Energy solutions for the most decisive decade of climate action

Getty Images
Getty Images | Jose Zayas
Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
1 February 2021
The human cost of climate change is already devastating. Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) CEO, Jules Kortenhorst, believes that if we’re to bring this to an end, energy solutions must be scaled up at pace throughout the coming decade.

Last year, Jules discussed how the institute is fast-forwarding energy transformation with emerging RMI leaders.

Jules, along with RMI leaders Lauren Shwisberg, Sidney Jules, and Ryan Shea, talked about the crucial solutions RMI are working on to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C – ensuring a clean, prosperous, sustainable energy future.

According to RMI, if we stay on our current trajectory (which is well above two degrees of temperature rise) by 2050 there will be more than 140 million climate migrants, increased displacement due to rising seas, and approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year (from 2030-2050) resulting from climate damage.

RMI: A Talk with Emerging Leaders about Energy Solutions for this Decisive Decade

To hit the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5°C, carbon emissions must be reduced by 50% within the next decade – and net zero emissions reached by 2050. Jules echoed the sentiments of environmentalist, Bill McKibben, by stating: “When it comes to climate change, winning slowly is the same as losing.”

RMI is committed to creating a zero-carbon future – fast. See below for a taste of the low-carbon solutions discussed in its recent webinar.

What role do sustainable energy solutions play in rebuilding after natural disasters?

Over recent years the RMI Islands team has developed the most effective way of responding to a natural disaster – defining and identifying the optimal resources needed to help islands in their energy transition. According to Sidney Jules, a senior associate in RMI’s Island Energy programme, the three things that need to happen, are:

  1. Develop an integrated energy plan – ensuring the development of long-term energy solutions.

  2. Implement the solution – ensuring local stakeholders and community members are at the forefront of implementing solutions.

  3. Capacity build and exchange knowledge – capturing all lessons learnt to share and scale for next time.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico the RMI team worked on the ground with local stakeholders to help build long term solutions such as micro grids, solar and storage solutions. The process has enhanced the island’s resilience against future disasters.

Getty Images | Ricardo Arduengo
Getty Images | Ricardo Arduengo

How can city-specific successes be replicated and scaled globally?

RMI has overseen many clean energy success stories, with cities delivering improved energy efficiency and increased production of clean, renewable electricity. The challenge now is to take the work that has been done at an individual city level and scale it to a country level – and then beyond. How do we go from one, to multiple, to all?

According to Ryan Shea, a senior associate on RMI’s Cities Renewable Accelerator team, a way to achieve scale is through a city cohort model. The best work is done by gathering cities together in one process – learning from not just RMI, but from each other – and then implementing solutions accordingly. Another solution is to ensure that tools and resources are both widely available and applicable to anywhere that needs them.

Lauren Shwisberg, a manager in RMI’s electricity programme, shared how electricity innovation labs are becoming useful scaling mechanisms – bringing together communities, utilities, and regulators through creative collaboration. These powerful new models are embedding relationships at the foundation of clean energy transitions.

What role does gas play in balancing the electricity system?

Since natural gas emits carbon, it doesn’t put us on a path toward a zero-carbon future, and therefore, according to Jules, is a dead-end street.

Lauren explained how essential it is to transition from gas, to retire the gas presently on electricity systems, and to replace it quickly and reliably. Carbon-free technologies already exist. We just need to help them mature so they can reliability meet demand by the end of decade.


These solutions cover only a fraction of what RMI are doing to help solve our climate crisis. To learn more about RMI’s work watch the above webinar in full and visit the RMI website to see how you can get involved.

In December 2014, Carbon War Room (which was co-founded in 2009 by Richard Branson and a team of like-minded entrepreneurs wanting to speed up the adoption of market-based solutions to climate change) merged with the Rocky Mountain Institute – a US-based NGO, dedicated to transforming global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future.