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Oct 8, 2012

From the Archives: Thoughts on Election Season 2012: Energy Issues


In anticipation of Election Day on November 6th, RMI staffers were asked their thoughts on the top energy issues facing the country today. Employees responded to two questions:

1. What do you feel are the most important issues (especially regarding energy policy) that we face on a national level?
2. Which energy issues do you think are most likely to be ignored during the upcoming election?

Here’s what they said:

Michael PottsMichael Potts, President and Chief Executive Officer
“The most important issues are the continuation of incentives for wind and solar and the decoupling of utilities to eliminate incentives for selling more electricity. These are also among the issues most likely to be ignored. Nobody is talking about climate change either—to the amazement of our European colleagues.”


Josh AgenbroadJosh Agenbroad, Analyst (Industry and Transportation)
“Climate change and energy security are both very important issues. Smart incentives would allow the U.S. to become a leader. We have the innovators and a strong foundation to build from, but the market needs the right signals. The rapidly falling price of solar PV and the potential for a huge boom in solar PV installation (along with the associated job creation) will probably be ignored.”

Carrie JordanCarrie Jordan, Multimedia and Design Associate
“I think the most important energy issue is the de-subsidization of oil and energy companies. This would help us get out of debt. It is also important to create a level playing field for renewable energy. Despite the importance of these issues, though, the de-subsidization of oil companies will probably be ignored.”


Albert ChanAlbert Chan, Consultant (Electricity and Industry)
“There’s a strong resistance to investment in infrastructure, especially in the electricity grid and in public transportation. Because our economy and energy future are so dependent on the infrastructure we put in today, we have to be more proactive about making the smartest long-term investments. I think energy efficiency—especially in buildings—will be largely ignored. Solar and wind will likely be a target for political discussion, but even though energy efficiency is an equally important part of the solution, it does not have enough appeal for prime-time television.”

Betsy HerzogBetsy Herzog, Knowledge Manager
" I am concerned about the harmful rhetoric that is happening at a national level. Dismissing renewables as a joke or a fad is a missed opportunity. And, I doubt energy efficiency will be mentioned at all.”


Jamie MoirJamie Moir, Internet Marketing Manager
“One of the most important issues is the development of an integrated energy policy. Not just something that tackles one thing or another; rather, something with a clear vision of where we want to be in twenty years economically, security-wise, and environmentally. We also should be addressing climate change and how, if we succeed at the above task, we could be world industrial leaders again. Unfortunately, I think all of the above are likely to be ignored.”

Dan SeifDan Seif, Senior Consultant (Electricity and Industrial)
“Global climate change and the environmental issues around fracking will both probably be ignored in the upcoming election. Another issue that likely won’t be mentioned is the fish-kill associated with power plant water intake. Even environmentalists hardly keep track of this, but the quantity of juvenile fish, eggs, and other small aquatic life killed at water intake points for thermal power plants is mind-blowingly massive (in the trillions).”


Elaine Gallagher AdamsElaine Gallagher Adams, Senior Consultant (Buildings)
“The most important issues are clean energy, environmental impacts of energy production, the elimination of energy subsidies (as they tie in to our current deficit), and the potential of big energy businesses ‘buying’ politicians. In my opinion, all of the above except clean energy probably will not be talked about in the upcoming election.”

Jesse MorrisJesse Morris, Analyst (Transportation and Electricity)
“Two of our biggest domestic energy issues have to do with the transportation and electrical infrastructures. Our transportation infrastructure and electrical grid both have their roots in the 1930s and are in dire need of an upgrade. This need is a massive opportunity for us to invest in a smarter, more secure grid and a transportation infrastructure that relies less on building out more roads and more on software-based solutions and intelligent transportation system technology.”

Greg RucksGreg Rucks, Consultant (Transportation and Industry)
“The most important energy issue is the high percentage of income paid toward energy by lower-income households due to inefficient public housing. The one you can always count on being ignored is efficiency. There will be no demand-side discussion. It’ll be all about supply, and natural gas ‘burning cleaner’ (which I think is a nice evasion of the lifecycle leakage issue) than other fossil fuels.”

