By Jerry Collamer
Energy Sustainability

Amory Lovins: Efficiency and Renewable Energy will Reinvent Fire


Reinventing Fire maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, and no new inventions.

Rocky Mountain Institute, Energy Policy
Built on Rocky Mountain Institute’s 30 years of research and work in the field, “Reinventing Fire” maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, and no nuclear energy.

A Sustainable Energy Policy Like Reinventing Fire

Amory Lovins’s new book Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era offers market-based, actionable solutions integrating transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. Built on Rocky Mountain Institute’s 30 years of research and collaboration in all four sectors, Reinventing Fire maps pathways for running a 158%-bigger U.S. economy in 2050 but needing no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, one-third less natural gas, and no new inventions. This would cost $5 trillion less than business-as-usual—in addition to the value of avoiding fossil fuels’ huge but uncounted external costs.

Four-fifths of the world’s energy comes from burning four cubic miles a year of fossil fuels. Their use has built our civilization and enriched the lives of millions. Yet, costs of inefficient transportation and building electrification are spiraling, and impacts from pollution of air and water, despoiled ecosystems, and destabilized climate are outweighing benefits. To transform our system to a more sustainable one, we would require two big shifts, in oil and electricity. Less than one percent of the oil, but 95 percent of our coal makes electricity. Oil for transport and power stations each release two-fifths of the carbon going into the air. Efficient buildings, factories, and vehicles save oil and coal and also natural gas, which could displace both of them.


Amory Lovins presents at the Reinventing Fire official launch at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.

System 2050 – Efficient, Connected and Distributed

We will have no need for oil, coal, or nuclear energy once efficiency and renewables have ended our addiction to fossil fuels. This new paradigm will need no new inventions, no new federal taxes, subsidies, or laws, and assumes that carbon emissions and all other externalities are worth zero.

Automobile Efficiencies

Carbon fiber composites can make dramatic weight saving to the two ton steel machines we presently drive. Lighter autos need less force to move them, making electric more usable and cheaper because their batteries or fuel cells get smaller, with low associated running costs. Fees on inefficient vehicles could pay for advances in technologies for efficient ones (called a “fee-bate” which have been successful in Europe). Mass auto electrification saves twice as much oil as following our present path. Further savings could be gleaned by reducing congestion on freeways through charging vehicle miles traveled tax, using smart IT to maximize use of alternative transportation, allow lucrative smart growth real estate models, and use Intelligent Transport Systems to smooth traffic flow. All this, combined with more productive use of trucks, would reduce vehicle miles traveled significantly.

Autos would run 125 to 240 miles per gallon from a mix of electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, and advanced biofuels. Airplanes and trucks could realistically use advanced biofuels or hydrogen, or trucks could burn natural gas, but no vehicles would need oil. Biofuels would not come from cropland, without harming soil fertility or climate. Two-thirds would come from waste streams. Electrified autos need not burden the grid, as well. Smart autos and smart buildings exchanging information through a smart grid, add to the grid important storage and flexibility requirements, making it easier to integrate solar and wind power.

Saving Electricity

In the next 40 years, buildings can triple their energy efficiency. Integrative design, for instance remanufacuring windows, better office equipment and lights in the Empire State building renovation, cut the peak cooling cost by a third. Elecricity could be saved in industry through integrated motors, efficient pumps and fat, short, straight pipes instead of long, thin, curved ones. Despite electrified vehicles, efficiencies will shrink the need for electricity, thus opening the door for renewables.

Sustainable Electricity Generation

The aging and dirty electrical system has to be replaced by 2050 at a cost of $6 trillion no matter what technology and source, but risks and impacts will be different. The over-centralized grid, susceptible to cascading power failures and blackouts caused by solar storms and other natural disasters or terrorism. This risk disappears if distributed renewable supply allows redesigned grid into netted, islandable micro-grids that can interconnect and also stand alone would maximize customer choice, entrepreneurship and innovation.

See: Rocky Mountain Institute

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