As recently as 2000, 75 percent of all information stored worldwide was in analog formats such as paper documents, pictures, books, tapes and X-ray films. Just seven years later, 94 percent of all information was stored in digital electronic form.
As crucial and ubiquitous as electricity has become, it is poised for a profound leap in importance. This clean, precise, and flexible energy carrier can serve as the backbone to conquer one of the most important challenges of our time: drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. In Reinventing Fire, Rocky Mountain Institute outlines a pathway for a renewed U.S. economy powered not by fossil fuels, but largely by an efficient, renewable, distributed and customer-centric electricity system.
Our Reinventing Fire analysis, together with extensive and ongoing dialogue with electricity sector thought leaders and decision makers, has helped us frame insights about the drivers of disruptive change in the electricity sector. Some of these drivers include:
- Increasing amounts of variable renewables such as solar and wind, much of it locally sited, and other customer resources like energy efficiency conflict with the centrally-controlled and resourced electricity system.
- Inevitably, more actors—including customers, renewable developers, and others—will engage with the electricity system, requiring more coordination and appropriate incentives, and opening the door for innovation.
The grid will become more—not less—important in the future, no matter the ultimate mix of technologies. Therefore, it is imperative to identify business models that promote innovation yet also support the grid backbone.
Without further innovation and coordination, the organic transformation already under way will be neither fast nor smooth, resulting in economic inefficiencies, misaligned incentives, political resistance, and wasted energy. Overcoming the technical, economic, and institutional challenges requires engagement and innovation across traditional institutional boundaries.
What are we doing?
Through RMI’s electricity program, our Next Generation Electricity Initiative, we are working to accelerate the transformation to a renewed U.S. electricity system by identifying barriers that hinder progress, pursuing new unique levels of engagement and developing innovative, practical solutions.
RMI focuses on the distribution end of the electricity value chain since these resources, including efficiency, decentralized solar, electric vehicles, and intelligent grid management, can be truly transformative and since the role of these resources represents the biggest gap in the industry today. Key questions include:
- How can we achieve the greatest value from distributed resource deployment?
- What regulatory changes will most effectively align utility and societal goals and incentives?
- How can we harmonize business models of utilities and distributed resource developers?
How are we doing it
RMI looks for the highest-leverage channels for impact. We take three general approaches to our work:
- Through projects with individual companies or organizations, we apply systems-level knowledge to inform the creation of a practical set of strategies that work under given technical and regulatory conditions. For example, we are working with the State of Connecticut to consider the most effective approaches a state can take for establishing a sustainable energy strategy.
- RMI is convening the Electricity Innovation Lab (e¬-Lab), a state-of-the-art forum for collaborative innovation. The e-Lab is intended to be a multi-year program that regularly brings together key actors to identify, test, and spread practical innovations to key institutional, regulatory, business, economic, and technical barriers slowing the transformation of the U.S. electricity system.
- Finally, though outreach efforts, we highlight pockets of innovation around the electricity system in order to build a common understanding among stakeholders of the needs and opportunities in the sector.
Read more about RMI's vision for an electricity system powered by 80 percent renewables, and learn more about RMI's work in the electricity sector to make this vision a reality.
Join the Conversation
Join RMI electricity experts Principal Lena Hansen and Senior Consultant Virginia Lacy as they take your questions about the future of electricity laid out in Reinventing Fire.
We hope you can join us!
This chat does not include audio or video. It is a live question-and-answer session hosted by RMI that allows us to receive typed questions in real time and answer in the same format.
We typically receive hundreds of questions during a given chat, so while we might not publish or answer every question during the hour, we will review all the questions and post follow-up blog responses.