Thursday, August 20, 2009

Amory Lovins Discredited: Lovins Refuses to Answer David Bradish

Amory Lovins writingson Energy have been subjected to repeated and harsh criticism. David Bradish has offered a long and detailed criticism summerized with numerous links here. ’

During the two Gristmill “debates” between Lovins and Bradish,
Lovins and Sheikh offered no response to numerous critical comments from Bradish or others.

At the end of their second Gristmill post, Lovins and Sheikh stated: “We will address Mr. Bradish’s forthcoming posts on “nuclear and grid reliability” and “costs” as they appear.” In fact those responses never appeared. I take the Lovins and Sheikh refusal to respond to comments on their two Gristmill posts and their failure to post the promised responses as abandoning the field.
Points raised by Lovins critics, and unanswered:
A. David Bradish and numerous others
1. Incongruity of data and conclusions:
After digging into the numbers from their Excel spreadsheet and the methodology (pdf) for the above graph and paragraph, I found the story is much different than what the paper claims. According to the graph above, nuclear’s “true competitors” are already beating nuclear … except that they aren’t.

With the exception of nuclear, the data for the chart aren’t actual generation numbers. . . .

By far the largest non-nuclear source of electricity in the above chart is decentralized generation (the big orange block) which the Excel file calls “Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation.” The paper assumes an 83 percent capacity factor for this source. The problem with the 83 percent capacity factor is it is twice as high as what it should be.
Bradish goes on to demonstrate the error and its source. Lovins and Sheikh responded to Bradish on their first Gristmill post. Bradish responded to the first Gristmill post:
You said: Finally, where possible, we compared calculated output to estimated output from other sources to verify that our calculations were realistic.

I never read any comparisons in any of your documents. Did you do this internally? Did I miss it? What other sources verified that your "calculations were realistic"?

WADE's economic analysis of cogen on p. 5 of the cited World Survey of Decentralized Energy 2005 uses 7,500 h/y, equivalent to 85.6%.

And it also uses 5,000 hours and 8,100 hours. The table you cited are only assumptions to show the "impact of gas price changes." This isn't "empirical" data.

Average capacity factor of all decentralized plant types cannot be validly applied to cogeneration or any other type in the mix:

Yes it can for this situation. You calculated in your excel file that "decentralized non-biomass cogen" makes up 266.3 GW out of WADE's 281.9 GW in 2004. This means that 94 percent of decentralized capacity is cogeneration. If the surveyed countries reported a total capacity factor of 40.1 percent from decentralized capacity, then the decentralized cogen's capacity factor is somewhere around 40 percent. It's as simple as that.

His claims that "it is impossible" for cogen to have an 83% capacity factor, since it makes up "the majority of the decentralized capacity," overlooks that our micropower data include many types of renewables that WADE excludes.

I never said "micropower." I said "non-biomass decentralized co-generation plants" and as I said above, the 40 percent capacity factor for that category is accurate because it DOES make up the majority of the decentralized capacity.

Our methodology derives our stated average capacity factor from the empirical capacity factors for each source.

Quoting Michael Brown does not mean it's "empirical" data.

Small sample of countries may not represent the whole:

What do you mean "small sample"? Your methodology on page 5 and WADE's 2005 survey on page 32 states that "world decentralized energy totaled 282.3 GWe at the end of 2004." Yet when you add up the "small sample of countries" in the WADE survey, it comes out to 341.6 GW. Now that doesn't make sense.

"There is [no] ... methodology" for RMI's projections of micropower growth during 2008-2010.

This is the second time you've mis-quoted my words. Here's what I said in my post: "According to the RMI paper, the "non-biomass decentralized co-generation" projection is a "target" based on personal communications with WADE. There is no model, study, or methodology mentioned to support the projection." Where is "micropower" mentioned here?

Nuclear power's share remains stuck at about 2%.

Try 15 percent in 2005.

"Is Coal Included in the 'Non-Biomass Decentralized Co-Generation' Data?" Yes, but not much.

Um, your response still didn't say how much. In fact the DGTW source you brought up said "the 2004 fuel mix is unknown."

