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Sep 6, 2011

Ten Surprising Facts About Our Energy Landscape

 

Today, America relies on oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear to power our country. But, our aging infrastructure demands refurbishment to meet 21st century needs.

By Reinventing Fire, efficiency and renewables can end our addiction to fossil fuels, create the core industries of the new energy era, generate $5 trillion in new economic value, and enhance resilience and security. The best news: businesses who are ready to lead this transition can become more profitable and resilient.

Bottom line, it’s all about the numbers: $5 trillion net in savings and support a 158% bigger U.S. economy by 2050, using no energy from coal, oil or nuclear. 

Surprising, yes, but far from impossible. In fact, leading businesses are already moving in this direction. Here are Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Top 10” surprising facts as we navigate the transition to the new energy era.

Reinventing Fire Infographic 2011

Today’s energy landscape

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) We spend more than $400 billion a year to heat and power buildings, even more than the government spends on Medicare.

4) 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.

5) 86% of U.S. electricity is generated in large, centralized power plants.  

The energy landscape of 2050

6) Efficiency efforts plus switching from oil and coal and one-third less natural gas to renewable energy would save a net $5.0 trillion.

7) A $2.0 trillion investment to make cars, trucks and planes more efficient, and more effectively used would save $5.8 trillion.

8) Buildings' energy use can be 40–60% more efficient in 2050 than today—despite 70% more floorspace.

9) U.S. industry can produce about 84% more output with 9–13% less energy—without mandates or breakthroughs in innovation.

10) We can capture and integrate the renewable energy needed to meet 80% or more of our electricity needs by 2050. 

So whether you care most about profits and jobs, or national security, or environmental stewardship, climate, and health, Reinventing Fire makes sense and makes money.

Rather than investing in the status quo, America’s business leaders have a prime opportunity to make smart choices and create the core industries of the new energy era while competing for a $5 trillion net prize. Reinventing Fire helps point the way.

Who’s with us?

We want your voice in this conversation. Tell us what you think by commenting below or taking part in our weekly poll.

Subscribe now to get the latest research and analysis from Reinventing Fire and discover how other leaders are Reinventing Fire in their own organizations.

Finally, share Reinventing Fire with a friend. Those of you who refer 5-10 friends will be entered to win one of five copies of "Reinventing Fire" signed by Amory Lovins.

 Reinventing Fire Cover Image

Pre-order a copy of "Reinventing Fire" on Amazon.

Join the Discussion


Showing 11-20 of 20 comments

September 8, 2011

Just curious, in the graphic for reinventing fire it shows 4% of the US energy demand being met my hydrogen, where does the hydrogen come from. Hydrogen is not an energy source, its a storage mechanism. So should this 4% really be shifted over to more renewables or more natural gas.


September 8, 2011

Can you make that excellent infographic available for sale, or better yet, free to schools?


September 8, 2011

@Tony Tremain, if you look at the bottom of the page--http://rmi.org/rmi/ReinventingFireInfographic there is a link to download the PDF. If you want to print it out, you will get the best results by printing an 11x17 version.


September 20, 2011

@Brian Manley, You're right on hydrogen not being an energy source. Hydrogen is typically produced today using steam methane reforming with energy efficiencies reaching upwards of 85%. However, another option for producing hydrogen is using electrolysis of water from renewable electricity with peak efficiencies around 70%. In reality, it will most likely be a mix of these technologies and so would slightly increase both natural gas and electricity primary energy consumption.


November 13, 2011

The University of Saskatchewan was building super-insulated houses in 1978 that were heated for $50 a year using baseboard electric. They used fiberglass, but now we have foams that are even better, some made from soybeans.
The building code needs to be changed.


November 29, 2011

Greg Rucks and others,

The notion of using _fuels_ as a major component of our energy mix in 2050 seems quite preposterous. Fire(?) in the urban landscape? Why not reinstate the campfire in the kitchen? RMI itself has documented the low efficiency of engines-to-wheels to be less than 15%. Plus by using 4 wheels, we limit ourselves to the killing machine which is modern transport (1 million per year worldwide). This is no way to run a railroad!

