Renewable Energy Archive


Van Jones: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward,” says Jones in this excerpt from Greg Pahl’s book, Power from the People.

This book rests an optimistic message on a pessimistic premise.

The sobering underlying thesis is that human civilization is already in big trouble—both ecologically and economically. And things are set to get much worse. The hopeful underlying message is that we still have the capacity to pull good outcomes from even the most frightening scenarios.

The paradox is this: Only by recognizing how much worse things can get can we muster the energy and creativity to win a better future. In that regard, the book you hold in your hands is not just an action guide; it is a survival guide.

The Bad News Is Very Bad

At this late date, there is no point in mincing words about the impending series of calamities. The global production of oil will soon peak, ending forever the era of cheap crude. The resulting price spikes and fuel shortages could throw all of industrial society into an ugly death spiral. Worse still: We have seen only the earliest examples of the kind of biblical disasters—the super-storms, wildfires, floods, and droughts—that climate experts predict are in the pipeline, even if we cease all carbon emissions immediately.

The polar ice caps haven’t melted yet; if they do, they will send temperatures and sea levels soaring, forcing us to redraw every coastal map in the world. Even under the friendliest scenarios, we will likely see food systems disrupted, life-sustaining fuels priced beyond reach for many, and our health challenged as tropical super-bugs invade formerly temperate climes. On a hotter planet, we could face the choice between water rationing and water riots. As stressful as the present moment is, worse times are possible—and even likely.

At the same time, the majority of the world’s people now live in cities. And though cities cover only 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they already consume 75 percent of the planet’s natural resources. As more people continue crowding into cities, that figure will climb even higher, which means urban areas have become the main driver in the ecological crisis. Many cities are sinkholes of human suffering, especially for a marginalized population of low-income earners and people of color. And in the United States, the word urban has become synonymous with the word problem. Many urban neighborhoods are plagued by economic desperation, violence, pollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

Climate change and the economic and equity crises of our communities may appear to have little in common, but they share a key determining factor—namely, our near-complete dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide produced by driving our vehicles, heating (and cooling) our homes, and lighting our cities with fossil fuels is the main culprit behind climate change. Meanwhile, that same dependence on fossil fuels sucks billions of dollars every year out of communities across America, with the poorest households often hit hardest.

But what if we found ways to power our homes, businesses, factories, and vehicles that didn’t warm the planet, that kept local dollars circulating in local economies, and that even created local jobs? What if we spread those climate-friendly, local-economy-boosting, job-creating ideas to every city and town across the country?

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

It is too late for us to avert all of the negative consequences of 150 years of ecological folly and resource wastefulness. Our challenge is to begin implementing real changes, rapidly and from the bottom up. Certain bills are coming due, and certain chickens are coming home to roost, no matter what we do. But there are steps we can take to cushion the blow.

We must prepare ourselves (and our communities) for the worst possible outcomes. In considering the most pessimistic scenarios, we must talk less about economic growth and more about economic resilience; less about abundance and more about sufficiency; less about sustainability and more about survivability. It may be wise to consciously deploy our forces in a three- pronged, “trident” formation: some of us fixing the system from the inside, some of us pressuring the system from the outside, and some of us exercising the “lifeboat” option, thinking up alternative strategies for survival.

Power from the People is rare, because it gives some guidance on all three around the most important component of that system: energy.

You’ll read about courageous local government leaders finding creative ways to invest in local renewable energy; citizen activists pushing for (and winning) smarter regulations for green power; and entire communities taking matters into their own hands to prepare for an energy-scarcer future. Throughout the stories here, from both urban and rural communities, you’ll find a common theme all too often missing from the sustainability conversation: local prosperity . Local renewable energy is the heart of the new energy economy because it is the most obvious starting point for creating green jobs and generating local wealth. Local renewable energy puts the power in local empowerment.

By itself, however, even the most advanced local energy initiative can do little about our energy and environmental crises. Local actions must be multiplied to the level of movements . . . and nations.

