Nearly 30 years ago Amory Lovins took on the utility industry. The industry was predicting a high-energy future filled with nuclear power plants. Lovins called the utility forecasts "the hard path" because they committed us to producing ever more energy. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Lovins suggested an alternative, "Soft Energy Paths."

Lovins pointed out that the least expensive, safest, and most secure energy we could acquire wouldn't come from more drilling and more nuclear power plants. It would come from using energy more efficiently. Rather than the hard work of raising the bridge, he suggested the easier work of lowering the water. All we had to do was to make cars, trucks, houses, and buildings more energy efficient. That, he wrote, would eliminate the need to build more nuclear power plants and to search the planet for new sources of hydrocarbons.

Lovins--- ridiculed as a dreamer at the time--- was right. The conventional wisdom was wrong.   Energy efficiency in the next decade reduced our oil consumption so fast it broke the pricing power of OPEC and crushed oil prices.

Now, working with a team from his Rocky Mountain Institute and with the support of the Department of Defense, Lovins has a bolder idea--- Apply energy efficiency to end our dependence on oil.

Not just foreign oil, mind you, all oil. In the process, we can revolutionize (and save) our automobile industry, create a million jobs, strengthen our economy, end the flow of oil money that funds terrorism, and win enduring national security.

In "Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security" (Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, CO, $35, 306 pages) Lovins shows us the path to reduce our oil consumption.

How much? How fast? Think about these figures:

•  By the amount we import from the Persian Gulf by 2015;

•  Use less oil by 2025 than we used in 1970;

•  Import no oil at all by 2040;

•  Use no oil at all by 2050.

More impressive, much of this can be done simply by getting back on the efficiency improvement path we were on when we responded to the first and second OPEC oil price shocks in 1973 and 1979.

An idle dream, you say?

Not hardly. The book is supported with a massive "Technical Annex," a collection of studies and spreadsheets that totals a massive 15 megabytes, much of it in compressed ZIP format, and all available as a free download. This is no pipedream.

The centerpiece of his plan is a transformation of the largest consumer of oil--- transportation. As you might expect, Lovins starts with the American automobile. The plan calls for a transition to lightweight but safer carbon fiber based vehicles that start as near 80 mpg hybrids (like the Toyota Prius) but evolve into fuel cell vehicles.

If you are thinking to yourself, "Oh great, we'll all be riding around in three-wheeled Dinky Toys," relax. A pragmatist, Lovins designs for future automobiles call for reduced weight but not reduced acceleration or safety. More important, this is a market-oriented plan. Both political parties can back it, if they can sheathe their knives and ideology for a few moments.  

While that is happening we can replace 20 percent of current oil use with a domestic bio-fuels industry that would triple farm income and end the need for agricultural subsidies. (Brazil, he points out, has already done this.)

Similarly, we can save about half of our natural gas consumption by becoming more efficient consumers of electricity in factories, office buildings, and houses.

The stunner is how little this transformation would cost --- a $180 billion investment over ten years that would also create a million new jobs. That $180 billion is less than investors lost in the collapse of WorldCom! It is less than we will have spent on the war in Iraq in 2004-2005.

  Measured another way, it's what the U.S. government pays in interest on its $7.776 trillion of debt in about 7 months. It's what an interest rate increase of 100 basis points (1 percentage point) would cost in only 28 months.

Why do I mention interest rates?

Simple. The longer we import oil and borrow billions from foreign nations, the greater the odds we'll be paying through the nose for both imported oil and borrowed money.

It's time to change the game plan.  


Download "Winning the Oil Endgame" (Free!)

The Rocky Mountain Institute

Lovins' Soft Energy Paths