I read the comments on "non-food" biofuels but I don't see the math. It doesn't scale. Your info poster's percentages might pan out if overall energy is 10% or 20% of what it is today. Otherwise, you're dreaming!

As oil peaks and goes into steep decline (the Seneca Cliff), we have a unique opportunity to get transport systems off the ground. For example, Solar Skyways, 10% as much energy, moving 10% as much mass, 100X safer than cars – whether gas-powered, electric or hyper(!).

More with less. Less energy, less rhetoric!


November 16, 2012

I am very intrigued by RMI,s vision but wonder if the new USA energy boom that promises to make us free of foreign oil will sidetrack the progress being made by sucking up the interest of politicians to support the programs needed and industry using the capital investment needed for renewables to chase more carbon to burn.


November 16, 2012

If we built Monolithic Domes for homes, schools, and businesses we could cut energy use by 50-75% and have super strong low maintenance buildings for the same or less cost than conventional buildings.


November 16, 2012

Awesome info guys and gals! How can we help get you noticed at the US and State Policy level? K. Rosvold fixerguy@live.com


November 17, 2012

The vision of an integrated and distributed energy system is praiseworthy. Missing on it will be another road not taken!

I wish the forecast of saving $5 trillion in NPV through 2050 by restructuring the energy infrastructure was backed by uncertainty analysis given the track record of energy forecasting.

Efficiency improvement through smaller and modular energy systems can definitely help in reducing leakage. But building near-decomposable systems like the ones envisioned here is difficult, very difficult. It needs a strong leadership to push it. Sailing will be smoother once it gathers momentum.

I guess the roadmap proposed by Amory Lovins has left some questions unanswered. What should be the scale of these renewable energy clusters? How will we phase in these energy clusters without disrupting the system? For example, shall we invest in plug-in hybrids technology that is charged through solar PV put on the roof of the house, or shall we build cars that are solar powered without the need to plug in? Or are we equally uncertain that we got to do little bit of this and little bit of that?

If New York City was energy independent system or semi-independent system what would be the economic loss compared to the estimated economic loss that Sandy imposed? What if New York City was powered by off-shore wind farms sited along the shore through which the Hurricane Sandy cruised? How would an island energy system respond to such an extreme event? How resistant would be these smaller energy clusters? Energy demand is concentrated while the energy solutions are spread over the geography. Will we still need long distance transmissions? How will we deal with bottlenecks.

We can slice and dice the energy sector in multiple ways. Empire State Building (ESB) problem has multiple solutions. One can completely isolate ESB, one can group several of the concentrated blocks, one can expand it even to a larger area comprising of neighborhoods, and in rural areas, the small towns can become independent of the grid (may be local biofuel production will relieve it from the petroleum needs too). All excellent ideas!

A banker asks, what's the risk?

I asked a banker, If I were to show him that there are so many government subsidies available for renewable energy technologies that if his customers approach for a loan to put solar panels in their roof, the bank as an investor should approve the loans. The customers can pay back the loans with a competitive interest rate within 10-15 years (depending on the capacity). Energy saving in their monthly utility bills will be enough to pay for the loan over the time. He said, "no man the certainty in auto-loan is so high that I will expand my auto-loan portfolio than jump in the wagon that is headed towards uncharted territory." (Small community banks invest frugally, they are very risk averse.) So unless big venture capitalists show interest it will take much longer time than 2050 to envision fossil fuel free US economy. The other way is to back small banks through guarantees and instead of seeking government private businesses can jump in.

Integrated energy systems and eco-industrial parks both are great ideas but expanding beyond pilot scale is proving very difficult. I absolutely agree that we have relied on technological fixes to societal problems. But as long as there are short-term fixes we will continue the business as usual.

The consequence of optimizing growth is upon us. Cheap, clean and reliable energy system is the solution. Restructuring energy sector is important also to include the externalities of economic development in the Gross Domestic Product equation.

I support the idea of transitioning from finite resources to infinite resources that is clean, cheap and reliable.

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