Colorado-based sustainability think-tank Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was founded in 1982 by American physicist and environmentalist Amory Lovins to research and promote market-based solutions to our energy crisis without breaking the bank.
The group is focusing efforts on transforming domestic and eventually global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure energy future by mid-century.
“We can eliminate our addiction to oil and coal by 2050 and use one-third less natural gas while switching to efficient use and renewable supply,” says Lovins, adding that doing so could actually cost less and support a more robust economy than continuing with business-as-usual: “Moreover, this transition needs no new inventions and no acts of Congress and no new federal taxes, mandate subsidies or laws…”
To get there, Lovins acknowledges that we have to start thinking differently now. RMI is advocating cutting U.S. electricity consumption by 18 percent over the next 10 years while almost doubling renewable energy’s share of generation from 16 to 30 percent.
Few would argue with the cost savings and environmental benefits of such a plan—implementation is the challenge. According to Lovins, we already have the technologies to help foster a rapid evolution of our electricity system, but we still need the political and institutional will to make it happen. RMI has begun a dialogue with utilities and other entities to align incentives and create more opportunities for electricity users to contribute clean power to the grid themselves through technologies like rooftop solar power.
One key feature of RMI’s plan is rate structures that reflect the true benefits and costs of moving to more distributed (small scale/decentralized) energy resources. The group is working with utilities to launch six “Electricity Innovation Labs” nationally as well as a “Solar Development Excellence Center” to highlight the feasibility of distributed renewables. RMI also wants to simplify commercial photovoltaic financing, incorporate renewables into real estate finance and make solar financing affordable to underserved markets.