Returning Fire

The first post to this blog in 2012 introduced Reinventing Fire, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s remarkable study that takes a practical approach to radical energy efficiency improvement. The ideas presented in the Industry section of that book are of immediate use to anyone concerned with staying competitive in today’s world. The post on Reinventing Fire is reproduced here for those who may have missed it.  … C.H.


Reinventing Fire

From 5 January 2012

Amory Lovins is a remarkable guy. Amory became interested in energy policy about four decades ago, when he was the youngest Oxford Don in several centuries. Today, he is a widely recognized global authority on energy as it relates to the economy, national security, development and the environment. He actively pursues that interest as lead scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a “think-and-do tank”. Last month, it was my good fortune to attend a weekend workshop with Amory in Big Sur, California. Over that weekend, Amory discussed, contextualized and amplified Reinventing Fire, an extraordinary book by Amory and the RMI staff, published in October 2011.

To refer to Reinventing Fire as a “book” is understatement. More correctly, it is a comprehensive, extensively documented, peer reviewed research document which provides a visionary national energy strategy, presented in a quite readable format suitable for anyone from undergraduate to global business or political leader.

Reinventing FireSuccinctly, Reinventing Fire maintains that the United States can realistically stop using coal and petroleum as fuel by the year 2050, by transition to efficient energy utilization and by substitution of renewable energy sources, even as the U.S. economy continues to grow at presently projected rates. Further, Reinventing Fire demonstrates that this can be done by business, using currently available technologies, employed at normal rates of financial return. Government could help through policy shifts that relieve some of the existing barriers to implementing innovations. Beyond that, no Acts of Congress are required, no new energy or carbon taxes or subsidies are needed. Instead, the projected net cost for pursuing this course over four decades is $5 trillion (in 2010 net present value) less than the cost of continuing on our current path!

Reinventing Fire focuses on the four sections of the economy where the great bulk of the fossil fuel is consumed: industry, transportation, buildings and electric power generation. The book projects industrial energy consumption reductions of almost 50% (44.4 quads in 2010, down to 22.3 quads in 2050, where a quad = Quadrillion BTUs/year), while industrial output increases by 84% during the same period.

For manufacturers, the outline of actions is simple:

(1) Reduce the Energy Needed to Run Fundamental Processes

(2) Reduce the Losses in the Systems that Distribute Energy Services within a Facility 

(3) Improve the Efficiency of Devices Like Motors and Boilers that Turn Energy into Useful Services, and

(4) Put Wasted Energy to Use.

The “how to” specifics needed to implement are spelled out in a thoroughly transparent manner. The detail available is voluminous. Fortunately, most of the detail is by reference. For example: “Such controls’ typical 20%-50% fuel savings pays back in months to a couple of years.368”. The real point of the example is the superscripted 368, referring the reader to one of hundreds of detailed, hence useful, references. There is a lot more information available in the book, and more yet at

Additionally, industrial firms also benefit from energy efficiency improvements in the transport they employ, the buildings they use, and in generation of the electric power they consume.

Do you find all of this hard to believe? Consider Germany, which has a large, developed economy with a robust industrial sector, operating with northern European labor costs and within European Union policy constraints and mandates. Today – right now — renewable energy sources supply about 20% of Germany’s energy needs. Germany’s goals are 33% renewable by 2021 and 80% by 2050. Incidentally, renewable energy employs 370,000 people in Germany today. (Learn more about this at:


Chuck at Big SurThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (

P.S: Learn more about the Industrial section of Reinventing Fire at:

Photo: Thanks to John Howard