up a bit, I apologize. Of course, I meant to say that LED lights do not burn off anything but light, no energy loss through heat like incadescents. I apologize for any confusion. :(

Posted by: Rhinehold at October 6, 2005 4:32 PM
Comment #84082

Energy conservation is a brilliant objective to pursue. I fear however that only the affluent would be able to build homes similar to that described in the article. A lot of energy conservation “systems/gadgets” used in and on the exterior of homes are unattractive. Zoning requirements in many areas would likely prohibit such construction.

It may be possible to require certain things as a condition of mortgage or title or even construction. Unfortunately doing so will incur the wrath of the very people suggesting it. A basic “right or freedom” even though it makes perfect sense, will be denied.

Posted by: steve smith at October 6, 2005 4:47 PM
Comment #84103

I have been reading information from the Apollo Alliance which has been instrumental in initiating programs to do just what you are talking about. They have assisted in “green building” construction and have interested several state Governors in the program. Check out their web site and jump on the bandwagon.

Posted by: jcp at October 6, 2005 6:00 PM
Comment #84104

Taking the subsidies from large oil corporations today and giving them to manufacturers and contractors for energy efficient construction would be a good first step, imo.

Posted by: jo at October 6, 2005 6:06 PM
Comment #84108

Evergy? What’s evergy?
Did I spot a typo in title?

PS: Whatever it is, I agree that everyone should achieve evergy independence ;-)

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 6, 2005 6:27 PM
Comment #84115

Now imagine where we’d be if we’d invested the $100 Billion dollar cost of ONLY THE FIRST (1991) Iraq war into promoting energy efficiency in the US. I’m not talking about R&D, I’m talking about proven, simple technology like Lovins suggests: insulation, double-pane windows, energy efficient appliances., etc.

If we had invested that $100 biliion in 1991 dollars at home, instead of in Iraq, we could have employed tens of thousands in building trades at home, boosted manufacturaing sectors that make the building materials, and kept that money in American cities where the taxpayers live and work. Jerry Brown estimated that the incresed energy efficiency from this kind of public works project at home would have put Saddam Hussein out of business for good - by negating our need for his (and the entire Middle East’s) oil for good.

Insted we spent $100 billion to free Kuwait, leaving the brutal dictator in place to bomb us with the chemical weapons Reagan and Bush I sold him in the early 80s. Now we’re at it again, only with closer to a trillion dollars this time, and the same results.

Oh yeah, Saddam is gone, but the next generation of Islamic terrorists is in grade school, watching Al Jazeerra to learn about the American and Zionist devils and their bombing campaign in Mecca.

Posted by: Todd at October 6, 2005 7:13 PM
Comment #84116

The article at is here if anyone is interested, although only the first two paragraphs are shown for free.


I would suggest more use of Nuclear (which I think Lovins mentioned too but I don’t have the article in front of me) to help provide clean fuel.

Lovins says that obtaining nuclear power is more expensive than just conserving the power we have from both renewable and nonrenewable sources. In fact, he says that a kilowatt-hour from nuclear power would cost three times more than it would cost to save a kilowatt-hour from effciency measures.

This is a matter of economics. You don’t need the government to pass laws, you just need energy costs to skyrocket along with real estate costs.

Americans will find a way to get more from less. There was just no incentive when gas was 1.37 per gallon.

Please, for all that democracy is, let’s not let the goverment force it.


The problem with this is that many people in lower income groups may not be able to cope with even a temporary energy price hike high enough to spur development of greener industry.

Another thing is that this transition is inevitable; someday we all will need to make the switch. Why not do it today at a gentle pace instead of waiting and making an abrupt change? Its like how I wrote an essay for English last weekend even though it wasn’t due until tomorrow; I knew I needed to do it sometime, and that I’d be a great deal more accurate while writing it because I would not be tired, stressed and rushed while writing it at 10 PM tonight. Also, by doing it ahead of time, I was now free to not worry about this essay and focus on other things to be done; like my math homework from Monday until now. If I let the essay slide until today, it would be stressing me out and worrying me all week.

