RMI in 2017: Creating a Low-Carbon Future Making efficient energy systems that emit little or no CO2

When you’re in a hole, stop digging. Our climate got shifted onto a path to catastrophic warming because the ways we produce, use, and waste energy emit a massive amount of carbon into the atmosphere every single day. With the help of our partners and supporters, we are reducing those carbon emissions by transforming global energy systems. And we’re proving that the climate challenge is not only solvable, but also a huge economic opportunity that can benefit future generations — and our own.

We’re working with utilities, regulators, technology providers, and other system stakeholders to shift energy supply away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy. And we’re having an impact on the demand side of the equation by helping people, countries, and corporations to both consume renewable energy where they can and to use energy more efficiently everywhere. On the following pages are some of the impacts that partners and supporters like you helped us make in the last year.

Photo courtesy Quest Renewables, Inc. QuadPod Solar Canopy, Atlanta, GA

Helped the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to support the state’s transition to a 100 percent renewable electricity system by 2045.

We continue to provide important analytic support and strategic input to the commission as it manages numerous open regulatory proceedings to modernize Hawaii’s electricity system and utility business model. Like all our work with islands, success here will prove that an entire economy can convert to clean energy.

Leah Sausen, an environmental studies teacher and champion surfer, plugs in her electric car on Kauai. Bottom: The Boulder Commons net-zero commercial development, home to RMI’s new Boulder office.

Busted the split-incentives barrier in high-performance and net-zero buildings

with the release of green lease guidelines and a demonstration project in our own new Boulder office — the first net-zero lease in the nation for a development of its size. Now tenants and owners can dependably share in the cost savings that come from energy savings.

Enabled corporations to buy renewable energy and realize more than 2 gigawatts of new renewables on the U.S. grid.

RMI’s Business Renewables Center now has more than 200 member companies that are collectively responsible for 94 percent of all nonutility renewable deals. We support the industry in many ways, including our new Buyers Roadmap online learning platform for renewable energy buyers, demonstrating how they can change the energy landscape by choosing renewables.

Brought clean solar power and cutting-edge battery storage to a South African gold mine.

In partnership with the major global mining firm Gold Fields, we helped identify and design a plan to install 40 MW of solar with up to 7.5 MWh of storage. Building on this success, we are working toward a goal of facilitating 15 percent industry-wide penetration of renewables by 2025.

Brought the abatement of methane leakage and flaring to the forefront of the petroleum ministries in Oman, Nigeria, Iran, and Kazakhstan.

We also helped ensure that methane abatement is included in the manifesto of the Future Energy Forum of the Kazakh Expo that charts national goals for the energy transition. Methane is a greenhouse gas 85 times more potent than CO2.

Advanced the transparency of home energy performance and the availability of home energy financing products.

We advised the nation’s biggest mortgage institutions and forged connections and established best practices among data providers and online real estate portals to reach millions of U.S. homeowners.

Supported publication of the City Peaking Handbook with China’s Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities (APPC).

Generous grants to RMI from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Energy Foundation China, and the Swedish Postcode Foundation funded the team’s technical support to leaders of the APPC initiative, a consortium that includes nearly 100 leading Chinese cities representing over half of the country’s GDP and CO2 emissions. The handbook lays out key steps and best practice for cities to cost-effectively peak their energy-related CO2 emissions ahead of the 2030 national target by decreasing emissions in the urban buildings, industry, transportation, and electricity sectors.

Created a scalable approach to commercial building retrofits

by working with portfolio owners and investors — who have struggled to see investment-grade opportunities within traditional retrofit models. Two pilots undertaken with collaborators in the market have proven, this approach works — and is effective for both owner-occupied and investor-owned portfolios.

Brought RMI’s Business Renewables Center (BRC) to China.

More than 50 corporate buyers, renewable energy developers, and other stakeholders participated in the inaugural workshop for BRC: China. Under RMI’s leadership, members of this workshop are now actively collaborating on some of the first direct-purchase renewable transactions in China.

