How can we get to a new energy era without new federal laws?
Do we really have the technology to get off coal, oil and nuclear energy?
How can we capture $5 trillion in saved economic value—creating jobs and driving global competitiveness—by 2050?
Today Thursday, December 1 at 1:00 p.m. (EST), join us for a live chat with Eric Maurer to answer all of your burning questions about Reinventing Fire, RMI’s boldest vision yet about how business can drive the new energy era and lead the transition to a more secure, robust, and healthy future for our nation. (See the live chat console at the bottom of the page. You don’t need to have an account to participate. Simply ask a question.)
A consultant with Rocky Mountain Institute, Maurer contributed to the research and writing of the electricity chapter, coordinating the post-submission production of Reinventing Fire and the Knowledge Center.
In today’s digital age, it is not enough to simply publish a book such as Reinventing Fire and call it done. To reach as many people as possible, we created an infographic and a video to tell the story. Additionally, we’ve posted dozens of reference points for our conclusions and recommendations in our new Knowledge Center. Thousands of people have taken the time to view and share these resources.
Check out the infographic and video below and then join us for a live chat to explore all the details.
The willingness of our visionary supporters to fund RMI’s work was critical to bring Reinventing Fire from vision to reality. And because so many RMI supporters and followers are passionate about energy and well-versed in the nuances of the topic, we know you have questions!
We look forward to a robust discussion touching on a variety of topics.
From The Browser, a site that is “creating a 21st century library of Writing Worth Reading”:
One of their sections is FiveBooks, in which an editor interviews a renowned authority who discusses his or her area of expertise and provides their choice of the best five books to read. Ever wondered what the experts read? FiveBooks has the answers.
We’re in a “dual energy crisis”, says the author of Clean Energy Nation, and not doing enough about it. He tells us what we must do if we’re to overcome our dependence on oil and limit the damaging effects of climate change
Prior to joining Congress, you were an engineer and executive in the energy industry. What sort of work did you do and what did you learn from it?
The importance of our national energy picture stared me in the face when I graduated from college in the middle of the Arab oil embargo of 1973. It was clear how dependent we were on imported oil and how vulnerable we were as a result of that dependence. So I was motivated to go into clean energy by our national security interests. Although I wasn’t aware of global warming in the 1970s, I was very concerned about our long-term impact on the environment. Clean energy was a new and exciting field. The technical work that was being done in the 70s was novel and exciting. The people were fun to work with. Together we developed reliable high-tech products that are now producing a lot of clean energy, and we saw the wind business grow.
You are such an enthusiastic proponent of air-current energy that you named your daughter Windy.
We did. Her first name is Margaret. Windy is her middle name. But she likes it so much that she chooses to be known as M Windy McNerney.
You have calculated that your energy work contributed to saving the equivalent of about 30 million barrels of oil. Why did you run for Congress when you were doing such a great job in the private sector?
I loved being in the industry. It was a lot of fun, and there was a high personal reward for the type of work that we were doing. But after 9/11 my son signed up for the air force, and when he received his absentee ballot in the mail in 2004 and saw there was no one running against the incumbent congressman in our district, he said, “You know Dad, people need a choice. I’m serving my country and I want you to do the same.” I thought about that a lot and I didn’t know how I could say no.
In your book CleanEnergyNation you posit the notion that the world faces a “dual energy crisis”. Please explain.
The dual energy crisis is a twin problem. First, there’s only a finite amount of oil out there to use. We may not be at peak oil now, but our consumption is increasing exponentially. So even if we have twice the amount of oil reserves that we think we have, we’ll blow through those reserves within a fairly short period of time. So much of our technology, our society and our civilisation depends on oil. Food production to feed the seven billion people who inhabit the earth, water production for our cities and our homes, transportation, heating, cooling – it all depends on oil. So if we hit peak oil and the supply starts waning, we’ll see a huge shock to our markets and our economy.
The other problem is global warming. The more oil we use, the more carbon we pump into the atmosphere. And the atmosphere can only take so much before we start seeing significant changes in the way the climate behaves, like the melting of the polar caps, the migration of species and the acidification of the ocean. These are all problems that we’re going to experience. We need to start taking steps to mitigate them. And we need to develop alternative energy sources so that we don’t continue to add to the problem.
