Brittle Power

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Brittle Power
Brittle Power.jpg
Author Amory B. Lovins
L. Hunter Lovins
Country United States
Language English
Subject U.S. energy infrastructure
Publisher Brick House Publishing Company
Publication date
June 1982
Pages 486
ISBN ISBN 0-931790-28-X

Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security is a 1982 book by Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, prepared originally as a Pentagon study, and re-released in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book argues that U.S. domestic energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to disruption, by accident or malice, often even more so than imported oil. According to the authors, a resilient energy system is feasible, costs less, works better, is favoured in the market, but is rejected by U.S. policy.[1] In the preface to the 2001 edition, Lovins explains that these themes are still very current.[2]

Vulnerability to large-scale failures[edit]

Lovins argues that the United States has for decades been running on energy that is "brittle" (easily shattered by accident or malice) and that this poses a grave and growing threat to national security, life, and liberty.[3]

Lovins explains that this danger comes not from hostile ideology but from misapplied technology. The size, complexity, pattern, and control structure of the electrical power system make it inherently vulnerable to large-scale failures. The same is true of the technologies that deliver oil, gas, and coal for running vehicles, buildings, and industries. Reliance on these delicately poised energy systems has unwittingly put at risk the entire American way of life.[3]

Lovins' detailed research shows that these vulnerabilities are increasingly being exploited. Brittle Power documents many significant assaults on energy facilities, other than during a war, in forty countries and within the United States, in some twenty-four states. [4]

Resilient energy systems[edit]

Lovins explains that most energy utilities and governments are unsuccessfully trying to build high technical reliability into power plants so large that their cost of failure is unacceptable. A resilient energy supply system, on the other hand, consists of numerous, relatively small modules with a low individual cost of failure. A key feature which helps to make these energy sources resilient is that "they are renewable: they harness the energy of sun, wind, water, or farm and forestry wastes, rather than that of depletable fuels."[5]

Central message[edit]

The main message of Brittle Power was reiterated by the Lovins' in a 2003 book chapter entitled "Terrorism and Brittle Technology":

The foundation of a secure energy system is to need less energy in the first place, then to get it from sources that are inherently invulnerable because they're diverse, dispersed, renewable, and mainly local. They're secure not because they're American but because of their design. Any highly centralised energy system -- pipelines, nuclear plants, refineries -- invite devastating attack. But invulnerable alternatives don't, and can't, fail on a large scale.[6]

Networked island-able microgrids[edit]

In his 2011 book Reinventing Fire Lovins puts forward a vision of networked island-able microgrids where energy is generated locally from solar power, wind power and other resources and used by super-efficient buildings. When each building, or neighborhood, is generating its own power, with links to other “islands” of power, the security of the entire network is greatly enhanced.[7] Lovins has said that in the face of hundreds of blackouts in 2005, Cuba reorganized its electricity transmission system into networked microgrids and cut the occurrence of blackouts to zero within two years, limiting damage even after two hurricanes.[7]

See also[edit]

Major blackouts[edit]

Related publications[edit]

Related concepts[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Brittle Power is 500 pages long and has 1,200 references. It has been summarised and referred to in several publications:

  • The Atlantic Monthly's 1983 lay summary "The Fragility of Domestic Energy"[8]
  • the 1984 book chapter "America's Energy Jugular" written for security professionals.[9]
  • An October 2001 brief for the Montreux Energy Forum, a group of energy-industry leaders.[1]
  • Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. "Terrorism and Brittle Technology" in Technology and the Future by Albert H. Teich, Ninth edition, Thomson, 2003.


  1. ^ a b Critical issues in domestic energy vulnerability
  2. ^ Preface to the 2001 edition
  3. ^ a b Brittle Power, Chapter 1, p. 1.
  4. ^ Brittle Power, Chapter 1, p. 2.
  5. ^ Brittle Power, Chapter 16, p. 264-266
  6. ^ Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins. "Terrorism and Brittle Technology" in Technology and the Future by Albert H. Teich, Ninth edition, Thomson, 2003, p. 169.
  7. ^ a b Adam Aston (March 16, 2012). "Amory Lovins on 'Reinventing Fire' with convergence and innovation". Greenbiz. 
  8. ^ The Fragility of Domestic Energy
  9. ^ Nuclear arms: Ethics strategy, Politics

External links[edit]