Can America summon the strength, courage, and resolve to avert disaster and usher in a new age of sustainable prosperity? Both the ideas and the constituencies exist to turn the corner. We need a hard-hat-and-lunch- bucket brand of environmentalism . . . a we-can-fix-it environmentalism . . . a muscular, can-do environmentalism. We need a pro-ecology movement with its sleeves rolled up and its tool belt strapped on. We need a social uplift environmentalism that can fight poverty and pollution at the same time—by creating green-collar jobs for low-income people and displaced workers.

The time has come to birth a positive, creative, and powerful environmentalism, one deeply rooted in the lives, values, and needs of millions of ordinary people who work every day (or desperately wish they could).

We need an environmental movement that can put millions of people back to work, giving them the tools and the technologies they need to retrofit, re-engineer, and reboot the nation’s energy, water, and waste systems. Green-collar jobs can restore hope and opportunity to America’s failing middle-class and low-income families while honoring and healing the Earth. Those new jobs could create a ladder up and out of poverty for jobless urban residents. Under even the most depressing of scenarios, there certainly will be economic opportunities and green-collar jobs—from building dikes and levees and reconstructing devastated structures to installing community-owned wind turbines and operating renewable biofuel factories using regional feedstocks. The United States can fight global warming, energy scarcity, and poverty in the same stroke.

With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States now produces 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution. It also locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in its domestic incarceration industry. Those numbers document the notion that too many U.S. business and political lead- ers govern as if we have both a disposable planet and disposable people.

As the new green economy springs to life, will we live in eco-equity or eco-apartheid? Will clean and green business flourish only in the rich, white parts of town? Will our kids be left to deal with the toxic wastes of polluting industries, the life-threatening diseases that decimate polluted communities, and the crushing lack of economic opportunity as the old polluting economy goes bust? How we answer these questions will impact the fate of billions of people.

On this crowded planet, we have responsibilities that extend beyond our national borders. Therefore, it is good to be a global citizen. But we must never forget: The very best gift that we can give to the world is a better America. The peoples of the world want and need our country to set a global example for human and environmental rights while being a global partner for peace and progress.

We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward. It is narrow and treacherous, but it leads to the best possible outcome for the largest number of people. And it starts with developing local renewable energy.

Van Jones is the co-Founder and president of Rebuild the Dream. Van is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and American Progress Action Fund. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy.

This excerpt appeared on AlterNet on August 21, 2012.

Power from the People is Here!

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects by Greg Pahl is here!

If you’ve ever looked up at the power lines feeding into your home and wondered if there could be a better way than giant plants miles from town supplying your electricity by burning dirty fossil fuels — this is the book for you. The answer is an emphatic yes! There are many better ways to generate power than our current system, and Greg Pahl shows through examples from around the country and world how communities can take control of their energy destiny, generating power in more resilient and more sustainable ways.

Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet says about the book, “Talk about down-and-dirty. Or rather, down-and-clean! Here’s the actual useful detail on how to do the stuff that really needs doing. Read it and get to work!”

Power from the People is the second book in the Community Resilience Guide series — a project in partnership with Post Carbon Institute exploring the newest and most promising examples of relocalization for uncertain times.

To celebrate the arrival of Power from the People, we’re sharing the Foreword from the book, written by Van Jones, author of the recently-released book Rebuild the Dream and The New York Times bestseller The Green Collar Economy. Jones is president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a platform to foster bottom-up, people-powered innovations to help fix the U.S. economy. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in Collaborative Economics at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco.

“This book rests and optimistic message on a pessimistic premise,” Jones writes in the opening of the Foreword. “The paradox is this: Only by recognizing how much worse things can get can we muster the energy and creativity to win a better future. In that regard, the book you hold in your hands is not just an action guide; it is a survival guide.”

We couldn’t agree more. But, if that’s not enough, Jones adds:

Climate change and the economic and equity crises of our communities may appear to have little in common, but they share a key determining factor—namely, our near-complete dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide produced by driving our vehicles, heating (and cooling) our homes, and lighting our cities with fossil fuels is the main culprit behind climate change. Meanwhile, that same dependence on fossil fuels sucks billions of dollars every year out of communities across America, with the poorest households often hit hardest.