Regardless of your political affiliation, building a stronger economy, cleaner environment, and more secure nation are issues that we can all agree on. In Reinventing Fire, RMI shows how America's leaders — both in the boardroom and in Washington — can accelerate our key industries along a more fortuitous energy path toward a future powered by efficiency and renewables.

Now we want to hear from you. What do you think are the most important energy issues facing our country, and are these being ignored? 

You can answer in the comments below, on our Facebook wall, or on Twitter.

Highlighted Resources

Energy Confessions of an Undergrad

Energy Confessions of an Undergrad 


London 2012: Potential for a Legacy Beyond Sports 


Chicago Steps Up Retrofit Pledge, But Is It Enough? 

Why So Many Critics After 17,000 EV Sales in First Year?  



Showing 1-10 of 11 comments

August 23, 2012


For all the input, I only hear a one-sided approach to a problem which requires a multi-faceted solution. Some things are extremely oversimplified or just plain wrong, such as ignoring the $70B that renewables got in 2009/10 in favor of a "pet - political" statement like we need to defund oil companies.

I expect more from RMI. Where is the innovation? Where is the open mind? Where is the Natural Gas in your vision (albeit, my own pet - political idea)?


August 23, 2012

As a CE-guy, I agree w/Albert and Jesse; we need to put more money into our infrastructure. ASCE puts out a grade on our different types of infra every fewyears. The last grades (2009) continued the downward trend of the past 20 years. The average grade is now a D. The only area that trended upward in the recent report was energy infrastructure w/a D+, but it still requires $75B over the next few years to bring it to a passing grade of B. The prob: infra is out-of-site and out-of-mind to everyone, the commodities are extremely cheap to the consumer, and isn't a 'sexy' topic for our politicians to tackle. Greg - the UoD did some research on identifying homes (low income) that require energy retrofits through an inverse model. I will see if I can dig it up and forward it to you.

August 23, 2012

Hi Mitch. I have been trying to get RMI to research how efficiently natural gas can be consumed. We are so blessed to have an abundance of this energy source under our feet.
Our utility companies and governments have done a great job at promoting electricity efficiency, but not much mention about natural gas. The residential market has it's condensing boilers and water heaters, but the big consumers- the large commercial buildings, industry and our power plants are the ones who consume most of our natural gas, and they are blowing 40% or more of this HOT energy up their chimney's into the atmosphere. Why is this wasted energy not being recognized?
The technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery is designed to recover almost all of this waste energy so that it can again be utilized back in the building or facility. Natural gas can be consumed so efficiently that clean-distilled WATER can be recovered from these combusted exhaust gases.
This is not "new" technology. It has a 30 year proven track record here in North America.
Can you imagine our coal to converted natural gas power plants operating with no chimney's ~ and at 100% energy efficiency and very few emissions? It is so possible.
Increased energy efficiency = profit
To apply this energy saving technology does not need $70B, but it probably needs legislation. As with electricity in the past and still today, increasing energy efficiency needs legislation.

August 23, 2012

Speaking of de-coupling I have had to de-couple my company from the "Green Movement" in order to speak effectively with my customers about energy efficiency. The crony capitalism of Obama's administration with the Solyndras of the world has really hurt the conversation. Many of the comments talk about subsidies to oil, but it is the tax code that creates subsidies for many industries not just oil. Ethanol is heavily subsidized without much thought about unintended consequences. Politicians should not pick the winners and losers.

I have read Reinventing Fire and mostly agree and particularly agree that capitalism will be the prime factor in the transition.

