Amory Lovins on 'Reinventing Fire' with convergence and innovation

For energy visionary Amory Lovins, the antidote for America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels is convergence on the grandest of scales.

His recipe: We must cease engaging the nation’s energy challenges one by one, as we have long tried. Rather, companies, planners and experts must devise hybrid solutions that solve parallel problems facing the U.S.’s most energy-intensive sectors -- buildings, electricity, industry and transportation.

Speaking with Joel Makower on stage yesterday at GreenBiz’s VERGE conference in Washington D.C., Lovins reviewed some of the ways this can be done, as laid out in his latest book, “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.” The culmination of four decades of work by Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute -- the think tank he founded and chairs -- Reinventing Fire maps out an radically ambitious vision to expand the U.S. economy by roughly 2.5-times by mid-century, without using coal, oil or nuclear energy.

Cutting the fossil fuel use is only part of the benefit. By combining efficiency gains -- and reducing energy use -- Reinventing Fire foresees a much larger economy while saving some $5 trillion in net present value costs, compared with business as usual.

And this can all be done with no new technologies, no acts of Congress, with administrative decisions and led by business, for profit. Lovins explained: “None of these strategies required an Act of Congress. They could all be done administratively or at a state level.”

An example: The majority of states still reward utilities for selling more power, rather than cutting the bill. Reversing this is critical to enlisting utilities in the push to improve efficiency. Altering rules to encourage fair interconnection and open competition on the grid is controlled by FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), and needs no legislative overhauls.

Lovins has been thinking very big for a long time. Getting to these goals, he argues, is about scaling up our thinking -- a tough challenge for policy makers and technicians trained to think incrementally. “If a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it,” said Lovins, quoting a line attributed to Eisenhower. “Sometimes a problem can’t be solved not because it’s too big, but rather because the values were drawn so narrowly that it didn't encompass enough options, degrees of freedom and synergies to make it solvable.”

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