But what if we found ways to power our homes, businesses, factories, and vehicles that didn’t warm the planet, that kept local dollars circulating in local economies, and that even created local jobs? What if we spread those climate-friendly, local-economy-boosting, job-creating ideas to every city and town across the country?

For more inspiring words from Van Jones, continue reading below.
Power from the People – Foreword by Van Jones

Pre-Release Special: Power from the People

Monday, July 30th, 2012

More and more Americans acutely sense that the old way of doing things — investing our savings in Wall Street companies who care little about our families and communities; depending on polluting, costly, and non-renewable sources of energy; eating food grown far away that makes us sick — is no longer working.

People want to invest in their own homes and neighborhoods. They want to increase local self-reliance in the face of uncertainty. They want to have a say in the future of their communities. But how?

In partnership with Post Carbon Institute, Chelsea Green Publishing is publishing the Community Resilience Guides — a series of books exploring the newest and most promising examples of relocalization for uncertain times.

The latest guide is Power from the People by Greg Pahl, and to celebrate it’s publication we are offering a pre-release special discount of 25% off for this week only.

More than ninety percent of the electricity we use to light our communities, and nearly all the energy we use to run our cars, heat our homes, and power our factories comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In Power from the People, energy expert Greg Pahl explains how American communities can plan, finance, and produce their own local, renewable energy that is reliable, safe, and clean. Pahl uses examples from around the nation and the world to demonstrate how homeowners, co-ops, nonprofits, governments, and businesses are already putting this power to work for their communities—including the work Pahl has pioneered in his own community in Vermont.

Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at PCI and author of The End of Growth, says,

“Energy is at the heart of our 21st century economic-ecological crisis, but most writing on the subject is suffused either with immobilizing anticipation of doom or giddy wishful thinking. Here at last is a genuinely helpful energy book, one that’s realistic and practical. If you want to actually do something about our energy future, here is where to start.”

If you are part of a Transition Town, a city that is looking seriously at renewable energy sources, or just a citizen that wants to be knowledgeable about this exciting and optimistic set of solutions to our energy problems, Power from the People will inspire and inform you.

Get a copy this week and save 25%!

Energy Department Study Confirms Reinventing Fire‘s Vision

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

From TriplePundit, file in the extremely thin folder of articles that display governments’ ability to get with the program on climate change and peak oil!

May there be many more such articles in the years to come, and maybe, just maybe, by 2050 we’ll get to celebrate real independence — from fossil fuels and the gloom of a future we’re destroying with each gas-guzzling shopping trip and coal burning light-switch flip.

This has to be some of the more encouraging news I’ve heard in a while. A report released last week by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), called the Renewable Energy Futures Study, found that using renewables to provide the lion’s share of our electricity by 2050, without requiring any technological breakthroughs is a  reasonable proposition.

In fact, here is one of the key findings of the study.

“Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”

This validates similar claims made in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2011 book, Reinventing Fire.

The NREL study, which used an hourly simulation analysis, evaluated a number of scenarios ranging from 30 percent to 90 percent, before settling on 80 percent as a reasonable, if ambitious, target. Of course it won’t be easy, and we won’t get there without real effort. Even if the technology doesn’t need a breakthrough to reach that goal, other things, such as business models, regulations, financing and infrastructure just might.

Renewables accounted for 10 percent of all electricity in 2010 (plus an additional 2 percent, mostly hydro, imported from Canada) with wind solar and others continuing to grow rapidly. In the 80 percent scenario, solar and wind, both of which are variable, unsteady sources, combine to contribute close to 50 percent of all electric power.

In order to accommodate this high level of variability, we will need a more flexible electric system (i.e. grid) that is capable of dynamically meeting the supply-demand balance in a world that relies heavily on renewables. This will include things like smart grid, demand forecasting, more flexible and responsive conventional plants (e.g. GE FlexEfficiency), grid storage (including V2G), and increased operational coordination.