Let’s start with books that make clear the severity of this crisis. The Limits to Growth, first published in 1972, projected the consequences of continued population growth in a world of finite resources. What is its core argument?In the book, three scientists from MIT looked at five variables: World population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion. They put population and consumption on the existing path of exponential growth, and showed that we’re going to start running out of resources and it’s going to start impacting civilisation. They projected pollution, food shortages and so on.
The book was written 30 years ago. I read it in the 1980s and it made a big impact on me. The predictions were pretty accurate. They foresaw the strains of growth, and the wear on our planet is certainly starting to show. So it’s a good book, an easy read and it gives you some idea of what we’re up against. We must clean up our environment and find cleaner sources of energy.
Some critics argued that the authors loaded their case by projecting exponential population and pollution growth but sporadic technology growth. Isn’t clean energy technology keeping pace?
Any model of society or human behavior is not going to be entirely accurate but nonetheless there is explosive growth, and if we don’t find the technology to replace oil we’re going to be in trouble. We have the know-how to produce the technology that can keep pace. Solar, wind – these technologies can supply a large fraction of the requirements of our civilization, as long as we don’t keep growing exponentially. So we need to find new clean energy sources and become very, very efficient.
Lastly, you cite Wind Power by Paul Gipe. Please tell us about this book.
Paul Gipe is a very well-known wind energy personality. He’s been in the field a long time, he’s traveled a lot and he’s written a number of books. This one is fun to read because it’s about how ordinary people can harness wind power for homes, farms and businesses. It lays out the basics – it talks about the foundation requirements and how to lift the wind turbine up there. It conveys the idea that you don’t have to rely on giant industrial-sized windmills to supply power. It’s aimed at the little guy.
Not everyone is looking to erect wind turbines on their property, but Gipe reminds us that there’s more to renewable energy than massive plants. In some countries, turbines are dispersed throughout the countryside instead of concentrated. Household-sized turbines can even generate surplus energy that can be stored and shared. So even if you’re not in the market for a “how-to”, you might be interested in this book’s vision of the potential of wind energy.”
Our latest title in this category is making a splash as well! Here’s a podcast interview with Amory Lovins, author of Reinventing Fire on ThinkProgress:
Last month Amory Lovins, author of Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, spoke to a fascinated crowd at the US Green Building Council’s conference, Greenbuild.
Greenbuild is the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building. Thousands of building professionals from all over the world come together at Greenbuild for three days of outstanding educational sessions, renowned speakers, green building tours, special seminars, and networking events.
To reinvent fire, we need to master six critical challenges.
1. Build efficient buildings and retrofit existing ones on a tremendous scale
Just one energy efficient building makes a difference. Multiply that by 120 million buildings, and, there will be a revolution. Ultimately, there’s a $1.4 trillion opportunity on the table for smart building owners and entrepreneurs to aggressively adopt straightforward efficiency techniques.
“There are several emerging trends that point to ‘cracking the code,’” said Mathias Bell, RMI consultant. “The challenge is to dramatically accelerate these nascent trends—like straightforward efficiency techniques and technologies—and leverage integrative design to achieve greater energy savings and financial returns.”
To jumpstart widespread investments in building efficiency, building owners, energy service firms and utilities need to spearhead change. The good news is that the time is ripe: the technologies are available, smart regional policies are proliferating, and the opportunity to deliver innovative hassle-free energy products at scale is increasing.
2. Transform the auto industry
A cleaner, safer oil free world—and the health of this vital sector—depends on the auto industry’s ability to produce much fitter vehicles at roughly the same cost before their competitors—both old and new.
A key enabler of the transition is to apply integrative design, vehicle fitness and new manufacturing methods, which can save far more fuel at a similar sticker price by simplifying automaking and shrinking powertrains.
“We are currently on the tail end of a 100-year learning curve, where we see design improvements flattening out,” said Greg Rucks, RMI transportation consultant. “Instead of wringing the last bit of innovation left in current designs, the same amount of innovation and design effort could be more productively applied toward revolutionary autos that exceed 100 mpg with better safety and performance. Automakers who recognize this early will be in the best position to capture market share.”
3. Dramatically reduce the distances traveled by autos and the haul length, weight and volume of cargo carried by heavy-duty trucks
Complimentary to transforming vehicle design is changing how vehicle are used—and it is important that both happen simultaneously.
Paying infrastructure costs by the mile not the gallon, smart IT traffic and transport systems, and other strategies can slash more than half the 13,000 miles a typical American drives each year and cut just under a third or more freight-hauling miles while enhancing personal mobility and freight logistics.