Here's what the 2005 WADE survey says on page ii for those who haven't seen it: "Global installed DE capacity stood at around 281.9 GWe at the end of 2004, the great proportion of this consisting of high efficiency cogeneration systems in the industrial and district heating sectors, fuelled by coal and gas and, to a lesser extent, biomass-based fuels."

Needless to say such a detailed critique required a detailed answer. Lovins and Shekh did not respond to Bradish's questions.

In Part 2 of Bradish's critique of Lovins and Shekh, Bradish argues that
RMI’s “micropower” data don’t fit their own definition of “micropower”. Not only that, small plants aren’t the only way to go especially since bigger power plants in general yield greater efficiencies and economies of scale.
Bradish quoted the Lovins and Shekh definition of Micropower
1. onsite generation of electricity (at the customer, not at a remote utility plant)—usually cogeneration of electricity plus recovered waste heat (outside the U.S. this is usually called CHP—combined-heat-and-power): this is about half gas-fired, and saves at least half the carbon and much of the cost of the separate power plants and boilers it displaces;
2. distributed renewables—all renewable power sources except big hydro plants, which are defined here as dams larger than 10 megawatts (MW).
Bradish concluded if there was a 10 MW limit on hydro micropower, then micropower could be defined as any generation unit with a rated output smaller than 10 MWs. Lovins and Shekh responded
Our 10 MW limit applies only to small hydro, distinguishing it from big hydro using the most conservative criterion. . . . [the] definition, which we've adopted, includes onsite units up to somewhat over 180 MWe for gas turbines (though few actual units are over 120 MWe) and up to 60 MWe for engines
Bradish responded
I still don't understand the definition of "micropower." The word micro obviously implies very small plants. The average power plant unit size in the U.S. is about 60 MW. So "micro" plants (at least in my opinion) should be much smaller than 60 MW. Yet according to the WADE data you provided, it includes plants over 60 MW.

As well, if the "micropower" data includes other plants greater than 10 MW, why put that limit on hydro then? According to you, I wrongly assumed "micro" was less than 10 MW, but there was nothing else to go by.
And indeed it would appear that Lovins and Shekh have a confusing definition of micropower that limits the use of the term to generation units smaller than 10 MWs in some cases, and as large as 180 MWs in others. They really do do not explain these seeming inconsistencies and make no response to Bradish's comment.

In his second post on Lovins, Bradish, quoted Peter Huber and Mark Mills,
Bigger systems are easier to keep hot because they have less surface per unit of volume, and because they can be surrounded by materials like concrete and steel that can both contain and survive the heat. There is, of course, much more than that to engineering efficient power plants. But first and foremost, the rule is simple: bigger can be hotter, and hotter is more efficient. So, decade by decade through the first century of electricity, power plants grew bigger, and in so doing grew more efficient.
Thus counter to Lovins small and efficient do not always match. Huber and Mills had a great deal to say about Lovins Jevons paradox, although Bradish did not bother to include that in his rather brief post.

Lovins and Sheikh wrote an extensive response to the contention by Huber, Mills and Bradish, that bigger could be more efficient:
An efficient plant discarding 2 GWt of waste heat -- too much to use in most sites -- has a lower fuel-to-useful-work efficiency and a lower economic efficiency than a small cogenerator matched to its thermal and electrical loads and achieving roughly twice the big plant's system efficiency
Bradish did not respond to this point in the rather short comment section on Lovins and Sheikh's second response. Perhaps he saw no point, because it was clear that Lovins and Sheikh would not to respond to his comments.

