INterview with Jules Kortenhorst, Rocky Mountain Institute CEO

By: InnovatioNews Tuesday May 20, 2014 0 comments Tags: climate change, Jules Kortenhorst

Jules Kortenhorst, a native of The Netherlands, was named CEO of Rocky Mountain Institute in September 2013.

Mr. Kortenhorst is a recognized leader on global energy issues and climate change. His background spans business, government, entrepreneurial and nonprofit leadership.

Prior to joining RMI, he was CEO of Topell Energy BV, a company that developed a cutting-edge process for the production of solid biofuel. He also served as the founding CEO of the European Climate Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization dedicated to policy development and advocacy on climate change in Europe.

Mr. Kortenhorst also served in the Dutch Parliament. He holds a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Masters in Economics from Erasmus University in The Netherlands.

Q: Rocky Mountain Institute was co-founded by Amory Lovins in 1982 and is a globally recognized authority on climate change and sustainable and renewable energy. What appealed to you about RMI when you decided to seek its CEO role? 

A: Climate change is deeply important to me--I think about the kind of world my four children will inherit; they are the reason I wake up in the morning so passionate to do this important work, which involves tackling some of the world's toughest energy challenges. As an attendee of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen and former member of Dutch Parliament, I saw that we must drive change further and faster. That can only happen, I firmly believe, if we leverage the power of businesses and the market, an arena where RMI has more than 30 years of experience and results.

Q: You said in your first RMI blog that climate change and the energy transition that must be carried out to solve it are the most daunting global issues that mankind faces. Could you please elaborate, and do you believe Europe is farther along in accepting and dealing with this issue?

A:  Without a doubt, climate change is the most urgent threat facing society today. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report further solidifies that fact and the urgency with which we must work towards a new energy economy. There is no need for further debate about the causes; our efforts must now focus on the implementation and scaling of solutions. RMI's Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for a New Energy Era outlines those solutions for the U.S., while our ambitious 2025 goals map out how we will reach a clean, prosperous, and secure energy future.

In general, Europe has been more aggressive tackling climate change and making the transition from carbon-emitting fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. For example, just look at the impressively high percentages of electricity renewables like wind and solar are supplying in countries such as Germany, Denmark, Portugal, and Spain. But the real story is arguably not in the U.S. or Europe, but rather in China. It recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, consumer of coal, and importer of oil. But it has also demonstrated impressive capability to scale renewables. Any global solution to climate change and a clean energy future must include China, which is why RMI's work there is so exciting.

Q; RMI introduced the Hypercar concept in 1991, which could theoretically get more than 300 miles per gallon. What is the current status of RMI's work in lightweighting vehicles?

A: RMI remains committed to mapping and driving the transition to oil-free transportation. Like the Hypercar then, our work focuses on drastically reducing auto's weight with ultralight, ultrastrong carbon fiber. Such lightweighting can yield radical improvements in fuel economy and make electrification cost effective, getting cars off oil and tailpipe emissions entirely. We're now seeing those ideas really take hold in the marketplace, as evidenced by VW's carbon-fiber-intensive, incredibly fuel-efficient XL1 and BMW's also-carbon-fiber-intensive mainstream electric vehicle, the i3. Next, we're working to help make superefficient autos--similarly enabled through lightweighting--make significant inroads in the U.S. and China.

Q: Natural Capitalism was released in 1999--what exactly is natural capitalism and how can it be a "win-win" for both the environment and capitalism?

A: Natural capitalism is an economic model that explains the business logic for solving environmental problems while also generating a profit for the companies involved. Economic growth and progress need not march in lockstep with unsustainable resource consumption, waste, and carbon emissions. Natural Capitalism shows how to decouple those factors and harness the power of capitalism to benefit profits and the planet.

Q: Is there a "revolution" going on with respect to the future of global energy production and use, and how do you see RMI contributing to a successful outcome of that revolution?

A:  There is undoubtedly a revolution afoot. Costs for renewables continue to fall precipitously, making them ever more cost effective against incumbent fossil fuels. Globally, renewables in recent years have received about a quarter trillion dollars' worth of investment, plus or minus, and though in the last two years total investment has declined, renewables' costs have plunged even faster, so new capacity additions have remained impressive--renewables accounted for 44% of all new electricity generation installed globally last year.

But there is much more work to do. By the end of last year, renewables still only accounted for 8.5% of global electricity generation. Accelerating the pace at which that number grows is where RMI's work comes in. We're transforming the U.S. electricity system with our partners in eLab, and unlocking the pathways by which distributed, clean renewables such as rooftop solar can make even greater contributions to the U.S. electricity mix. We're working with some of the largest commercial real estate owners in the country to drive adoption of deep retrofits that save 50% or more of a building's energy use, no small impact since buildings account for 72% of U.S. electricity consumption and 40% of the nation's carbon emissions. And we're working with influential partners in China to inform that country's energy trajectory. These are bold ambitions for sure, but the nascent energy revolution under way and the urgency of the climate change challenge before us demand nothing less.

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