The results achieved were found to be “consistent for a wide range of assumed conditions that constrained transmission expansion, grid flexibility, and renewable resource availability.”

Given the abundance and diversity of renewable resources in this country, there are multiple pathways by which this level of contribution might occur, which promises a robust and resilient energy future, if we can find the political will to overcome the many non-technological barriers that stand in the way.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • All regions of the United States could contribute substantial renewable electricity supply in 2050, consistent with their local renewable resource base.
  • Higher than current renewable growth rates will be required to achieve this level, but not higher than what has been achieved elsewhere.
  • Electricity supply and demand can be balanced in every hour of the year in each region with nearly 80 percent electricity from renewable resources,
  • Additional challenges to power system planning and operation would arise, including management of low-demand periods and curtailment of excess electricity generation.
  • Additional transmission infrastructure will be required.
  • The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios.

The study is not without its critics. However, they might not be who you expect them to be. Brad Plumer, writing for the Washington Post, suggests that NREL might be wildly underestimating the potential of solar and wind energy, which have been growing exponentially since 2001. He claims that estimates from official agencies, like the IEA, consistently underestimate the potential of renewables. Could that be because of cozy relationships that representatives might have with the utility industry?

Rocky Mountain Institute’s James Newcomb, has a different concern. Though he gives high praise to the report, calling it “rigorous and deep,” he points out that it maintains a business-as-usual assumption when it comes to the business model that utilities will use in the future. Specifically, he is concerned that the role of distributed generation, which could fundamentally revise the electric utility business, has not been adequately represented in the study. RMI’s book, Reinventing Fire, which came out last fall, made the same prediction of 80 percent renewables by 2050 achievable by two different pathways: one, similar to the NREL study, following a centralized utility model, while the second path, shows a more distributed approach.

Keep reading…

Join us at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Join Chelsea Green this weekend at the largest and longest running renewable energy and sustainable living event in the country – Register today!

Each year the MREA Energy Fair transforms rural Central Wisconsin into the global hot spot for renewable energy education. The Energy Fair brings over 20,000 people from nearly every state in the U.S. and several countries around the world to learn, connect with others and ready them for action at home. The Energy Fair is the nation’s longest running energy education event of its kind.

The Energy Fair features:

  • Over 275 exhibitors – featuring sustainable living and clean energy products
  • Over 200 workshops – including introductory level to advanced hands-on education: solar, wind, green building, local sustainable food, and more
  • Clean Energy Car Show – featuring demonstration vehicles and exhibitors
  • Green Home Pavilion – emphasizing building and remodeling in a sustainable way
  • Green Building Demos – displaying sustainable building techniques in action
  • Sustainable Tables – including workshops, chef demos, and a farmers’ market to bring sustainability to your dinner table
  • Live Auctions – two live auctions featuring plants and shrubs, to PV systems and farm equipment
  • Inspirational keynotes, lively entertainment, great food, and local beer

Join us for the 23rd Annual Energy Fair, June 15-17, 2012

Visit Chelsea Green at Booth A32 to receive our show special discount, for featured new and bestselling titles, such as Amory Lovins’s hopeful and pragmatic Reinventing Fire; or our classic primer Wind Power.

“What if we could make energy do our work without working our undoing?” – Amory Lovins

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

From TED.

In this intimate talk filmed at TED’s offices, energy theorist Amory Lovins lays out the steps we must take to end the world’s dependence on oil (before we run out). Some changes are already happening—like lighter-weight cars and smarter trucks—but some require a bigger vision. In his latest book, Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins shares ingenious ideas for the next era of energy.

Reinventing Fire was written by Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute’s many other experts. It outlines numerous ways in which industry—not government—can lead the charge toward greater efficiency and more sustainable sources of power, looking at transportation, buildings, manufacturing, and the way we make electricity. This talk is the best summary we’ve seen of the inspiring strategy the book reveals. If you’ve been feeling a bit blue about the state of things lately, Lovins’ talk should perk you right up.