Posted by: Warren P at October 6, 2005 7:20 PM
Comment #84136

Rhinehold, the cost of Nuclear Energy has never been accurately computed. That is because the cost of Yucca Mt., Three Mile Island, security over waste stockpiles, shipping of wastes, and the tons of litigation, investigation, and red tape surrounding waste deposition, have never been included in the per kilowatt hour price.

Something to consider before touting Nuclear as affordable, and because of its lethal waste, and the fact that we have yet to find a secure way to dispose of it, Nuclear Energy can hardly be touted as clean. The Nuclear Waste sitting around the country today is a nightmare waiting to happen in terms of pollution and injury and death to citizens.

Find a secure and affordable way to dispose of nuclear waste, and I will join the Nuclear bandwagon. Till then, I will oppose it with every breath in my body for my daughter’s future.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 6, 2005 8:53 PM
Comment #84151

Energy Independence is not only acnievable, but if used correctly could lower the taxes of every Citizen in America. Have you ever wondered just how much of your tax dollars go to pay for the Electcity used by our Local, State, and Federal Government buildings? What about our schools? Well, check your Utility Excise Taxes and than do the math. Or you can check out New York City’s Utility Excise Tax and see that we are talking millions and billions of dollars. That Jack Truth is how you get the government involved.

Changing the types of cars that are made is just that simple to. We did it in the early 70’s when no one wanted to change from leaded fuel to unleaded fuel. What did are Forefathers do? They had the courage to tell the “Big Three” that they would only buy vehicles which used unleaded fuel. Want biofuel? Make it so that all government vehicles are replaced over the next ten years must burn only that type of fuel. Do you want to bet that The Market won’t play the game?

No, President Bush lost the oportunity Katrina gave to the Republican Party to not only lead America, but The World in “Going Green.” Now, can the Democratic Party give America what we demand? so far I’ve heard nothing from their Leaders.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at October 6, 2005 10:49 PM
Comment #84174

In order to make the coming change to renewables
less volatile, we must convince the government to quickly institue a crash program to get America off of fossel fuels.

The main problem remains the resistance from powerful entrenched special interests who control
the political processes in America. Unless and
and until corruption has been eliminated from the electorial process, the status quo will continue.

The oil/auto complex will not cease to control our choices until they are either forced to do so by a
uncorrupt government, or they are given the economical incentitive to change.

The nuclear option is fraught with too may unsolvable problems to make it a viable future
source of energy. The terrorist threat alone is enought to scratch that program.

In my opinion, the answer to the problem lies in
decentralization. Each home, or at least town or region should be as energy self-suffecient as possible. The technology already exists to accomplish this.

When electricity becomes more scarce, the makes of all electrical appliances, gadgets, etc., will have to find a way to make things with out the amount of electricity these things now use. Or else, go the way of the gas-guzzler.

Cars, trucks, etc., can be made to run off of a varity of fuels. Again the technology already exists here as well. And look at what Europe and Japan has accomplished with modern rail.

There were some of us who were pushing for this change some 35 years ago, but the entrenched interests succeeded in blocking any effort to make the change. Had we done so, we would not be mired down in Iraq today.

These changes are going to come, no matter what we do. Will we wait to the last moment, which is sure to to have severe economical and social consequences. Or will we start this very year to make the transitition as effortless and peaceful as possible?

It’s for sure the change won’t come as long as oil
men are in office in Washington. And that’s where the first step to change has to come. Sad, but true.

Posted by: seacane at October 7, 2005 1:08 AM
Comment #84175

Wow. This is a terrific article. And I’m definitely going to go read that issue of Scientific American at the library. Thanks Paul.

Posted by: Adrienne at October 7, 2005 1:19 AM
Comment #84182


In my opinion, the answer to the problem lies in decentralization. Each home, or at least town or region should be as energy self-suffecient as possible. The technology already exists to accomplish this.

