Live from D.C.: Reinventing Fire

We are live at the National Geographic headquarters for the public launch of Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.

Refresh often for updates over the next hour.


"Vehicle fitness can cheaply triple efficiency–and unlock electric propulsion."

"Carbon fiber manufacturing can scale to automotive speed and cost with aerospace performance and save the oil equivalent of finding a Saudi Arabia under deteroit. The same savings and business logic apply to other forms of transportation. The technological savings potential is in the order of $1T for radically more efficiency trucks and planes."

"As we design and build all kinds of vehicles better, we can also use them smarter. We are wasting billions of dollars each year with idle vehicles, idle roads, and idle people."

"We can use IT to smooth traffic flow. Proven methods can improve access to transportaiton saving $0.4 trillion."

"40 years hence, a far more mobile US economy can use no oil, saving $4T. These 125-240 mpg equivalent autos can use any mix of electricity, hydrogen or biofules, but no vehicles will need oil."

"Most of the sectors that need to be transformed are already at, or near the tipping point, where this transition gets easier."

"Oil is becoming uncompetitive at low prices, even before it becomes unavailable at high prices."

"Changing how we make electricity gets a lot easier if we need less of it. Over the next 40 years, buildings can triple energy productivity, saving $1.4 trillion net present value, industry can double its productivity, but there’s an evern more disruptive innovation-intergrative design–which can boost these savings further. You get expanding returns, instead of diminishing in your investments in energy efficiency."

"Renewable energy’s costs continue to plummet. Wind and solar are marketplace winners today."

"Different electricity futures have the same costs, but dramatically different levels of risk to our security, environment, and human health." 

"Our risks are best managed if our distributed renewable supply lets us redesign the grid to islandable microgrids. This transformation would cost the same as other electricity futures, but it would maximize customer choice, entrepreneurship, and innovation."

"Reinventing Fire provides a credible path to capture these benefits. Our energy future is not fate, but choice. And, that choice is very flexible."

"The best buys in electricity are also the best buys for security, economy, and the environment. "

"Reinventing Fire provides a credible path to capture these benefits. Our energy future is not fate, but choice. And, that choice is very flexible."

"To solve the energy problem, we needed to enlarge it, and look at the whole thing. RMI’s implementation initiatives in each sector are helping smart companies on this journey to get "unstuck." 

"What I’ve described is the most profound transformations in the history of our species. Humans are inventing a new fire that is permanent, free, and–but for a little biofuel, are grown in ways that sustain and endure. This flame is endless."

"Each of you owns a piece of this $5T prize, and we have details how each of you can capture this opportunity. With the conversation happening today, we invite you to engage with us today, to help us make the world fairer, safer and cooler by Reinventing Fire!"


Q: Will this transition really happen in transportation?

A: Jon Casesa: In my view, there is a consumer pull and an economic reason for it. So, as we speak, companies are reinventing the car. Ford Motor Company is beginning to make the lightest cars on the planet. It is happening today, because there is an enormous incentive to do it. Some of it is a regulatory push, but most is a consumer pull. 

Q: Why do consumers want something different? 

A: Casesa: A perfect storm. Concerns over national security, traffic–people are realizing their cars have a lot of externalities and quality of life is effected by the car. The car is tunring into tobacco. 

A: Brand: The energy system is changing out there. Oil companies recognize there is change coming, they do believe there is a need for energy, and a big growth in global requirements–so there need to be other sources. Mostly driven by economics, but also greenhouse gasses and availability. Anyone in the energy business is asking questions and placing bets, in the form of large investments in solar. A lot of research that you don’t hear about looking at renewables. At the end of the day, it HAS to be affordable compared to the incumbent. 

Q: Can renewables compete w/ the incumbent? 

A: Dinwoodie: In the power plant sector in California, solar is being bid to utilities at a price below a new natural gas plant. It is competitive with natural gas, coal and nuclear in certain markets in this country. On the residential/commercial side, the value proposition for solar is no money down, and immediate savings in many areas throughout the country. It is on an apples-to-apples basis–our current subsidies compared to the subsidies for oil and gas. 

Q: Will we be able to achieve solar at the scale at which we need it? 

A: Dinwoodie: Germany installed 8 gigawatts of solar–the same amount generated by a large power plant–in one year. They did 2 gigawatts in June alone. So, the solar industry is able to churn out gigawatts in months, as opposed to other sources that can take up to 20 years w/ coal or nuclear (when you account for designing and building a plant).

Q: A big part of Reinventing Fire is efficiency, but w/ a long-term payback, many companies aren’t willing to put up the capital. How do you address that? 

A: Amory: In the real-estate market, it is clear that if you do these things to your building, you not only make ti more efficient, but you have a variety of ansillary benefits to tenants–increased comfort, productivity etc.–which are increasingly being factored in to a building’s value. This sweetens the value proposition. 

Q: Will biz do this on their own? 

A: Brand: What I like is the considerable focus on existing technologies, and incremental changes. Major breakthroughs are there, but from a business standpoint, if we have economics and a way to justify it–you can definitely do it w/out an act of congress. Our biggest fear is becoming non-competitive. So, we’re looking at the "easy-to do," but highly economic steps. 

A: Amory: We are using our strongest forces–market forces and its co-evolution w/ civil society–to bypass our LEAST effective institutions. But, I don’t want people to assume that "no acts of congress" required means "no policy" whatsoever. We do indeed need smart policies to unlock and accelerate investment in efficiency and renewables, but these can be led at the state or regional level. 

Q: The rest of the world is charging ahead w/ renewable energy production. How do we get back in the lead and restore our competitive advantage? 

A: Amory: Congressional dithering has put us in a place where we have some catching up to do. But, we have the technical skills, the capital, the entrepreneurship, and innovative power. Current policies limit the scope for dynamic business leadership. If we don’t get smarter quickly, we’ll end up in the world Tom Friedman warned us about–where we are buying technologies we invented from China. 

A: Casesa: For the auto-industry, a playing field has been reset at a great cost. But, the industry is now ready to compete.

Q: The people putting money in still see big potential for fossil fuels. We don’t have a regime which puts a price on carbon. So, how can we resolve these very different vision?

A: Brand: The oil industry is looking at transition. Globally, there may be areas that are more efficient at reducing hydrocarbon issues than other areas, but on a global basis–we see a growing demand for energy, and we need to grow alternative energy sources to meet this demand. Our view is that–yes…there is a place for alternative fuels, address energy security, and decrease greenhouse gas–but with today’s demand, we would be remiss to simply stop using oil and coal outright.

A: Amory: We assume no carbon pricing in our analysis for Reinventing Fire. The business case is compelling w/out it. Carbon pricing would help, but it is not essential and not sufficient.

Moderator: "You’ve laid out a plan, and we will see if people are ready to follow–and start leading this–but from our panel, it looks like we have already begun."