Taking the Reinventing Fire Path (Video)

Business and policy leaders came together last week at the Aspen Environment Forum for a vibrant exchange of ideas on a variety of topics from energy to food related to how Earth can sustain “our expanding human needs.”

RMI Chairman and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins sat down for a conversation with Aspen Institute Senior Fellow in Energy and Environment Jack Riggs to discuss Reinventing Fire.

In 1976, Lovins’ seminal work Energy Strategy: the Road Not Taken, outlined two energy choices then facing the nation. While society has traveled far since then, it continues to face enormous domestic energy challenges. And, according to Riggs, seem to be politically gridlocked against any near-term solutions.

The U.S. does not have to wait for a comprehensive energy policy in Washington to move the country toward a more environmentally benign, secure and economic future, Lovins said.

“We can get around political gridlock by focusing on business,” Lovins said to loud applause. “No acts of Congress are required to transition to a future free of coal, oil and nuclear by 2050, and a one-third reduction in natural gas.”

Watch the Video of Amory Speaking at the Aspen Environment Forum

Reinventing Fire, RMI’s strategic initiative (and forthcoming book) that outlines potential and credible pathways for the U.S. transition from coal and oil to efficiency and renewables, harnesses the power of business to realize an untapped $5 trillion economic opportunity.

That is reason alone to enough to shift to a new energy economy and build a more secure energy system than the one that powers our society today.

Riggs and Lovins discussed the possibilities that can be unlocked in each of America’s most energy intensive sectors: transportation, buildings, industry and electricity:

  • Changing the architecture of the grid from centralized power plants to a set of secure and reliable microgrids. As Lovins pointed out, a majority of U.S. military bases are already doing this at a huge economic advantage.
  • Marrying IT and transportation to facilitate car sharing, ride sharing and traffic flows to reduce driving by 46 percent to 84 percent, lessening the economic and environmental traffic burden.
  • Using electricity more efficiency in buildings and industry through present day technologies and integrated design strategies to double efficiency in industry and quadruple the efficiency of buildings.

It’s competitive business strategies, not just new designs or pie-in-the sky technologies that makes the Reinventing Fire vision plausible, Lovins said. However, there are major barriers to overcome. Each sector requires creative solutions to overcome multiple split or perverse incentives.

Oil companies and utilities, for example, will need to shift the most and overcome rules and cultures embedded in the current energy paradigm. But, Lovins pointed out, as oil becomes more volatile, demand increases and supplies dwindle the business case for “small, agile and renewable” becomes much more attractive than “finite, big and dirty.”

The low hanging fruit—the efficient use of energy—has a very strong business case and large profit incentive,” Lovins said. “But, unlocking the potential of today’s efficiency technologies gets difficult because it has to be taken to scale quickly.”

Where the rubber meets the road is in implementation, and that’s where business shines. Smart policies at the federal, state and local level will speed the transition.