On a related note, if you happened to be in New York City on the evening of May 10th you might have noticed a very tall and bright birthday card to Rocky Mountain Institute. To celebrate RMI’s 30th birthday, and in thanks for their help in completing the Empire State Building’s efficiency overhaul, the Building’s floodlights glowed bright green! Read more here.

Amory Lovins: Cars need to go on a diet (video)

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Kids say the darnedest things. One of my favorite stories from childhood is a time my little brother made a shocking comment to our neighbor. She had sprained her ankle, and was talking about how it wasn’t healing rapidly enough. She was worried. She didn’t know what to do.

Little Andrew, being of the ultra-logical mindset, and eager to help, had a suggestion for her, “Why don’t you lose some weight?”

My mom’s face turned beet red, and she spluttered an apology to the neighbor, while Andrew smiled innocently, proud of his engineering assessment.

“Well, you’re probably right Andrew. Maybe that would help.” she said finally, a little crestfallen perhaps but not acutely offended.

My cheeky little brother isn’t the only one who thinks the world would be a better place if we had less weight to haul around. Turns out Amory Lovins thinks so too! Except he’s talking about manufacturing lighter automobiles to improve fuel efficiency. The video below goes into detail about this important step toward a fossil-fuel-free economy.

From CNET‘s SmartPlanet:

“We Americans aren’t the only ones who have gained weight. Over the past 25 years, our cars have gotten heavier too, says Amory Lovins.

Lovins, chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, says he believes that ultralight materials like carbon fiber composites can make cars simpler and cheaper to build. At the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco this week, Lovins talked about strategies to make oil-free automobiles.”

This video originally appeared on SmartPlanet with the headline “Amory Lovins: Carbon fiber cars would cut oil dependency.”

State of the Global Climate – A Quick Look

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

A few years ago I was involved in a very fun event called Step It Up 2007. It was dreamed up by Bill McKibben, author and activist extraordinaire, and implemented across the country by separate small groups — including the rag-tag group of activists I was leading down in Jacksonville, Florida.

Our event was simple. We wanted to get folks together to talk about the facts of climate change, as separate as possible from all the politics that has been mixed in for as long as the problem has been observed. We gathered together all the scientists we could find who were willing to go on the record as saying, “Yes, climate change is real, we caused it, and it’s serious.” This wasn’t as hard as I had feared in my rather conservative hometown. In the end we had a great turnout and started a great conversation. We didn’t really figure out a perfect way to follow up on the energy we felt that day, but the core group of us who put the event together continued to meet, attend events, talk, and generally poke at the problem of climate change for another year or so.

When I first heard about the Transition Towns movement my first thought was, that’s what we should have done! By then of course I had moved on, as frantic twenty-somethings seem apt to do, and was working on a career in farming. Which I subsequently gave up for a career in publishing.

It’s incredible, and quite silly, to realize how completely your view of the world can change when you shift your attention. Thus, the problem of climate change which used to keep me up at night worrying, and used to haunt me while I washed the dishes, struggling not to waste a drop of the fossil-fuel heated water, simply doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s a kind of blessing I suppose. The dishes are certainly easier to clean when you’re not as angsty about rinsing them. But I know it’s just a trick of perception. The atmosphere is still filling up with carbon, even if I don’t think about it much anymore. The global average temperature is ticking upward inexorably, even if I don’t check.

One nice lesson from my personal experience is this: worrying really doesn’t help save the world, so feel free to stop.

But I’m struck with a kind of morbid curiosity today. What exactly is up with the global climate right now, in May 2012? Let’s take a look around the internet and see what we can find out.

You can always count on James E. Hansen, climate scientist at NASA GISS, to tell it like it is. In an article from this past January which includes a nifty animation to show the global temperatures since 1880, he said:

“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting. So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”

Follow this link to NOAA’s interactive map, and you can find out how your home will fare when sea level rises. Maybe you can use it to speculate in future-waterfront property! I looked at the little barrier island where my parents live in northeast Florida and got kind of sad. But then I hopped over to the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (or CAKE). Their advice? DON’T PANIC! Also, 42.