“Nobody wants to sit in traffic for hours, but that is today’s reality. We could provide the same or better transportation services with more options and only half as much drive time,” said Jesse Morris, RMI transportation analyst. “IT developments and smarter use of infrastructure could expand user choice and access.”
4. Sustain and accelerate energy savings and cogeneration in industry
As ubiquitous as “made in China” sounds, industry is still a huge piece of the U.S. economy, generating more than 40 percent of the country’s GDP and employing almost 20 million people. America’s strongest economic engine can become more competitive by accelerating adoption of energy efficiency, boosting cogeneration, and increasing on-site renewable supplies of heat and electricity.
“Industrial energy efficiency is profitable, but it requires courage to look beyond short term investments,” said Albert Chan, RMI consultant. But, gaining insight into energy use across the company delivers many more benefits other than cutting energy costs, including streamlined processes, improved product quality and increased performance. It’s no coincidence that firms that are good at energy management are also the most competitive.”
5. Keep driving down the cost of renewable energy
Today, the costs of some renewable and distributed technologies are still higher than the alternatives.
But, global growth in investment and production of renewable technologies—like wind and solar—is driving rapid cost reductions and improving performance. Using these commercially available technologies, there is more than enough renewable resource available to meet current and future U.S. electricity demand.
“Wind, solar, and other renewables are traveling down a steep learning curve,” said RMI Principal Lena Hansen. “With expected cost reduction trends for today’s technologies, the path to an electric system that is powered largely by renewables could be only modestly more expensive that business-as-usual.”
But, even with dramatic cost reductions, current regulatory structures and conventional utility business models hamper the industry’s ability to transform efficiently and profitably. That’s where #6 comes in.
6. Change the rules of electricity production
There will never be a future free of fossil fuels if utilities’ profits depend on how much electricity they sell, or if distributed renewable sources can’t feed electricity onto the grid.
While we cannot anticipate game changing events or the speed of transformation that can be enabled by technology, the electric system can be ready to respond quickly to threats and take advantage of opportunities.
“The key is to level the playing field for actors to make intelligent and economically optimal decisions,” said James Newcomb, RMI Program Director. “By revamping utilities’ rules and operating models to align with the opportunities presented by efficiency and renewables, we can build a more customer-centric and less risky electric system.”
Harnessing Powerful Interconnections
While pulling each of these levers is critical, it can’t be done in isolation. Reinventing Fire depends on the interdependencies of an entire system to uncover solutions that yield exponential economic benefits and find bigger savings cheaper.
By increasing our productivity with every unit of energy we use across all sectors of our economy—transportation, buildings and industry—we can simultaneously power our increasingly efficient demand with a portfolio of renewable energy sources.
Watch RMI’s new video to learn how we can change energy use forever. And, don’t miss the national launch of Reinventing Fire on October 27!
Reinventing Fire (October 2011) shows how to run the 2050 U.S. economy with no oil, coal, or nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, a $5-trillion lower present-valued cost (ignoring all externalities), compelling business models that drive the transition, and smart policies to speed it without requiring an Act of Congress. Shifting the electricity system to efficiency and renewables depends critically on super-efficient buildings, where integrative design presents important opportunities for expanding returns.
Amory B. Lovins, a 63-year-old American consultant, experimental physicist and 1993 MacArthur Fellow, has been active at the nexus of energy, resources, environment, development, and security in more than 50 countries for 35 years, including 14 years based in England. He is widely considered among the world’s leading authorities on energy—especially its efficient use and sustainable supply—and a fertile innovator in integrative design.
Watch video of Amory’s recent keynote at Green Build: http://vimeo.com/30217707
For a while, we almost had it. Before America’s comprehensive climate and energy bill turned into a devastating failure in 2010, the U.S. seemed to be on the verge of having an energy plan based on a sustainable vision for the future. But today, with “climate,” “clean energy investment” and “green jobs” being dirty words to one major political power, we’ve moved further away from that goal than ever.
That’s why the Rocky Mountain Institute’s recent project, Reinventing Fire — a peer-reviewed, commercially-viable vision for the future of energy — should help inform the future conversation around energy. In typical RMI fashion, it provides an aggressive-but-plausible scenario for economic prosperity based on clean energy and efficiency, blending together the different disciplines from the organization.
