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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 11-17 of 17 comments

November 9, 2012

In #3, don't you mean INCREASE "the haul length, weight and volume of cargo carried by heavy-duty trucks"? It sounds like efficiency is enhanced by REDUCING those!

November 9, 2012

Half is already "renewable" ... well, my comment to that is that the definition of renewable therefore clearly not the same as "sustainable", and certainly not in any way shape or form "eco-friendly" ... I personally think this is likely a bit of sales hype, painting the picture in people's minds that if half is already "renewable" then they better get in on the act quickly while there is still another half left to make profit on ... perhaps that is just the cynic in me, but either way, I do not think it aids the discussion to have such low standards, because there is no way in hell that half the world's energy use is both environmentally friendly & sustainable, and that should be our minimum standard.

November 9, 2012

I am a co-founder of Your Healthy Planet(http://yourhealthyplanet.info) and live and work from a six star energy rated apartment building in Melbourne, Australia. Our building collects and treats it's own water, recycles the grey water, is passive solar design with solar hot water. We pay 10 cents/month for the gas booster, our total energy cost is $2/day for home and office and our water & sewerage bill $22 per quarter. We use average 21L/person per day of water. If photo-voltaics had been installed we would have easily been energy positive. We have an electric share car in the carpart, $50 pa membership and public transport at the front door.

I like to call our place the "Mother Ship" and I know that futurist Bucky Fuller designed an even more advanced building called Old Man River Project designed to house 25,000 families for New Orleans and that was in the 1950's I think. It didn't go ahead because of a change of government!

You can see the building design and energy features @ http://thenicholson.com.au

November 9, 2012

One further necessary condition for the uptake of renewable energy, and in this case private home or business generation, is a suitable framework of regulations which are economically favourable to the consumer/generator. As soon as you see a system like that of Germany in which the government gives three times as much for the power you produce as for the power you use, suspect a scam. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is and the German Government actually milks the system for revenue six ways from Sunday. (actually 7 ways I have found and some German friends say I have only scratched the surface). Set up the regulations to be economically favourable to a householder who wants to put solar panels on the roof and watch that sector boom with no further effort from the government.

November 10, 2012

is a great article. As usual, the wealthiest -- nations and populations -- are the most irresponsible when it comes to fouling our nest on planet Earth. We foul the most because we have created and continue to support the Energy Industrial Complex. The EIC mines, drills, refines, stores, trades and sells, transports, and stores hydrocarbons -- coal, oil and gas -- or uranium. All that, BEFORE it can heat or cool our homes or boil water to generate electricity. It's time to move on from "burning our own fences" as Thomas Edison said. It's time to stop fouling our nest. It's time to understand and use the unlimited power within 10 miles of everywhere on earth -- straight down. Geothermal heat does not foul our nest ... it has made human life possible! Whether tapped from close to the surface to be used directly for heating and cooling or from further down to boil water to generate electricity, it is entirely local, clean and an unlimited resource. It's not the only answer to cleaning up our nest, but along with solar thermal, photovoltaic, wind and hydro used appropriately, it can replace the dirty old EIC.

November 10, 2012

The six points are well taken! Two very important ones should be considered for addition.

7. ***Open the door to new directions in High Efficiency Electricity Distribution.***
Design and build efficient long distance grid backbones to enhance renewables, support shared energy infrastructure and make remote distributed energy production as valuable per generated watt as energy made close to high demand regions. Look to early adopters for hard data on the effectiveness of such backbone structures.

8. ***Evaluate Alternatives for Long Haul, High Speed Transport and Travel.***
Long range travel and transport need to be addressed as areas that can be made orders of magnitude more efficient and much more pleasant by implementing technologies that are inherently designed for long range, long haul efficiency, comfort and ease of use.

November 12, 2012

Just thinking today... "If there are a lot of folks out there that are utilizing waste oil from fast food restaurants in their cheaply converted diesel engines, then why isn't it mandatory that all fast food restaurants bring their waste oil to a collection facility for use as fuel?" Perhaps a large, central, high-efficiency, low-emission generator that provides low cost electricity to towns; perhaps fed back into the grid to subsidize all electric bills, etc? Or energy generated goes directly to research and development of clean energy technologies....

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