Looking northward, ice sheets in Greenland have not accelerated into the ocean quite as rapidly as was predicted, according to a study mentioned by Climate Central last week.

“The good news stemming from this study is that the worst-case scenarios scientists have been entertaining for sea-level rise by the end of the century — two meters, or about six feet, by 2100 — appear less likely given the rate of observed ice motion. The middle range projections, however, are still well within reach.”

In other words panic, just do it gradually over the coming century so you don’t wear yourself out.

It’s clear from a peek around the online world that the science of figuring out climate change is accelerating almost as fast as the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For instance, scientists are now able to measure changes in intensity of the water cycle by measuring changes in ocean salinity. According to Reuters, the cycle of evaporation and rainfall, is speeding up, sucking water out of arid regions and dumping it on wetter ones 4 percent faster than it did in 1950.

Around this point in my research, I start to regret having gone down the climate change rabbit hole again. Oh well, can’t stop now! Let’s try to wrap this post up with a little hope, shall we?

According to the Guardian, some analysts are starting to recognize that fossil fuels are a bad investment. They’ve even been dubbed “sub-prime assets” by advisors to Sir Mervyn King (the awesomely-named governor of the Bank of England). The reasoning for this shift toward taking the situation seriously comes as nations expect to see binding international agreements on greenhouse gases in the next rounds of UN climate talks. See? Policy works. It gets greedy bastards bankers to feel a bit sore around the pocketbook and then they behave a little more like they have to live on this planet too. In the absence of policy the moneyed elite sometimes talk like they’ve got someplace else to set up shop when things get hot and nasty down here.

Finally, perhaps the most hopeful development in years comes from right here in our catalog, a book we published last year from Rocky Mountain Institute and Amory Lovins: Reinventing Fire.

We’ve talked about Reinventing Fire a good deal on this site, and others have spread the word as well. Essentially, the study presents a detailed set of steps toward an economy run by renewable energy (fire) instead of fossil fire. The push is geared toward business instead of government (we’ve seen how fast governments have dealt with the problem), and requires no new inventions — just the will to get to a sustainable place. The best synopsis is from Amory himself, contained in his recently released TED talk. Check it out here.

Trust me, it’s a great antidote to the climate change blues.

– Jennifer McCharen, Web Content Editor

Can Radical Efficiency Revive U.S. Manufacturing?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

By Robert Hutchinson and Ryan Matley  | March 16, 2012 |

Editor’s note: The following is adapted from the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.

Industry has long formed the foundation of America’s economy, from before the first Ford Model T factory to the military-industrial complex that grew out of two world wars to the robust economic growth and high-tech innovation that followed. And whereas U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence, its old foundation—built on cheap fossil fuels and plentiful electricity—is showing cracks. Rising and volatile fuel prices, supply-security concerns and pressures on the environment are wrecking balls thumping away at many of the underpinnings of our country’s key industries—and thus our prosperity.

Fortunately, we can render these wrecking balls harmless through a systematic drive to upgrade industrial energy efficiency. Even with no technology breakthroughs such an effort can, in just over a generation, transform U.S. industry and provide 84 percent more output in 2050 consuming 9 to 13 percent less energy and 41 percent less fossil fuel than it uses today. This scenario, outlined in Reinventing Fire, a book and strategic initiative by Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), can help U.S. industry build durable competitive advantage and keep jobs from going overseas.

These seem like incredible numbers: Twice today’s efficiency? Output nearly doubled with reduced energy use? The opportunity is so significant because, in spite of efficiency gains over the past decade, plentiful opportunities for energy efficiency remain for industry. The U.S. Department of Energy’s 24 industrial assessment centers, which have offered energy audits for more than 30 years, report that energy savings per recommendation increased by 9 percent between 1985 and 2005. Turning our wastefulness into profit is our biggest opportunity to reinvent fire.