YES!! With this approach not only will we be economically safer from mega-corporate monopolies and unfriendly outside forces; but also from being crippled nationwide in hostile attacks or natural disasters… leaving the rest of the country at full strength to defend the weakened.

Posted by: jo at October 7, 2005 2:23 AM
Comment #84186

The Economic Force that will drive the change is The Market once they realize that by Individuals providing their own energy, they (The Market) stand the opportunity to gain Millions of Dollars each and every month. Considering the average family in America could save about $500.00/mth by doing away with their energy bill, The Market would be a fool not to push the Oil/Energy Companies aside.

Posted by: H at October 7, 2005 3:49 AM
Comment #84199
Find a secure and affordable way to dispose of nuclear waste, and I will join the Nuclear bandwagon. Till then, I will oppose it with every breath in my body for my daughter’s future.

They cant build these burial sites because everyone has to be 100% sure there will be no problems for 10,000 years. Between our NIMBY culture and just because it’s difficult to guarantee something like that - burial isn’t happening.

The reality is the risks are small compared to continued over-reliance on fossil fuels. There’s plenty of things I worry about for my daughter but this would be way-way down on the list.

Posted by: Ms Schwamp at October 7, 2005 8:03 AM
Comment #84208

God, I love America — where everyone except their GOP leaders in Congress can agree on something. :)

Posted by: American Pundit at October 7, 2005 9:12 AM
Comment #84247

How do you overcome the massive amount of influence and power held by entities that have no interest in the aforementioned changes? As an example, it is not in the best economic interests of the oil companies to allow these changes to happen. The oil companies clearly have sympathetic friends in high places in the current administration. Without government support and cooperation, the “market” won’t be allowed to work freely.

As a gross generalization, I think that one of the biggest misconceptions in the U.S. today is how “markets” can work if allowed to do so freely. Governmental policies currently have a major impact on market forces (tax rules especially). Does anyone think that the tax break on large trucks had no impact on sales of Hummer vehicles? And without the government there to serve as watchdog or referee, large institutions or industries can unfairly band together and influence or make the market. That’s the whole basis of anti-trust law.

So, it’s great to think that the market will drive people to the best, most efficient solution. However, those forces that are dependent on and enriched by the status quo (isn’t that one definition of conservative?) do have the ability to alter the market, even if it results in a less efficient outcome.

Posted by: moneysh at October 7, 2005 2:19 PM
Comment #84407

Looking to the government as a problem solving organization is an oxy-moron. It hasn’t worked for the last 60 years, what makes you think it will work now???

Posted by: Discerner at October 7, 2005 11:39 PM
Comment #84437

I see all the possibilities out here to become energy independent. I guess the main question I have now is WHY ISN’T ANYONE DEVELOPING THESE PROCEDURES NOW?” If one of you think that a fuel cell will help, there is nothing stopping you from inventing new technology to make it viable. David, Why are you waiting for someone else to find a solution to the disposal of necular waste? Surely your daughter’s future is worth the effort.

I know the answer. You can’t afford it, Your expertise is in other areas, It’s not my job.

The point I’m trying to make is that the experts in oil are providing us with the oil we use. Of course they are going to be concerned about making as much money as they can. They had better or they won’t hold investors and will fold as a business. If any of you have a better idea of how to do their job, I’m sure the market is open for you to start up your own company and do it your way. If your idea is better, then your business should florish.

Posted by: tomd at October 8, 2005 8:39 AM
Comment #84473

What other energy options are there?? Hydrogen? Electricity? Solar?? I would say watch the oil companies. What assetts are THEY acquiring now? Where do they see themselves in 20 years?? Speculate what the oil companies will do because that’s one thing I learned….Rich people DO NOT want to become poor people, and will do ANYTHING/b> to protect their wealth.

When no one is buying oil in 2026, how will BP, Mobil, Texaco, etc. stay wealthy??

