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Ten Surprising Facts About Our Energy Landscape

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Today, America relies on oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear to power our country. But our aging infrastructure demands refurbishment to meet 21st century needs.

As Amory Lovins explains in his upcoming book, Reinventing Fire, efficiency and renewables can end our addiction to fossil fuels, create the core industries of the new energy era, generate $5 trillion in new economic value, and enhance resilience and security. The best news: businesses who are ready to lead this transition can become more profitable and resilient.

Bottom line, it’s all about the numbers: $5 trillion net in savings and support a 158% bigger U.S. economy by 2050, using no energy from coal, oil or nuclear.

Surprising, yes, but far from impossible. In fact, leading businesses are already moving in this direction. Here are Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Top 10” surprising facts as we navigate the transition to the new energy era.

Today’s energy landscape

1. The U.S. transportation sector burns 13 million barrels of oil a day (half of it imported), at a cost of $2 billion. Personal transportation is now America’s #2 consumer cost after housing, totaling $740 billion in 2009 and consuming, on average, 17.6% of household expenditures.

2. America’s 120 million buildings consume 42% of the nation’s energy—more than any other sector. If they were a country, they would rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.

3. We spend more than $400 billion a year to heat and power buildings, even more than the government spends on Medicare.

4. U.S. industry employs almost 131 million people and generates more than 40% of U.S. GDP, but uses roughly one-fourth of the nation’s total energy per year.

5. 86% of U.S. electricity is generated in large, centralized power plants.

The energy landscape of 2050
6. Efficiency efforts plus switching from oil and coal and one-third less natural gas to renewable energy would save a net $5.0 trillion.

7. A $2.0 trillion investment to make cars, trucks and planes more efficient, and more effectively used would save $5.8 trillion.

8. Buildings’ energy use can be 40–60% more efficient in 2050 than today—despite 70% more floorspace.

9. U.S. industry can produce about 84% more output with 9–13% less energy—without mandates or breakthroughs in innovation.

10. We can capture and integrate the renewable energy needed to meet 80% or more of our electricity needs by 2050.

So whether you care most about profits and jobs, or national security, or environmental stewardship, climate, and health, the strategy of Reinventing Fire makes sense and makes money.

Rather than investing in the status quo, America’s business leaders have a prime opportunity to make smart choices and create the core industries of the new energy era while competing for a $5 trillion net prize.

This post originally appeared at RMI Outlet, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s blog, and was reprinted with permission.