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RMI In Brief



An estimated 12 million American households pay more than half their income for housing. Twice that many children live in low-income working families. Yet these cost-burdened families often live in the most energy-inefficient housing. Public housing and manufactured homes have energy costs 39 and 57 percent higher per square foot than the U.S. average. Americans need affordable housing that doesn’t hit them with unaffordable bills.

RMI’s Superefficient Housing Challenge, launching later this year, will show that energy-efficient, healthy, durable housing can be built cost-effectively and provide long-term low (or zero) utility bills, benefiting low-income families and the public housing agencies that help them. The effort kicks off in partnership with Colorado’s Denver Housing Authority, which is currently planning over 800 new units by 2016 to address a major affordable housing shortage.

For more information, read RMI’s report Superefficient Affordable Housing: Solutions to Hurdles.


Hardware costs for solar photovoltaic modules have dropped precipitously since 2008, including 60 percent between Q1 2011 and Q1 2013. That’s good news, but in the U.S., the soft Balance of System (BoS) costs of solar—all system costs except the modules, including permitting and approvals, installation, racks, and wiring—have remained high, now constituting 60 percent of the total installed cost of a solar PV system in the U.S. In Germany, BoS costs are 75 percent lower and total installed costs about 50 percent lower.

That’s why RMI—through our Simple BoS project—has teamed up with the Georgia Tech Research Institute to uncover the secrets of Germany’s success. Installer surveys and time and motion studies will help reveal the factors that make German solar’s soft costs so much lower, and to identify the theoretical minimum for such costs and how to chip away at the difference. Unlocking those secrets will help U.S. installers match, or perhaps even beat, Germany’s low system costs, accelerating the speed and scale of distributed solar adoption.


According to The Brattle Group, the United States’ electricity system will require $1.5–$2 trillion in infrastructure upgrades by 2030, just to largely maintain the existing system. It’s a century-old system based on large-scale central thermal generation and transmission (power plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy, connected by big, long power lines).

RMI envisages a future electricity system built on efficient use of clean, resilient, secure, largely distributed renewables, including wind and solar. Meanwhile, rapid growth in third-party distributed energy resource providers, falling costs for renewables, advanced energy efficiency, affordable electric vehicles, and other developments that span the utility and customer sides of the meter are democratizing and transforming the electricity grid.

The electricity system is at a crossroads. That’s why RMI launched the Electricity Innovation Lab (e-Lab), which brings together stakeholders—utilities, third-party providers, regulators, other nonprofits, and organizations including the U.S. Navy, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart—to answer some of the most pressing questions facing our electricity future. At a charrette in May, e-Lab participants tackled topics such as a distributed energy resources tariff in Fort Collins, Colo., electricity retail price unbundling, and evolution of wholesale electricity markets.



Images courtesy of Shutterstock.

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