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RMI in prime position to help save the planet from Basalt headquarters

Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder and chief scientist Amory Lovins' influence helped get the nonprofit in a position to help China grow its economy in a sustainable and energy efficient way.
Aspen Times file photo |

IF YOU GO

What: Reinventing Fire: China

Where: RMI at Basalt

When: 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday

Cost: Free

Ideas that are being hatched in Basalt might help the world avoid cooking itself.

Rocky Mountain Institute and partners are collaborating with China to create a road map of how the world’s largest economy can continue to grow but in a sustainable and efficient way.

The stakes are staggering, because as China goes in the battle to curtail climate change, the world follows.

“When we think about the challenges globally, particularly around climate, China is critical and key to solving carbon emission,” said Jon Creyts, China program managing director for the institute. “Right now, they consume about half of the world’s coal. They produce roughly a quarter of the CO2.”

Yet the country plans to grow their economy by six times the current rate by 2050.

“If they do that in a way that’s as energy intensive and carbon intensive as it is right now, they’re going to create a bigger problem than they already have, not just for China but for the rest of the world,” Creyts said.

While that creates a daunting challenge, it also creates a “burning platform” for making headway on climate change issues. Rocky Mountain Institute is in the thick of it.

Reinventing Fire

Four years ago, RMI co-founder and chief scientist Amory Lovins wrote “Reinventing Fire,” a blueprint for how the U.S. economy could grow sustainably and efficiently in energy matters over the next few decades. The name was selected because Lovins and his collaborators saw the direction as being as important as the invention of fire.

The work got noticed in China and through its contacts, Rocky Mountain Institute and its partners started working with the Chinese government on a sweeping plan to adopt policies, technology development and adoption approaches that Chinese leaders can use to advance the country’s clean energy and energy efficiency efforts.

Creyts said a report will be released in September on how China can rapidly deploy renewable energy sources and energy efficient technologies in buildings, industry, transportation and electricity — the four energy-producing and consuming sectors of the economy.

Showcasing the work in Basalt

Rocky Mountain Institute relocated to a new Innovation Center and office building in Basalt this year. In one of the first public events after open houses that displayed the high-tech building, RMI will hold a meeting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. today to outline its work in China. “Reinventing Fire: China — RMI’s Ambitious Program to Reduce Global Carbon Emissions” will feature Lovins giving introductory remarks. Creyts and Clay Stranger, institute manager, will be on a panel along with Zhou Nan, a senior staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in San Francisco.

The event is free but people who plan to attend should RSVP to Megan Shean at mshean@rmi.org or 970-927-7210.

When discussing Rocky Mountain Institute’s experiences in China, Creyts and Stranger noted the country already has moved beyond debate on whether or not climate change is occurring, unlike in the U.S.

In China, many government officials are trained scientists, Creyts said, whereas in the U.S. lawyers tend to dominate government. There’s already been “buy-in” on the need to reduce carbon emissions in China. The government has set national goals for reducing carbon emissions in its five-year economic plan. Implementation comes at a local and regional level. Local government officials are eager to meet the goals to help advance their careers.

That’s where Rocky Mountain Institute and its partners come in. The institute has nine workers based on China currently and will have 14 by the end of the year. They provide the guidance the institute has provided in the U.S. for years on renewable energy and efficiency.

China is already the world’s largest producer of solar and wind power and it is growing exponentially, Creyts noted, but it is still just a fraction of the power the country needs. Stranger said the institute is working with China on issues such as rewriting regulations so renewable energy is better utilized. Current regulations end up wasting much of the clean energy that is created.

In another example of Rocky Mountain Institute’s work, it’s helping reduce the dead head time in freight hauling.

After working on issues with individual cities, RMI works with the Chinese government to share that information across the country. Once a strategy is proven effective, China’s central government makes it a mandatory practice,

Stranger said that while production used to be the only metric relevant in China, now carbon production also is a key measurement used by the government.

He sees RMI playing a role in China for the foreseeable future, based on the government’s direction. Lovins has been visiting the country for more than 30 years and is somewhat of an international rock star.

“Amory is the professor’s professor in China,” Stranger said.

Marty Pickett, managing director for Rocky Mountain Institute, said recently that 50 percent of the nonprofit’s work would be in international markets this fiscal year, which started July 1.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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