Amory Lovins awarded the German Order of Merit for his vision of the Energy Transition

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On March 17, American Scientist and Writer Amory Lovins was awarded the German Order of Merit prize for his intellectual leadership in conceptualizing the transition to renewable energy, decades before the current explosion of solar and wind power. The ceremony took place during the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue conference.

The Order of Merit is awarded on behalf of Federal President Joachim Gauck, and is intended to draw attention to achievements of benefit to society generally. Around 210,000 individuals have been awarded the prize since its inception in 1951.

In a 1976 article for Foreign Affairs, Lovins presented the idea that energy strategies could follow two paths: the “hard” path of increasing centralized, conventional generation, or the “soft” energy path of energy efficiency, developing renewable energy resources, and use of “special transitional fossil fuel technologies”.

Writer Craig Morris credits Lovins, and specifically this article, with the inspiration for Germany’s Energiewende (Energy Turn or Transition), the national policy of advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy and phasing out first nuclear and later fossil fuel power.

The context for this bold vision was the 1973 oil crisis, which caused the United States, Europe and other industrialized nations to rethink their energy systems.

In recognizing how radical Lovins’ ideas were, it is important to understand the state of technology in the 1970s. While the United States, Denmark and Germany began mass deployment of wind turbines in the second half of the decade, global deployment was tiny compared to today.

Solar PV cells cost an average of $77 per watt in 1977, over 100 times as expensive as they would become in 2013, and PV was confined to the off-grid sector. It would take another 20 years for the annual global market to surpass 100 megawatts, let alone the 58 gigawatts that was installed in 2015.

Lovins founded Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in 1982, which today has a staff of more than 150. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus and Chief Scientist. In 2014 RMI merged with Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room.