RMI’s book Reinventing Fire will be out soon. For now, the organization reminds us where we are today and what the future could be:
The U.S. transportation sector burns 13 million barrels of oil a day (half of it imported), at a cost of $2 billion. Personal transportation is now America’s #2 consumer cost after housing, totaling $740 billion in 2009 and consuming, on average, 17.6% of household expenditures.
America’s 120 million buildings consume 42% of the nation’s energy—more than any other sector. If they were a country, they would rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.
We spend more than $400 billion a year to heat and power buildings, even more than the government spends on Medicare.
U.S. industry employs almost 131 million people and generates more than 40% of U.S. GDP, but uses roughly one-fourth of the nation’s total energy per year.
86% of U.S. electricity is generated in large, centralized power plants.
What could the energy landscape of 2050 under the Reinventing Fire scenario look like?
Efficiency efforts plus switching from oil and coal and one-third less natural gas to renewable energy would save a net $5.0 trillion.
A $2.0 trillion investment to make cars, trucks and planes more efficient, and more effectively used would save $5.8 trillion.
Buildings’ energy use can be 40–60% more efficient in 2050 than today—despite 70% more floorspace.
U.S. industry can produce about 84% more output with 9–13% less energy—without mandates or breakthroughs in innovation.
We can capture and integrate the renewable energy needed to meet 80% or more of our electricity needs by 2050.
Under the plan, we could be looking at $5 trillion in net savings. If you can’t imagine that, just look at the infographic RMI put together below.
The old fire, the one Prometheus stole from the gods way back when, is undeniably awesome. It heats our homes, cooks our food, and now, in the info-tech-saturated 21st century, it powers our Google mail and our Facebook, arguably the most revolutionary social tools since amish friendship bread…
But it’s also hot, dirty, and you just simply cannot have it without producing greenhouse gasses. They’re sort of automatically part of the equation when you’re burning something. Don’t you remember balancing equations in high school chemistry class? No? Believe me, it’s not possible.
Which is why it’s time to overhaul the whole shebang. And it’s why we’re so excited to share with you our first review for Rocky Mountain Institute’s new book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era
Hazel Henderson, author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, has just reviewed the book over at Seeking Alpha.
In “Reinventing Fire,” Amory Lovins and RMI are summarizing their case for shifting from digging and drilling to collecting our energy as nature does by photosynthesis and other chemical and thermal processes: from the daily photon shower arriving free from our sun.This book is meticulously researched, relying on their own scientific team as well as many outside studies.
“Reinventing Fire” is an essential, in-depth summary of all the evidence of the great energy transition now under way.…We think the transition is inevitable, a result of better science and technologies and a huge opportunity for a prosperous, fair, equitable, sustainable future for all.
Paul Gipe is an expert on wind energy and energy policy, and is among the foremost advocates for European-style feed-in tariff policies in the United States. He has written extensively about renewable energy for both the popular and trade press, including regular updates on global developments of feed-in tariff policies for his site Wind-Works.org.
In 2004, Mr. Gipe served as the acting executive director of the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association where he created, managed, and implemented a provincial campaign for Advanced Renewable Tariffs. The campaign sought to adapt electricity feed laws to the North American market and was instrumental in placing the European concept on the political agenda in Canada and the United States.
Mr. Gipe first publicly called for a feed law in the US in his campaign for the board of directors of the American Wind Energy Association in 1998.
Solar Server: How do you feel the disaster at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant is affecting renewable energy policy globally, and particularly national government appetites for feed-in tariffs?
Paul Gipe: Well, I think the most interesting development is in Germany, and I think that we will see if the coalition government will come out with new policies to increase the installation of wind energy in Germany. I think that is one very positive development, elsewhere, particularly in the United States, we still have our head in the sand, and continue business as usual.
Solar Server: In terms of the feed-in tariff policies which have been passed or modified over the last year, which ones do you see as the most promising, and why?
Paul Gipe: I continue to find the German program the model for the rest of the world to follow, in part because they have been able handle the explosive growth of solar PV. And have been able to accept that growth and regulate that growth in a responsible manner by a dialing down of the tariff in interim steps and in creating a growth corridor that they use to increase the degression to reduce the growth rate - the most responsible means of regulating the potentially explosive growth of solar PV.
The next most sophisticated program is in Ontario, Canada, modeled of course after the European programs.
And a very interesting development is that in Uganda. Uganda has a feed-in tariff policy that could be useful to states in the United States. It’s not often that the United States looks to deepest, darkest Africa for a model program, but it might be wise for us to do so.
