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October 21, 2011

How wrong and misleading can someone be yet still be an influential technical expert ?

How much does being usually technically right matter for being an influential technical expert ? Energy policy is a subject that requires a lot of scientific and technical knowledge. Energy policy is loaded with people who are lying, are making blatantly false and misleading statements. You can prove that the bulk or entirety of what was said was false or misleading but that seems to have no impact or repercussions for "expert" who made the statements. Energy policy is an area where experts can expound upon what they predict will happen or should decades into the future as it takes many years to build new power generation and many years to implement any new policy.

According to wikipedia Amory Lovins came to prominence in 1976 when he published an article in Foreign Affairs called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” Lovins argued that the United States had arrived at an important crossroads and could take one of two paths. The first, supported by U.S. policy, promised a future of steadily increasing reliance on dirty fossil fuels and nuclear fission, and had serious environmental risks. The alternative, which Lovins called “the soft path,” favored “benign” sources of renewable energy like wind power and solar power, along with a heightened commitment to energy conservation and energy efficiency.

Amory Lovins to this day claims his 1976 Foreign Affairs article, which used a 50-year time horizon, accurately predicted the heretical “soft path” graph was 4 percent below actual U.S. energy consumption in 2000, without – or 1 percent above, with – normalization to actual GDP growth.

The actual US energy usage is 7-11 quadrillion BTU (10% lower) lower because of imports from China of energy intensive manufacturing.




Yet the entire energy mix that Amory Lovins projected is completely wrong from what actually happened.

For 35 years, Amory Lovins has been claiming that nuclear power is a dying industry but nuclear power generates 400% more energy now than when he started making that claim.




Amory Lovins is considered an energy expert but he regularly makes statements that are purposely misleading. He will describe how 49 gigawatts of renewable energy was added but ignore capacity factor.

The net capacity factor or load factor of a power plant is the ratio of the actual output of a power plant over a period of time and its potential output if it had operated at full nameplate capacity the entire time.

Typical capacity factors

Wind farms 20-40%.
Photovoltaic solar in Massachusetts 12-15%.
Photovoltaic solar in Arizona 19%.
Hydroelectricity, worldwide average 44%, range of 10% - 99% depending on design (small plant in big river will always have enough water to operate and vice versa), water availability (with or without regulation via storage dam, where a storage dam is designed to store at least enough water to operate the plant at full capacity for around half a year to allow full regulation of the annual flow of the river).
Nuclear energy 70% (1971-2009 average of USA's plants).
Nuclear energy 91.2% (2010 average of USA's plants)

Here an example of two statements which are contradictory, inaccurate and blatantly goofy by Amory Lovins.

Amory Lovins: New nuclear plants are bought (sparsely) only by central planners, not in free markets. America’s, China’s, India’s, and Finland’s powerful nuclear lobbies cling to life in noncompetitive intensive-care units. My bias is to trust capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing; if yours is different, I can understand how you might reach different conclusions.

Amory Lovins : China has a world-leading nuclear goal of 40 GW by 2020 (enough to offset a tenth of global retirements meanwhile), but by 2006 had already installed a world-leading 49 GW of distributed renewables—seven times its 2005 nuclear capacity, increasing by sevenfold more GW per year. India gets 3 percent of its electricity from nuclear, but has far more wind power, ranking #3 in world wind expansion.

Inaccurate - China is all central planned and not free markets, yet China has non-state owned enterprises and has broadly shifted to a mercantile economy. China is generally a hybrid economy

Contradiction - China nuclear power is bad but China wind power is good.

Goofy - Amory is saying that China's nuclear power does not matter or count. China is the second largest economy in the world. How about China's CO2 does not count because it is CO2 from a partially centrally planned economy ? How about we do not include China in world population counts because they are people from a country that is centrally planned ?

Amory trusts capitalists in New York more than bureaucrats in Beijing. In spite of the Lehman collapse and the financial crisis and the bankruptcy of Solyndra.

So it appears you can be massively inaccurate and misleading in the field for which the media and political leaders will still consider you an expert in that field. Amory Lovins was named by Time magazine one of the World's 100 most influential people in 2009. He has provided expert testimony in eight countries, briefed 19 heads of state, and published 29 books.

I think it is an endemic problem in finance and energy. People can repeatedly give horrible financial, investment and energy advice and there will still be a line of people going back to them for more.

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