Dramatic efficiency gains in industry can be enabled by transformations occurring in tandem in other key sectors of our economy. For example, the hugely energy-intensive petroleum refining industry will shrink or eventually disappear as vehicles electrify. But efficiency can be doubled in two main ways: applying new technologies to old sectors, and applying old technologies to new sectors.

Adding new technologies to old sectors
A well-known success story is the steel industry. Since it recovered from the capacity overhang and devastating mill closures of the 1970s, it has quietly expanded with state-of-the-art facilities. The energy intensity to produce a ton of steel fell 40 percent from 1978 to 2008. This was driven by a new technology well suited to our scrap-rich economy: the share of steel production from electric arc furnaces (EAFs) grew from 25 percent to nearly 60 percent. EAFs recycle steel scrap in an electric furnace to produce new steel, bypassing the energy-intensive, coking coal–powered step of converting iron ore to metallic iron, and then to steel in a conventional blast furnace. Adding EAFs close to scrap sources has also pulled steel recycling rates up to the mid-80 percent range in recent years.

Even the conventional route has a more efficient alternative that is starting to make inroads. Steel industry bellwether Nucor recently broke ground on a new direct reduced iron plant in Louisiana. This innovation replaces coal with natural gas in the iron ore conversion step. If the steel industry continues to adopt new technology, it can help lead the transition outlined in Reinventing Fire.

Some old industries have less positive stories. Pulp and paper is still struggling with declining demand for its core product, a dynamic that stymies investment in new and existing facilities. Paper mills are often net-zero or even net energy producers, so many would ask: Why bother? But pulping typically produces a potentially valuable by-product—black liquor. Gasifying it has the potential to transform the industry, unlocking the opportunity for the pulp and paper producer of the past to become the biorefinery of the future—producing a portfolio of products alongside paper, from renewable electricity to boutique chemicals and bulk biofuels.

This is just the first part of the excerpt. Read the rest over at Scientific American.

Illustration borrowed from Nature.

Gathering Low Hanging Fruit is Not Enough to Green Industry

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

This is the fourth in a Rocky Mountain Institute series on the steps business leaders can take to seize the economic and competitive opportunities outlined in Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. Other installments in the series from GreenBiz are listed here.

America’s industrial sector generates more than 40 percent of the country’s GDP and employs almost 20 million people in refineries, paper mills, chemical plants, smelters and countless other facilities. This mighty engine consumed one-quarter of all U.S. energy in 2010 — 91 percent of which came from fossil fuels — in many diverse segments, in a dizzying array of complex processes.

If we are to move off of fossil fuels, U.S. industry must lead with investment and innovation. This is not only possible, but critical to capturing durable competitive advantage, according to Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire — a blueprint to a 2050 U.S. economy powered by efficiency and renewable sources of energy.

Eliminating the use of fossil fuels will result in a healthier environment by reducing toxic air and water pollution while stabilizing CO2 emissions at levels that avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change. In addition to improving the environment and stabilizing the climate, Reinventing Fire is also an enormous business opportunity.

Firms that lead this transition will benefit from reduced operating costs, improved profits and product quality, reduced fuel price volatility and supply risks, the creation of new markets and a competitive edge at home and abroad. While the work is not easy, one key technique can help industry make fast strides: energy management systems.

To capture energy savings in industry, it is not enough to merely gather up low-hanging fruit either when capital is available or cost-cutting is required. Leading firms are attaining dramatic results by pushing far past that opportunistic paradigm, establishing a continuous improvement mindset to monitor and manage their energy use in good times and bad.

For example, Frito-Lay cut its electricity energy intensity by 25 percent, natural gas intensity by 33 percent and water by 41 percent from 1999 to 2008. These energy savings investments not only brought a financial benefit, with an IRR of 25 percent and $55 million added to the bottom line, but they also reduce risk. These investments have even generated marketing benefits, especially as consumers get more savvy about where their products come from and how they are made. The installation of solar thermal power at Frito-Lay’s Modesto, Calif., plant enabled the use of the tagline “Sun Chips are now made from the sun.”

….

To read the rest of the article, head on over to GreenBiz.


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