Nuclear power is on everyone’s minds at the moment as our eyes remain fixed on the crisis in Japan. Earth Island Journal printed the following debate on nuclear energy between Stewart Brand and Amory Lovins in their Winter 2011 issue. Amory is co-author of a forthcoming book from Chelsea Green, due out in fall of 2011, entitled Reinventing Fire.
Nuclear vs. Renewables
In the 1970s and 80s, halting the expansion of nuclear power was a key priority for many environmental groups. But with global greenhouse gas levels continuing to rise, some greens say that carbon-free nuclear power plants deserve a second look. In an energy-hungry world, is splitting the atom smarter than burning fossil fuels? Stewart Brand thinks so, and says that concerns about nuclear waste are overwrought. Amory Lovins disagrees, arguing that cheaper, faster, more effective, more secure climate and energy solutions can deliver the services the world needs.
Nuclear Power is Safe, Sound…and Green by Stewart Brand
Since he first published the seminal Whole Earth Catalog in 1968, Stewart Brand has been a leading thinker about how to create an ecologically sustainable society. More recently, he has been encouraging environmentalists to rethink their opposition to geo-engineering, transgenic crops, and nuclear power.
For the definite word on how much to worry about climate change, environmentalists in American have taken to relying on James Hansen, NASA’s outspoken climatologist. When Hansen declared that we must not settle for leveling off carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million (ppm) but must take the level down from the current 387 ppm to 350 ppm or lower, the new environmentalist slogan became “350!”
Environmentalists take no notice of Hansen’s views on nuclear power, however. As President Obama was taking office, Hansen wrote him an open letter suggesting new policy to deal with the climate crisis. Hansen proposed what America needed: a carbon tax “across all fossil fuels at their source”; the phasing out of all coal-fired plants; and “urgent R&D on 4th generation nuclear power, with international cooperation.” He warned: “The danger is that the minority of vehement anti-nuclear ‘environmentalists’ could cause development of advanced safe nuclear power to be slowed such that utilities are forced to continue coal-burning in order to keep the lights on. That is a prescription for disaster.”
Environmentalists have much less to fear from the current nuclear power industry than they think, and much more to gain from new and planned reactor designs than they realize. Hansen is right: Nukes are Green. Here’s how. …more…
by Amory B. Lovins
Dubbed one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People by TIME, physicist Amory Lovins has spent 40 years integrating radical energy efficiency with renewable supply. He is cofounder, chairman, and chief scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent “think-and-do tank” that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources.
I have known Stewart Brand as a friend for many years. I have admired his original and iconoclastic work, which has had a significant impact. In his new book, Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, he argues that environmentalists should change their thinking about nuclear power, and predicts that I won’t accept his nuclear reassessment. He is quite right, because I believe its conclusions are greatly mistaken.
Stewart’s nuclear chapter’s facts and logic do not hold up to scrutiny. Over the past few years I’ve sent him five technical papers focused mainly on nuclear power’s comparative economics and performance. He says he’s read them, and even summarizes part of their economic thesis in his book. Yet he then says, “We Greens are not economists,” and disclaims knowledge of economics, saying environmentalists use it only as a weapon to stop projects. Today, most dispassionate analysts think new nuclear power plants’ deepest flaw is their economics. They cost too much to build and incur too much financial risk. Nuclear expansion therefore can’t deliver on its claims: It would reduce and retard climate protection, because it saves between two and 20 times less carbon per dollar, 20 to 40 times slower, than investing in efficiency and micropower. …more…
Read the original article atEarthIsland.org. Image above left courtesy of Rocky Mountain Institute.
To learn more about Reinventing Fire, visit RMI’s website and check back soon.
This is an incredibly helpful guide for homeowners and small business owners who are interested in utilizing solar energy but are daunted by the wide array of options, systems, rebate programs and incentives out there (not to mention the intimidating price tag).
In the following video, Stephen and Rebekah give an introduction to the book and their motives for writing it, as well as detailing some of the excellent tips and tools readers will glean from it. Have a look!
The market for solar systems has been growing at an exponential rate and strong tax credits ensure continued growth even in a sluggish economy. Many of those who would like to catch this undeniable wave of the future are held back by widespread confusion. A Solar Buyer's Guide for the Home and Office clears the air, allowing property owners to move forward with confidence to make their homes and offices more comfortable, environmentally sound, and secure against wild swings in energy prices.