Photo by Kate Costa for the U.S. Department of Energy

Demonstrated a clear opportunity for many utilities and energy end-users to save money through community-scale solar.

A procurement process in Colorado on behalf of a group of rural electric co-ops resulted in proposals from developers at record-low prices. We’re helping others pursue this opportunity in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Texas, and the Southeast.

Conceptualized an analog to property assessed clean energy (PACE) for China.

PACE real-estate financing ties energy-efficiency upgrades to property-tax assessments, matching savings and financing cash flows. RMI worked with China’s Ministry of Finance to design a PACE-like mechanism that achieves a similar end, but in a way consistent with China’s very different tax
codes, and is now exploring its first application.

Supported a landmark partnership in North Carolina

between Duke Energy, the City of Asheville, and Buncombe County to create innovative clean energy solutions that will meet the area’s growing energy needs and prevent the construction of a planned natural-gas-fired power plant in Asheville. RMI aims to scale this collaborative model for other communities and utilities to work together to build a smarter and cleaner energy future.

Pioneered an “airport approach” to get biofuels to replace jet fuel,

with Geneva International Airport being the first to implement the model. We worked with the Swiss airport, as well as Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and other partners, to find the best way to get the industry to start switching to biofuels, which can reduce emissions by 80 percent — important for an industry that emits 800 million tons of CO2 annually.

Enabled 19 North American trucking fleets to boost their fuel economy for the ninth year in a row and save nearly $500 million.

We did this by continuing to develop and host Confidence Reports, the go-to source for the trucking industry to learn about efficiency technologies and fuel economy.

Worked with the City of Austin to help enable shared, electric, and autonomous mobility services.

From supporting a City Council resolution, to setting a goal to get 330 city vehicles on the path to electrification and developing cutting-edge urban design and parking codes, we are partnering with this far-sighted city and working inside it, too. We created a program for rideshare drivers to finance buying electric vehicles and helped Austin employers like Whole Foods meet their staff’s commuting needs with Mobility-as-a-Service commuting options. It all sets the stage for a thoroughly transformed mobility future.

Worked with the Indian government to develop an action plan to take the country to 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030.

This could save as much as 1 gigaton of carbon emissions and approximately $330 billion in fuel costs between 2017 and 2030. Working with India’s premier think tank, several cabinet ministers, and industry leaders, we helped craft a plan to make India’s vast mobility system one of the cleanest in the world.

Jules Kortenhorst meets with Vice President of India Venkalah Naidu and former vice chairman of NITI Aayog, Arvind Panagariya.

Proved that 10.1 mpg is possible in the North American trucking industry

through Run on Less, a first-of-its-kind, livestreamed roadshow to demonstrate fuel efficiency. By monitoring fuel economy, weather conditions, and other variables, we proved that if the 1.7 million trucks on North American highways today achieved the same level of efficiency as the trucks in the Run, they would save 9.7 billion gallons of diesel fuel, $24.3 billion, and 98 million tons of CO2 each year.

These truckers got a whopping 10.1 mpg in their big rigs as they drove across the continent in Run on Less.
Sir Richard Branson and NACFE Director Mike Roeth unveil the results of Run on Less at a press conference hosted by RMI in NYC.

Launched the first publicly available and comprehensive data source on the operational efficiency of ships

throughout the world. Called BetterFleet, the free-to-access data lets shippers choose ships based on their energy efficiency, increasing access to energy efficiency in this market.

Developed emissions solutions in China’s freight and logistics industry.

After a workshop in Shenzhen, RMI is working on freight and logistics optimization in Beijing and urban freight electrification in Shenzhen to decongest and reduce emissions in China’s fast-growing and heavily polluting freight sector.

Executed a successful rideshare pilot, Door to Downtown, in Boulder, CO.

We worked with the city as it subsidized trips with ridshare partners like Lyft for trips to downtown. Because Mobility as a Service came at the same cost as driving oneself, minus the hassle of parking, we were able to study the behavior and incentives that will move people to use shared vehicle fleets widely in the future.