August 24, 2012

Aside from the latest campaign add lambasting the 800B$ debt Bush gave Obama and abandoning the Pelosi agenda after a year, the Obama administration has followed Cheney's energy policies pretty closely- The credits for weatherization (proven quick payouts). The development of the 'active' solar industry has actually been more of a 'protectionist' item than anythng else (Solyndra actually started with Cheney).
I see the energy future in using active solar items to make passive solar affordable to the masses- it only takes a smal fan to eliminate a lot of drawbacks to passive (40% of electric is HVAC, 10% is hot water). things like greenspaces/greenhouses with fans, crawlspaces with 'Ancient Roman' AC duct work, dump loads to conventional electric HW heaters, PV Bath ventilator fans and whole house fans, low voltage/PV lighting, etc.)
The recent Solar Power agenda released by the administration is geared towards sending power to California and the 'desert' west (principally caused by the water doing the same further north) and while the initiative is needed it is still a boondoggle for the mistaken priorities it purports to satisfy- Big money going after big money... The depression of last century was similar in that the federal government kept messing with the money supply-both up and down for what at the time was a big money interest instead of resolving the problems thru primarily regulating industry.
Several bills have been stifled in comittee over and over again- most are neighborhood energy cooperatives bills that would allow decentralized grid power sources- smart grid makes this doable now. With politics being what it is -why think that it will change.

August 30, 2012

An analysis of coal vs nat gas should include that "global dimming" will decrease with less coal soot, INCREASING global warming. That and leaking methane will take the wind out of gas' sails.

August 31, 2012

We need to look at all the systems that failed us, starting with education. A two-pronged educational system, academic on one side, technical on the other would be a good start. A purely university-based educational system with no competition has failed us. It needs competition with another system, one where there is no shame in tools and trade.

We’re talking politics here, so I have to say America has to know what it was meant to be. We have to understand our ideals, know who we are: a middle class, idealistically egalitarian society that defeated aristocracy in the Revolution, slavery in the Civil War and fascist imperialism in the Second World War. By knowing who we are, we’ll know how to conduct ourselves and better understand our goals.

Energy? So long as Big Oil is soaking up all the money, there won’t be funding. Alternative energy is a threat to their business. It is probably true that some serious government clout needs to be interposed here, but you won’t have that without campaign finance reform.

Sure, I say round up the boys and do some serious public works. Show ourselves that we care about one another by offering productive, meaningful jobs for the common good whilst pumping money into the economy that represents actual work. Rebuild the electrical infrastructure, build a serious rail system and go for broke in research for applied sustainable energy.

Finally, we can’t individually build a first world nation in the middle of third world poverty. How can anybody in uncertain economic times commit to exorbitant payments for a fuel-efficient automobile, solar panels or even storm windows? Subsidies aren’t relevant if we can’t lick the problems we face with personal overhead, but that’s another chapter.

October 10, 2012

I just watched Amory Lovins on TED Talks. How is it that a solution that is so overwhelmingly inclusive isn't already sweeping the nation, let alone the world? Why are we still locked into oil and fracking and deep-sea drilling? Are the oil industry lobbyists just too strong? Really! What's up?

October 18, 2012

Some back up for my earlier post lamenting the horrific mess that the green movement and crony capitalism has made for those of us in the trenches.

Troubled battery maker won private meeting and phone call with Obama, a trade mission slot and $250 million in stimulus money before it went bankrupt. Even as advanced battery maker A123 Systems struggled for financial viability, it played the Washington insider game, where political money and access go hand in hand.

Where is Amory and RMI on all this counterproductive nonsense? One of the things that attracted me to RMI was the position that "the free market would drive sustainable energy and energy efficiency. Is that a falsehood? I sure would like to have that addressed by RMI.

Don Lovell

October 18, 2012

"Representative" democracy, by nature, favors the status quo, which renewables threaten. That's why Congressman Jared Polis also favors "direct" democracy, in the form of ballot initiatives. (He sponsored Colorado Amendments 23 and 41.) In his 2008 campaign he cited this 1997 NYT/CBS poll showing 65% support way back then for cutting greenhouse gases, no matter what other countries do: http://vote.org/initiatives?q=node/1272

Amory Lovins is right that in a free market, renewables win. But the market is radically warped by federal fossil fuel subsides, which outweigh renewable subsidies by sixfold, if memory serves. That's a main reason Germany and others have left us in the dust.

Jared said on radio that in his first year he'd propose a bill for NATIONAL ballot initiatives: http://spryeye.blogspot.com/2008/12/my-congressman-jared-polis-on-record.html But Congress is very distracting and he hasn't. I suggest people email him asking him to do this: jared at jaredpolis dot com.

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