Bradish discussed Lovins' Jevons' Paradox problemn in his third post. Jevons' paradox, named after the 19th century British Economist William Stanley Jevons, in reviewing the effects of improvement in steam engine technology on British coal consumption postulated that increasing energy efficiently lead to increased rather a decline in energy use. Jevons' paradox fits well into classical economic theory and has beeen acpted by economists for almost 150 years. Amory Lovins has large ignored Jevons paradox in his work on the effects of efficiency on energy consumption. As Malcom Slessler noted in his 1999 review of the Lovin et al book, Natural Capitalism
The allure of this argument is indeed compelling for it banishes the doom and gloom merchants to their dismal cellars; but it is misleading, for there is one thing they have over-looked: human greed. The evidence is that when you get more from less, you just take advantage of the slack. Economists call this the 'rebound effect', and it is well documented. Is it significant that neither 'rebound effect' nor 'thermodynamics' appear in the index of a book that is astonishingly rich in allusions to energy?
Slessler's point is that Lovins failure to address the question of Jevons Paradox, a problem which pointed like a dagger at the heart of his efficiency thesis, was either due to the limits of his knowledge - that is shallow knowledge of his subject - or to an elective choice to not address a troubling problem. Since Slessler pointedly brought up the issue in 1999, and Lovins did not exactly jumped to a vigorous defense of his efficiency thesis, there is no question of an elective choice. So now the question becomes did Lovins attempt to finness the Jevons Paradox issue from the start, or was he ignorant of it right from the start and begin dodging a response when the issue began to emerge later? During the last decade the Jevons Paradox issue has been raised by serious people including Vaclav Smil and Huber and Mills. Robert Brice brought the whole thing to a head in a famous Energy tribune article Green Energy Advocate Amory Lovins: Guru or Fakir? Brice quotes Smil
[history is] replete with examples demonstrating that substantial gains in conversion (or material use) efficiencies stimulated increases of fuel and electricity (or additional material) use that were far higher than the savings brought by these innovations.
Brice ask Lovins if Jevons was wrong, and Lovins responded,
Broadly, yes.
Given that his major thesis disagreed with a noted economist whose hypothesis on energy efficiency has withstood numerous empirical tests, it would be incumbent on Lovins to support in detail his assertion that Jevons is wrong. So far Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute has offered one paper on increases in refrigerator efficiency, but respond in detail on energy efficiency. Bryce observes,
One of the main problems with efficiency arguments like those put forward by Lovins is that engineering efficiency doesn’t necessarily equal economic efficiency. . . . sales numbers show that American drivers love the concept of energy independence and hate the fact that the U.S. buys foreign oil. But when it comes time to strap on their seatbelts, they aren’t as interested in efficiency as they are in the comfort, size, and convenience offered by larger vehicles.

Americans just like big. They like big vehicles, big houses, and Big Macs. And those big appetites have resulted in increased per-capita energy use even while the amount of energy used per dollar of GDP has fallen. Since the early 1980s, the amount of energy used per capita in the U.S. has risen.
At any rate Bradish summed up the Jevons Paradox controversy in his third post and noted,
I agree with RMI that promoting energy efficiency is important and valuable. However, I disagree with RMI on where increased efficiency leads. It does not necessarily lead to decreased consumption.
Lovins and Shekh in their second response stated
Mr. Bradish has posted part three of his critique, claiming that RMI has overlooked Jevons Paradox, which undoes and reverses the intended energy savings from more efficient end-use. We have rebutted this invalid claim in a response to Mr. Bradish's cited primary source -- an article by Robert Bryce in his newsletter. Completion of our response was delayed by travel, but we expect to finish it shortly, and will then post it on RMI's website, in this blog, and (Mr. Bryce has assured us) on his site.

Meanwhile, readers should know that the claimed "rebound" effect -- phenomena that make net energy savings smaller than gross savings -- is real but generally very small, and has no material effect on our conclusions. This is firmly established in the empirical literature, and is well-known to knowledgeable energy economists but evidently not to Mr. Bryce, Mr. Bradish, or the theory's current standard-bearers, Dr. Peter Huber and Mr. Mark Mills.
it is quite clear that Mr. Lovins promised response to Robert Bryce
delayed by travel
has never appeared, and the promise was largely forgotten until I resurrected it. Nor was Lovins promise to
address Mr. Bradish's forthcoming posts on "nuclear and grid reliability" and "costs" as they appear
been kept.

This has been a very long post and I am by no means finished with my account of Amory Lovins failure to answer his critics. I will review other criticisms of Lovins in a future post and then offer some thoughts on Lovins reputation as an innovative thinker, and his motives for ignoring his critics. There can, however, be no doubt that Lovins, by his refusal to respond to numerous critics, and his failure to provide promised responses, has damaged his credibility.

1 comment:

David Bradish said...

Thanks for refreshing the debate, keep it up!


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