Amory Lovins, the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute and the author of influential books like Winning the Oil Endgame and Natural Capitalism, is back with a new book—and this time, he's claiming that the U.S. can do the seemingly impossible: run an economy that's 158% larger by 2050 without any coal, oil, nuclear energy, or new inventions (and one-third less natural gas).
The book, Reinventing Fire, is the most ambitious thing ever attempted by the Rocky Mountain Institute, according to Lovins. "It felt like the right time to try to construct a coherent vision of how to solve the energy problem by enlarging it," he says. "Most people try to make the problems smaller and carve it into bite-sized chunks. Then you don't have a big enough design space to have enough options, degrees of freedom, and synergies."
Instead of trying to tackle all four energy-using sectors independently—transportation, buildings, electricity, and industry—Lovins believes that we should solve their problems together. One oft-discussed example is how electric vehicles bring the power grid flexibility and storage resources that can better integrate solar and wind power.
Lovins believes that most people in business are just waiting for Washington to tell them what to do, but that's not necessarily where the answers are. Business leaders might alternatively look to state and local government, which can implement the policies needed to speed the transition to efficiency and renewables. As we have seen, military leadership can also accelerate change in the civilian sector.
"It's first about realizing that it's possible, and second, realizing that it's profitable. There are $5 trillion [in new economic value] on the table and you can get your piece of it," says Lovins. These economic opportunities will be found in more efficient vehicles, energy-saving buildings, more productive and efficient industry, and greater use of renewable energy.
The point is, says Lovins, "We've got 21st century technology and speed colliding with 20th and 19th century institutions, rules, and cultures. Huge fortunes will be made and lost." Just how that might happen is detailed in Reinventing Fire, which is on sale now.
[Images: Top, Logan Brumm Photography and Design's Flickr stream; Rest, RMI]