The Soft Path Approach is an energy model that put the accent on value rather than product. The concept was first created during the 70s OPEC-orchestrated energy crisis. It is still giving us a useful tool for understanding how energy affects society. Soft energy path is not about technologies but about values and a set of choices that take explicitly take into account key environmental, economic and social considerations. The soft path concept proposes an opposing, alternative view to the traditional energy policy that is relying on centralized, large-scale, capital-intensive technologies to meet rapidly rising demand. The key points behind a soft path approach are:
- Minimizing energy demand is far the most effective strategy for sustainability
- Renewable energy sources address sustainability and security over the long term
- Scale and diversity criteria are concerned with societys social and economic adaptability and resilience
Amory Lovins cites five characteristics of soft technologies:
- They rely on renewable energy flows that are always there whether we use them or not, such as sun and wind and vegetation: on energy income, not on depletable energy capital.
- They are diverse, so that as a national treasury runs on many small tax contributions, so national energy supply is an aggregate of very many individually modest contributions, each designed for maximum effectiveness in particular circumstances. .
- They are flexible and relatively low technology – which does not mean unsophisticated, but rather, easy to understand and use without esoteric skills
- They are matched in scale and in geographic distribution to end use needs, taking advantage of the free distribution of most natural energy flows.
- They are matched in energy quality to end use needs.