A few months ago, I stumbled upon a talk given by Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute. I've always been a fan and read Natural Capitalism, a book that he co-wrote, years ago, as well as seen his talk on Winning the Oil Endgame. But the Reinventing Fire talk took all these elements and pushed them to the next level and updated them for today. I wanted more, so I got the book on which the talk is based. Amory Lovins is the 'headliner', but it is a collaborative effort, and everybody who contributed is credited in the book. So, let's get to my review.
The first thing to note is that it's a pretty wonky book. It's not a short and light 'storytelling' kind of book about superficial thoughts on a topic. It's a deep dive, with lots of numbers and charts and real-world examples. This will turn off those who prefer to only get an overview of things, but if you like to get all the details so that you can better make up your own mind and/or get useful information that can be applied in your business/organization/etc, then this is for you!
The concept of Reinventing Fire is to completely overhaul how our civilization produces and uses energy. It's the lifeblood of our society, but the way we're currently generating and wasting energy leads to all kinds of problems, and the way to fix them, according to the book, is to rethink the whole thing. To do that, the authors break things down into categories, and for each one they outline different scenarios (which they call: Maintain, Migrate, Renew, and Transform), from the least ambitious, which is mostly to continue on the current path, to the best possible scenario which could lead to an almost complete elimination of fossil fuels and massive efficiency gains, as well as improvements in our quality of life and health, by 2050.
The key topics areas that they look at are Transportation, Buildings, Industry, and Electricity. What's interesting with the book is that for each topic area, even the most optimistic future scenario is mostly based on things that are possible with current technology, or with just incremental improvements on current state of the art. This isn't betting the future on hard-to-predict breakthroughs. In fact, the book explains that a lot of the obstacles in the way of radically changing things are badly aligned incentives which could be fixed with some policy changes. Right now it might not seem like there's much political will to make it happen, but these things go in cycle, and when there is a swing of the pendulum, change could take place relatively quickly!
The book is well-written and easy to read, but as I said, it's not exactly light reading. It should be required reading for policymakers and businesspeople, though. There are still lots of low-hanging fruits that could be quite lucrative if grabbed, and Reinventing Fire tells you where to look for them. Some of the examples are such no-brainers that it's truly shocking to think that not everybody is doing things that way; for example, they talk about how most skyscrapers could be retrofitted at no extra cost to a regular retrofit to use less than half the energy that they're using now, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per year (if not millions) in energy costs, while at the same time providing a more productive and comfortable environment for the people inside.
The best thing about this book is that it's all about solutions! We hear so much about the problems that this is a breath of fresh air, and it makes me more optimistic about the future than I've been in a while (and I'm an optimist).
The truly best way to know if the book is for you is to go watch the Reinventing Fire talk by Dr. Lovins. If after that you feel like you want more, the book is definitely for you!