Commenced managing an aviation-focused nonprofit carbon-reduction platform,

The Good Traveler, that enables corporations and airline passengers to pay for projects that mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their travel. By eventually integrating sustainable biofuels for aviation into this platform, we’ll be funding this important market intervention.

  • India has stated that every vehicle sold in the country will be powered by electricity by 2030. China has pledged to end sales of fossil fuel vehicles by 2040. RMI is working with top government officials and in-country partners in China and India to help them reach their goals. Source: https://www.truthdig.com/articles/china-plans-ban-sale-fossil-fuel-vehicles/
  • Improving the energy efficiency of U.S. commercial and industrial buildings by 10 percent would prevent a whopping 2,334 million tons of CO2 equivalent each year — the same emissions as 49 million vehicles. The state of New York emits much less: 170 million metric tons of CO2 each year, and both the Taichung coal-fired power plant in Taiwan (the world’s largest) and the country of Switzerland emit about 40 million tons of CO2 per year. RMI’s Buildings program is helping make the energy retrofitting of commercial and industrial buildings commonplace, so that this critical sector can drastically reduce its emissions — and costs. Source: https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/about-us/facts-and-stats
  • Most islands in the Caribbean rely on imported diesel for 100 percent of their electricity. That’s why RMI’s Islands Energy program is helping Caribbean islands transition to energy efficiency and renewable energy. Source: http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/national_energy_grid/cuba/carib.shtml
  • The World Bank estimates that 780 million women and children breathing particulate-laden kerosene fumes inhale the equivalent of smoke from two packs of cigarettes a day. The World Health Organization identifies this type of indoor air pollution as one of the world’s leading causes of death — killing far more people every year than malaria. RMI’s SEED program is helping to change that by bringing clean, reliable electricity to communities that rely on kerosene for lighting. Sources: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-18262217 http://www.businessinsider.com/foods-people-think-are-bad-unhealthy-that-arent-2017–3/#fish-11https://www.nbcnews.com/better/diet-fitness/7-seemingly-unhealthy-things-are-actually-good-you-n734966
  • If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the sixth-largest polluter behind the U.S., China, Russia, India, and Japan. RMI’s Shipping Efficiency program is working to improve the fuel efficiency and carbon footprint of global commercial shipping fleets 25 percent by 2025. Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/08/shipping-industry-bigger-you-can-imagine/312253/
  • The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, just below electricity (29 percent) and above industry (21 percent). That’s why RMI is working with the shipping industry, trucking industry, airports, and U.S. cities to transform transportation to make it possible to move people and the goods that we depend on using significantly less oil — and emitting less carbon. Source: https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/fast-facts-transportation-greenhouse-gas-emissions
  • Truck drivers in the U.S. log 432 billion miles annually, enough miles to travel to Pluto and back nearly 25 times. This consumes 25 billion gallons of fuel per year. That’s why RMI’s Trucking Efficiency program is working to double U.S. freight efficiency, driving down the carbon footprint of getting people their everyday products. Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-staggering-statistics-behind-americas-trucking-industry-2016–12
Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

For every corporation that Rocky Mountain Institute can work with to transform its energy use, there are a hundred that we can’t, even through industry-wide interventions like the Business Renewables Center. And for every national government that RMI advises on cleaning and revolutionizing its energy systems, there are a dozen that we haven’t yet collaborated with. Yet we are reaching far beyond the companies, cities, states, and nations that we work with shoulder to shoulder, by means of our research and ideas.

RMI has been a respected voice in clean energy and energy efficiency debates for 35 years. Our rigorous research and analysis, often the result of years of collaboration and convening with partners across entire industries, is something we strive to share with the world every day. With the help of partners and supporters like you, we are able to spread the vital and encouraging information about energy use that the world needs to hear before it’s too late. Here are some of the ways we’ve had an impact on the way the world thinks about energy in the past year.

RMI’s e-Lab Summit supports innovation and collaboration to transform the electricity system from the inside out.

