Going “Beyond the Light Switch”

What will the future of energy look like?

""Today, the national energy debate is more heated than ever, with widely different opinions over the best way to power our lives, enhance our economy, create jobs, and enhance security If we’re lucky, protecting the environment weaves its way into discussions as well.

Earlier this month, Beyond the Light Switch, a two-part, two-hour documentary narrated by Scientific American’s David Biello became available online. The series considers the trade-offs of various proposed energy solutions—carbon capture and storage (CCS), nuclear, solar, wind, energy efficiency, and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas—with great storytelling and a balanced perspective.

Some of the thought-provoking topics include:

  • • What is the feasibility of installing CCS technology in every U.S. coal-fired power plant? Wouldn’t it be a better use of innovation and capital to move toward cleaner options?
  • • Is natural gas a low-carbon economic savior, or is fracking too risky and environmentally costly?
  • • What role should nuclear power play in our energy future, and do the carbon reduction benefits outweigh significant safety concerns and economic roadblocks?
  • • Can the U.S. win the clean energy race? Or are we already doomed to play second fiddle to China?
  • • Even though wind energy is the fastest-growing renewable resource in the U.S., will the “not in my backyard” mentality hamper future growth?
  • • What is the role of energy efficiency and are we doing enough?

With Reinventing Fire,RMI is attempting to reframe the energy debate. We looked at the same energy solutions as Beyond the Light Switch and arrived at a different conclusion: when it comes to pursuing a secure, environmentally benign and economically beneficial electricity future, all energy sources are not created equal.

Despite the carbon benefits promised by nuclear (and other risky options such as carbon capture and sequestration), implementing these high-risk options does nothing to address the critical issues that utilities are facing in terms of fuel, security, financial stability, and competition.

Companies making multi-billion-dollar, multi-decade bets have the opportunity to place the right ones now. RMI’s analysis of a future electricity paradigm (link to https://rmi.org/Electricity) points out that the greatest threat to our current electric system may not be the carbon legislation potentially looming on the horizon, but rather disruptive technologies like solar power priced below retail electricity and cost-competitive wind driving more customers to distributed generation.

Watch Beyond the Light Switch and tell us what you think. Should the U.S. pursue an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy? Or are efficiency and renewables the way to a brighter energy future?

Highlighted Resource


Reinventing Fire Electricity Executive Summary

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