Posted by: Wondering at October 8, 2005 3:29 PM
Comment #84481


When no one is buying oil in 2026, how will BP, Mobil, Texaco, etc. stay wealthy??

BTW, BP call themselves “Beyond Petrol”.
Great move! ;-)

Posted by: Philippe Houdoin at October 8, 2005 4:21 PM
Comment #84616

tomd, if Republicans in Congress gave me the taxpayer money that they’re giving the oil industry, I’d hand you your solutions on a platter.

BTW, anticipating passage of the Republican energy bill, I bought BP stock a while back — along with Exelon, which manages nuclear power plants. They’re keepers. ;)

Posted by: American Pundit at October 10, 2005 9:13 AM
Comment #84636

I, for one, don’t believe that the oil companies give a rat’s (bleep) what they’ll be doing in 2026. Why? Because the current executives and directors are motivated by maximizing profit today, thus increasing the value of the stock, thus maximizing their personal compensation.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of capital, but I am disillusioned by the constant focus on quarterly results. Long-term governance (of corporations as well as of countries) requires an ability to balance current returns and future returns. If someone is not compensated for long-term returns, they will act in a way to maximize short-term returns with little regard for the future.

I believe that the government can provide incentives (tax breaks, research grants, etc.) to help these companies with the long-term projects, making it more economically desirable to undertake such projects.

Why should the government care? Well, if you believe the current administration, we are aiding the terrorists by remaining dependent on foreign oil. So, that makes it a national security issue. Too dramatic? Fine, the economic argument: an energy policy that encourages reduced dependence on foreign oil can help to control future spikes in energy prices, thus helping to manage inflation and the economy.

I’m just not sure that the current administration cares about what the country will be doing in 2026 either.

Posted by: moneysh at October 10, 2005 10:13 AM
Comment #84933

Excessive insulation of a home can cause more problems than the heating energy it would save. You need fresh air every day, and if’s it’s cold outside that fresh air is going to be cold and needs to be heated, Large windows on the south side with unobstructed sunlight are the best solution, but as soon as the sun is gone they have to be covered, which is difficult if you’re at work.

We actually had enough oil resources for all the driving and heating that we wanted until jet fuel became a major drain on those resources. Alternative fuel for aircraft should be the major priority since it wastes so much petroleum to produce jet fuel.

Posted by: ray at October 11, 2005 2:07 PM
Comment #85109
We actually had enough oil resources for all the driving and heating that we wanted until jet fuel became a major drain on those resources.

ray, that sounds pretty wacky. Do you have some kind of data to back that up?

Posted by: American Pundit at October 12, 2005 4:42 AM
Comment #85210

American Pundit: that sounds pretty wacky

I guess history and reality are pretty wacky. My source for that information was the business section of the Chicago Tribune. Jet fuel production at any refinery can vary wildly from month to month, if you’re looking at short term statistics.

TPTB don’t want this factored into any equation.
You can look up your own data, if you have any further interest. Chevron’s website is very good. Jet fuel production for commercial and military purposes is part of any data on petroluem products, although sometimes it is hidden in a general “transportation” sector. After 9/11/2001, jet fuel production decreased, but it wasn’t a statistically significant drop in the long term.

Posted by: ray at October 12, 2005 11:38 AM
Comment #246828

Stop funding the terrorists!

No more Oil Wars!

Energy Independence Now!

Drill in Anwar.

Build more nuclear power plants

Use More coal.

Use more natural gas

Turn trash into energy

Double the efficiency of windmills and solar cells.

If France can do nuclear power so can we.

If Brazil can do biomass/ethanol power so can we.

If Australia can do LNG power so can we.

Domestically produced energy will end the recession and spur the economy.

Stop paying oil dollars to those who worship daily at the alter of our destruction.

Preserve our Civil Rights and defend our Freedom by ending dependence on foreign oil.

Posted by: poetryman69 at March 1, 2008 7:50 AM
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