What is the Best Investment for a Sustainable Future Right Now?

Low Clouds On The Colorado Rocky Mountain FoothillsWhat if your very green Great Uncle Ned passed on to greener pastures, leaving you some money and explicit instructions to use it to do something significant to address the urgent issue of climate change. Specifically, he mentioned four projects, from which you had to choose one. As you look them over, you can see that this is not going to be an easy decision.

Of course,  Great Uncle Ned is  fictional, but the choices are very real. These are, in fact the choices, the members of Rocky Mountain Institute’s National Solutions Council were asked to make at today’s Google hangout (video below), where the four team leaders had the chance to make their pitch. Whichever team gets the most votes will receive funding from the council.

Here are the four projects:

1)      Building energy retrofit training program. A leading energy efficiency organization that has already demonstrated its ability to achieve huge savings in buildings in the pioneering work they did on the Empire State Building with a deep energy retrofit, winning a national award and saving 38 percent or $4.4 million annually in the process. The money you gave them would be used to spread their design ideas and expertise to a wide audience, spreading their influence twenty-fold and leading to an impact of over $1 trillion in energy savings.

2)      Input to China’s next 5-year plan. This team of experts is working directly with and has the ear of some of China’s top-ranked energy ministers. Considering how much energy China is using, their ability to influence direction with the aggressive incorporation of renewables and energy efficiency measures, could have a huge global impact.

3)      Revolutionize the Auto Industry.  This project is working with leading automakers and their suppliers to incorporate super-strong lightweight materials that will substantially reduce energy regardless of whether the car is powered by gas, diesel, electric, hybrid, fuel cell or anything else. If just one part made of this material were used in a couple of mainstream production cars, it could save over 50 million gallons of gas per year. The team’s ambitious goal is to make the US auto fleet fossil fuel-free by 2050.

4)      Advance the electric power industry. Accelerate the development of distributed energy generation and smart grid in a coordinated rapid evolutionary process that will enable the U.S. to meet 80 percent of its electric generation needs with renewables by the year 2050. The team is working directly with numerous stakeholders including utilities, grid operators, distributed resource providers, advocates and investors.

Lena Hansen is an Electricity Principal at RMI. She has worked extensively in the area of electric utility planning and analysis. Lena talked about  the Electricity Innovation Lab, eLab’s efforts to “eliminate key barriers and accelerate movement” towards the 80 percent renewable vision articulated in Reinventing Fire. “This is not a problem that can be solved by only looking at one part of the problem… or by looking at what has always worked in the past.” Instead this cross-functional team is working to address and overcome the “technical, economic, regulatory and institutional barriers” that currently stand in the way.

Clay Stranger, Manager of the Office of the Chief Scientist, talked about Reinventing Fire: China. This effort is a collaboration between RMI, the China Energy Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and the Energy Research Institute of China’s National Development and Reform Commission which provides input on energy strategy and policy to the Chinese government. The group’s objective is to leverage some of the lessons learned in Reinventing Fire and apply them to the situation in China.

Greg Rucks, a Transportation and Industry Consultant at RMI,  and co-author of the Transportation chapter in Reinventing Fire, presented the Auto Composites project which is working towards an emissions-free transportation system by 2050. Taking advantage of the high leverage associated with cars, since they constitute half of our annual oil use, they  have focused on making cars more efficient by making them lighter. Lighter cars require smaller engines, motors, batteries, etc., all of  which are, in turn, lighter themselves, making the cars that much more efficient. Carbon fiber materials can provide the structural characteristics required for vehicles at much lower weights, but that industry is brand new and is currently limited to the production of specialized items such as sporting goods. Greg’s team includes a wide range of industry stakeholders working to accelerate the growth of this nascent industry and to bring down the cost of these components so that they can enjoy widespread use. The result of replacing steel parts with carbon fiber equivalents, from an energy-saving perspective will be phenomenal.

Ellen Franconi, a Senior Buildings Consultant, and expert in systems engineering and building energy analysis, presented the Education and Training program under the Retrofit initiative, which emphasizes deep retrofits to U.S. commercial buildings. These retrofits generally result in a 50 percent or more energy use reduction. The opportunity here is two-fold: to go deeper with the retrofit knowledge and to go wider with the outreach effort by extending the program’s online presence into the world of online training. The retrofit market is estimated at $280 billion, with cost savings in the range of $1 trillion over a ten-year period. Some university classes have realized a 500-fold increase when they went online, so the opportunity to disseminate this important and valuable knowledge is vast.

These are four great projects that all deserve to move forward. Fortunately, all of them will receive some level of funding, but the winning project will receive a big boost. Of course, there are many other worthy investments out there, but this is an excellent selection, especially on the energy issue.

Voting is open until March 22nd. Only NSC members can vote. To learn more visit rmi.org

[Image credit: Bo Insogna, the Lightning Man : Flickr Creative Commons]


RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

3 responses

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