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Nov 6, 2012

Six Critical Levers to Transform our Energy Future (Video)


Originally posted on October 18, 2011 and written by Kelly Vaughn.

Today as Americans go to the polls, we're running this post from last year because transforming our energy future—especially in the wake of tragic and destructive weather events like Hurricane Sandy—is more important than ever.

And whether you care most about profits and jobs, or national security, or environmental stewardship, climate, and health, a brighter energy future makes good sense—for the planet, for humanity, and for our economy. Together, we can change energy forever.

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. 


Showing 1-10 of 17 comments

October 20, 2011

Ellie and I moved into our earth sheltered home in April, 2006. It is the most comfortable home we have ever lived in, and we spend only an average of $125 a month on energy. Our home is earth bermed on the east, north and west has high windows on the south and has three feet of earth on the roof. It is made of poured concrete; it won't burn, it won't blow away and termites leave it alone. Our green roof has no rain run-off, which is something a lot of cities wish they had; rain is absorbed by the green roof. This home will still be sheltering a family two thousand years from now, so it will never need clearance and rebuilding. Everyone should live in such a home.

October 20, 2011

Wow, could you reduce this to 500 words and submit it under "Energy Policy" in the aGREATER.US competition? We need your leadership!

October 30, 2011

Great work!!!

It's unbelievable that in this day and age ... more specifically TODAY ... 3 million people are without power in the NE... and yet our Attorney Driven Political System is breaking down... this is good! No More Attorney's in Politics... at least vote in some normal people... hey what about a farmer or two... or how about a doctor... why are they all ATTORNEYS??? ATTORNEYS DO NOT SOLVE PROBLEMS... THEY CREATE THEM...

I am a champion of Distributed Energy and Fuel Cell Technology... I doubt that a single congressmen/women and or senators understand what either is!

Have a look at these links... and thanks RMI for all your hard work!


November 2, 2011

This all seems revolutionary except - where's the math? I watched the interview on PBS and the claims that retooling buildings would pay for itself seem unrealistic. If that were true, why wouldn't all building owners, you know, the 1% with all that money, who are smart enough to get that rich, retool their buildings without prompting or legislation from the government.

November 2, 2011


It's a good question. While there's been a lot of positive momentum for efficiency in buildings , it still isn't happening at the pace we need in order to realize our vision for 2050.

Today, there are a lot of barriers to the adoption of energy efficiency. For many people, they simply may not be aware that there is an energy efficiency opportunity, or, if they are aware, they might not have the time and energy required to make the right decisions. Still, even if they know what they want to do, they might not have the capital available.

What we're hoping for with Reinventing Fire is that efficiency can become faster, easier, and more transparent. We may be a little more hopeful than some, but there's a lot of progress being made already. Over the next 40 years, we think great business minds can find ways to successfully overcome many of today's obstacles.

November 24, 2011

I would like to thank You all RMI team for Your work! Reinventing Fire is great!
Happy holiday to all!
From Finland

November 8, 2012

It's great to see buildings at the top of the list, and even better to see existing buildings right up there with new construction. But best of all would be to see building operation share top billing. Even a LEED Platinum building isn't necessarily energy efficient unless it's operated properly. Here's an example:
http://www.facilitiesnet.com/green/article/LEED-Designs-Dont-Always-Lead-to-Sustainable-Operations--12807. Many operational measures involve little or no capital expense, but they do require staff to be trained and to have the time and incentive to keep the building operating properly. And the first step in that direction is to increase awareness of just how important good operating practices are.

November 8, 2012

Coal power production is being replaced with clean burning natural gas. While this is good, it could be much better yet.
Imagine these rebuilt power plants not having any chimney's venting hot exhaust. Instead the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery would be recovering the heat energy from the exhaust gases.
Something has to be done to utilize all this recovered energy.
Algae ponds could be constructed on this "dead" land that has been covered in coal dust and ash for the past 50 years.
The recovered heat from the power plants exhaust can be used to keep these algae ponds warmed to the most ideal temperature of algae growth.
The then cooled CO2 exhaust gases could be pumped into these algae ponds providing these algae plants with CO2 Enrichment (fertilizer)
Water will be evaporating from these ponds, and the water created during this Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery process can be used to make up for this, reducing the groundwater requirements.
The algae will put back into the atmosphere oxygen, and when harvested, this algae can become bio fuels, and more.
Near Zero Waste Power plants of the near future.

November 8, 2012

Hi,and Thank you,Having thoroughly investigated varios physical models of our solar and geo biosphereand one long sought energy translator technolgy,I see a day coming soon ,perhaps twenty years from now,when it will be unnecessary and quite possibly illegal to burn hydro carbons.I got to tip my 'hat' to Dr,J.K.,I look forward to self contained safe power ,only polution would be heat.That said current efforts to (in a positive use) progress to higher efficiencies,planning is coming along and I hope to humbly address this issue locally.Where I love ,carefull co ordination of supplies and community centers for pick up,by associations of like minded people would be a great help .Time and money savings and a fee for the service is a good. idea.Where are such ideas being gathered?

November 8, 2012

This 6 point strategy seems doable. in fact I see it being done already to a marked degree. A lot og the leg work and lab work is being done and has been done by various labs in the DOE and various Universities. Industry will have to step up to the plate and do thier share.Utilizing the present Administrations funding for investment into infrstructure such as rail and bridges and highway systems will play a big part in the shift toward these goals. Fuel cell powered locomotives and long haul Tractor Trailer rigs as well as EVs and HEVs will do a lot to bring this plan to fruition. I believe we have an Administration dedicated to this type of Rebuilding of America. Industry will have to do its' share to make this happen.

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