Reinventing Fire- Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions to the New Energy Era is a fruit of several years of works by Amory Lovins, and many scientists, engineers, architects, economists, business experts at Rocky Mountain Institute.

First of all, for those who don’t know Amory Lovins, he is an energy consultant and a physicist who has done a lot of works on promoting energy efficiency and integrity in the United States. He has consulted many well-known political leaders, businesses and communities around the world and is best known for his ideas—Hypercar, Negawatts and Soft energy paths. He cofounded the Rocky Mountain Institute in 1982, an independent non-profit think-and-do tank.

Reinventing Fire propels readers to think differently about energy and the roles it plays in the biggest problems we face such as climate change, energy independence, environmental and economic health, substantiated on many ideas from Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. At the beginning of the book, Reinventing Fire walks readers through the history of industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels, and of course to explain why it is unwise for our societies to continue to rely on fossil fuels and foreign oil.

The four most energy-intensive sectors in the economy of United States—Transportation, Buildings, Industry, Electricity are the focus of the book. The current energy consumption patterns of each sector are presented as the baseline, and fast-forwarded to 2050 business-as-usual scenario. Then the bulk of the book offers actionable solutions that businesses can take to cut their energy use, bestowed that investment on existing energy efficient technologies and the adoption of some novel business practices will allow a 158% bigger economy by 2050 without needing any oil, coal, nuclear, nor any new inventions, interventions from the Congress, new federal taxes, subsidies or laws. Lovins even argues that this meanwhile bigger economy would cost five trillion dollars less, at 2011 present value.

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Compared to many of Lovins’ books such as Winning the Oil Endgame, and Small is Profitable which are more theoretical, Reinventing Fire is heavily driven by data and analysis. These data comes from a variety of sources in the governments, science research laboratories, and businesses and are spelled out very neatly to readers and often in the form of colorful graphics. The book has managed to make well-informed appeals to readers while making sure that its messages can be delivered effectively.

Certainly it becomes more and more obvious that there are many opportunities for businesses and governments to harness the benefits of energy efficiency investments. However, as seemingly idealistic Reinventing Fire presents the energy picture as, there are many problems that are likely to get in the way of “reinventing fire”. One of the most prevalent critiques of Amory Lovin’s works is that it’s a little too idealistic and for that matter optimistic. Most of the time, such optimism is not warranted. For instance, business executive in the energy industry won’t necessarily realize the grand plan in the absence of government’s supports in terms of tax credits and incentives. After all, Reinventing Fire gives a good overview of the energy picture in the United States, and therefore it is a good read for those wanted such information at a glance without having to do the extensive research. All the pieces that the book mentioned should fall in the right place in order for the idealistic plan to be successful. The book carefully lays out actions that can be taken by stakeholders to earn profits while help support a greater economy without the burning of fossil fuels. Everything are sensible if and only all actors act sensibly and do the right things. Reinventing Fire offers no ideas of how to deal with the obstacles, but a vision of what our society could have, a kind of system that would benefit many stakeholders, AND the environment. All the ingredients are ready, the chief needs to use them in the right order, the right amount, and the right time.

For those who doesn’t want to read the book (it is definitely not a quick read), but want to find out more about it, visit the official site. Also, Amory Lovins did a 20-min presentation of this on TED.