From the Archives: Happy Independence Day

This post was originally published July 4th, 2011.

Today, we are dependent on an inefficient and unstable energy system. The U.S. relies on energy sources that threaten our economy, national security, and natural environment. However, the energy system is in transition, moving to a more prosperous and secure future.

For example, on June 29, U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (OR), Tom Carper (DE), Tom Udall (NM), and Michael Bennet (CO) introduced legislation called the Oil Independence for a Stronger America Act to eliminate our dependence on overseas oil. If passed, the legislation will ramp up deployment of electric vehicles, increase travel options and improve infrastructure, make gasoline engines more efficient, develop alternative transportation fuels and reduce the use of oil to heat buildings. The act would reduce oil consumption in the U.S. by over 8 million barrels per day in 20 years, enough to end the need for oil imports from beyond North America. See the press release.

Federal policy is an important lever, but there are various other avenues to this vision. RMI’s experts weighed in on the top five ways for the U.S. to become energy-independent.

1.Change policy at a regional level while pursuing “less sexy” low-hanging fruit in energy management.

“I think we need to be more creative, more resilient, and certainly more self sustaining at a regional level. Change clearly isn’t coming from top levels of government, but we are seeing it at municipal and regional levels because the challenges and answers are different in each region. Mayors and governors have more guts than our national politicians, and they aren’t afraid to do what needs to be done. We do need to expand our current focus beyond "shiny things" like renewable energy and mass transit (which are indeed important), and include the less sexy stuff like building energy retrofits, energy accountability, water quality and conservation, waste management, resource conservation, and lifestyle. There are huge opportunities for young people to get into critical fields like hydrology, ecology, soils, electrical engineering, and waste—all intertwined and contributing to energy independence.”–Elaine Gallagher Adams AIA, Senior Consultant

2. Reduce loads in retrofitted buildings by designing the space to take advantage of daylight.

“When retrofitting an existing building or design a new building, try to provide an abundance of daylight into your space.  This ultimately reduces the amount of electric light that you need during the day, and as a result reduces the energy your HVAC system must use to overcome the heat your lights produce.  Along with proper controls to automate this process, your building will consume less energy from fossil fuels.”–Nicole LeClaire PE, Senior Consultant

3. Continue to support our growing PV industry as it comes into its own.

“PV offers a way to capture the largest source of renewable energy (sunlight). Plus PVs are the ultimate modular technology that can be deployed all the way down to an individual building scale, representing a paradigm shift from the centralized power plant model and leading to increased self-reliance of electricity consumers.”–Sam Newman, Senior Consultant

4. Use social media tools to enable new types of ridesharing programs.

“Cars with three or more people in them are among the most efficient forms of transportation, but the US average is one person per car. Even modest increases in this average will save money, gasoline, decongest our roads, and cut our dependence on foreign oil.”–Sam Newman, Senior Consultant

5. U.S. industries (especially refining and chemical) need to innovate and promote bio-based feedstock to replace petroleum in industrial processes.

“Relatively little oil is actually consumed for energy purposes in U.S. industry. Rather, U.S. industries (mostly the refining and chemical subsectors) consume a great deal of oil as feedstocks for industrial processes. For instance, to create gasoline and other petrochemical-based products, oil must be consumed to create the final products. However, there is growing progress made to explore alternatives, such as bio-based feedstocks. For instance, big chemical companies such as Dupont and Dow are looking at corn and sugar to convert into feedstocks for some of their products.

“However, before bio-based feedstocks become mainstream and displace a sizeable portion of petroleum consumption, we must foster U.S. innovation and encourage market acceptance."–Albert Chan, Consultant