Published the seminal Peak Car Ownership report,

which finds that we could see personal ownership of vehicles top out as soon as 2020 and outlines the market opportunity of electric, automated mobility services in the U.S. The report received dedicated coverage in the Washington Post, Financial Times, Fast Company, The New Yorker, Slate, Vox, and other publications.

Rebutted Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s efforts to portray coal and nuclear power plants as necessary to a reliable grid.

This so-called “baseload” power is neither necessary for reliability nor desirable in a host of other ways, as our series of blogs and op-eds has shown. We demonstrated that the increasing renewable energy supply Secretary Perry sought to portray as a threat is actually full of opportunities for a more reliable, cleaner, and more resilient grid.

Convened the first-ever eLab Summit for the electric-grid industry’s top 130 thought leaders and continued our annual eLab Accelerator workshops.

Together, we’re advancing innovation in business models, rate design, low- and moderate-income energy access, distributed grid infrastructure, and the integration of electric vehicles into the grid.

Informed the U.S. government’s more-stringent fuel-economy and emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks.

The new rules, written by regulators relying in part on our research and data, are estimated to save 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and $170 billion in fuel costs.

Find the answer here: https://medium.com/annual-report/test-your-knowledge-answers-b4307c5e3e22

Assembled 51 of shipping’s biggest players to call on the International Maritime Organization to set ambitious emissions objectives.

We organized an appeal by the likes of Maersk and Cargill to the heads of state of all 171 member countries for the 70th meeting of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee.

Launched the Energy Web Foundation, a new nonprofit organization focused on bringing blockchain technology to the energy sector, with partner Grid Singularity.

Ten leading energy companies joined forces with RMI to launch a global blockchain initiative for energy with an initial $2.5 million of funding. Blockchains, the technology underlying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, have the potential to change the energy sector by reinventing the accounting system for electricity, digitizing the grid in a secure way, and helping electricity market participants better integrate and manage distributed energy resources.

Laid out best practices for utility innovation and the design, execution, and evaluation of utility pilot and demonstration projects

in collaboration with Arizona Public Service, Avista Utilities, and Con Edison. This research, disseminated in a widely read report, Pathways for Innovation, is the first of a series of projects working with cohorts of teams working on similar challenges across the electricity ecosystem.

Showed how lenders and tax equity investors can easily adapt established solar-financing models to community-scale solar,

solar plants of between 0.5 MW and 5 MW located on the distribution grid. This is helping financiers and project developers to rapidly grow this market, which could achieve more than 30 percent cost savings relative to other distributed solar installations.

Brought the concept of green revolving funds to the aviation sector.

These funds, where energy-saving projects are paid for with money saved by earlier energy-savings projects in a virtuous cycle, equips airports with practical recommendations tailored to their operations. The approach is being delivered to the Airport Cooperative Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Convened and supported an industry group to standardize transit data

so that every bus, train, rideshare driver, and transportation app is speaking the same language. The General Transit Feed Specification Working Group is comprised of 17 organizations and growing, including transit agencies, app providers, and data consumers.

Find the answer here: https://medium.com/annual-report/test-your-knowledge-answers-b4307c5e3e22

Incorporated WattTime as a subsidiary organization.

This Silicon Valley-based nonprofit is commercializing technology that automatically detects the actual emissions impacts produced when people and companies use energy at specific locations in real time. This allows WattTime-enabled devices to change the times they draw power to maximize the use of carbon-free renewables and avoid the use of power made from burning fossil fuels — a shift that could equal taking 7 to 8 million gas-burning cars off the road.

Delivered seminal research showing the shipping industry that it is exposed to climate policy-driven risk.

Banks hold $400 billion of global shipping debt, and we laid out how inefficient shipping assets could strand millions of dollars worth of investment. The result? Funds being directed to more efficient ships by two major maritime banks, HSH Nordbank and KfW IPEX Bank, and more to follow.

Pioneered a policy framework for leading cities to achieve 80 percent carbon reductions in their buildings by 2050

by using building sales as a trigger for energy upgrades — generating tax revenue, creating jobs, and establishing a model for other states to follow.