Video: eLab Is Setting The Course For A New Electricity Paradigm

by Rebecca Cole, via Rocky Mountain Institute

Rapid innovation and change, cooperation and conflict, are occurring at the “seams” in the electricity sector where no single stakeholder or industry group can control the outcome.

The most important new source of competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing electricity sector is not technology or market position, it’s the ability of innovators to work efficiently and effectively in complex multi-stakeholder environments.

But shifting the electricity sector will require engagement across traditional institutional boundaries.

“We think that eLab is a new model of innovation and collaboration,” said Lena Hansen, RMI electricity principal. “It’s not a typical project. It’s not something that we’ve done before or that anyone has really done before. I think it has a real shot at doing something different that can move the system forward.”

Watch now and learn:

  • Why “business as usual” is the biggest threat to changing our balkanized electricity system
  • How collaboration on shared issues is key to shifting complex systems
  • How eLab is focused on action—not just talk

What do you think it will take to change our electricity system to one that is cleaner, more reliable, and customer-friendly?

Rebecca Cole is Director of Communications for the Rocky Mountain Institute. This piece was originally published at RMI and was reprinted with permission.

5 Responses to Video: eLab Is Setting The Course For A New Electricity Paradigm

  1. fj says:

    It’s been reported that a major storm surge in New York City could knock out large portions of the local electrical grid and subway system greatly impacting NYC’s $4 billion daily economic activity which may be the type of “Climate Pearl Harbor” that serves as a true mobilizing wakeup call to action where past “Climate Pearl Harbors” have failed.

    Short of waiting for these types of major events there are people, including Mayor Bloomberg, who are very knowledgeable and receptive to these ideas but, (it seems) feel hamstrung by the economics and financials which must be addressed.

  2. Mike Roddy says:

    Utility execs are all beancounters, and the only reason they build solar and wind at all is governments making them competitive in order to offset fossil fuels’ many unfair advantages.

    Thanks for RMI’s efforts, but in answer to your question, a substantial carbon tax will enable conversion to clean energy. Nothing else will make enough difference, since electricity is going to stay balkanized, and the Energy Department is helpless to do anything about it.

  3. Gingerbaker says:

    …”What do you think it will take to change our electricity system to one that is cleaner, more reliable, and customer-friendly?”

    Contrary to this article and the mission statement of e-lab, I would say that that what we need to change our electricity system is not to continue to try to shoehorn renewables into a market system that doesn’t want them, but rather to take a more efficient approach.

    Market-based improvements – carbon caps, rebates, taxes on gasoline, tax incentives for individual home or business renewable installs, etc have been tried for more than twenty years. And what do we have to show for it? The highest CO2 output in mankind’s history was last year. Renewables are a tiny portion of our energy production. And time has just about run out for us. A +2C world is virtually unobtainable now, and MIT predicts a +10C world by 2100 if we continue business as usual.

    And business as usual means listening to people like eLab telling us to use market-based solutions. This way lies madness.

    Why is no one talking about nationalization of our electrical generation? Why is the Federal government not the perfect answer to our enormous national security emergency?

    It is as if we needed to invent our national Armed Forces from scratch, but insisted on negotiating with local warlords for recruitment, instead of creating the Department of Defense.

    We do not need to craft complex and expensive ways of cajoling the oil economy and its lobbyists and politicians into begrudgingly allowing token amounts of renewables to be subsidized. What we need to do is ignore the oil industry and make it irrelevant.

    What we need to do is nationalize a purely renewable energy system. For pennies on the dollar of installing a 100 million rooftop photovoltaic installs, we could build a single or multiple large-scale arrays that from sunlight would produce every calorie of our national energy requirements for the next thousand years.

    We could provide inductive charging for our highways, so we could have a 100% electrical fleet even with today’s cruddy battery technology. We could retrofit out homes and businesses with all electric heating and power. Update to a smart grid. We could employ millions of people to do this.

    And since we taxpayers will have footed the bill for all the infrastructure, we can and should demand that our electricity be free. Because that is what renewable solar power is – cost-free, limitation-free, and pollution-free.

    72% of the public wants government action to solve global warming. 99%+ of the public would love to not have to pay for their transportation, heating, cooling, cooking costs. 100% of businesses would love to never again have to pay a dime for their production energy requirements.

    And free electricity is how we buy the political mandate to actually solve our global warming crisis. I would bet we could be completely carbon-free in five years. A Five Year Plan, and for a whole lot less money than doing it piecemeal, if at all.

  4. Mark Shapiro says:

    Can we connect DC sources to DC uses more cost effectively?

    Batteries, PV panels, fuel cells, and thermovoltaics all generate DC only. Computers, cell phones, all electronics, and LED lights all use DC only. But our main electrical standard is 110/220 Volts AC.

    This venerable AC standard and ubiquitous plug and socket serve us wonderfully, but could they now use a DC companion? We already have micro-USB, USB 3.0, powered-USB, and Thunderbolt for data plus DC power.

    Lower voltage means higher resistance losses. But clean DC generation is looking longingly at high-value DC devices. Is there a match-maker here?

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    How do we make PV panels into a standard roofing material?

    Now that PV panels cost under $1/Wattp, PV can (and should) become standard for new homes and offices, especially where insolation is high. Lower the cost of installation with building integration.

    There are many design issues: structural, electrical, esthetic, and thermal; but our architects, engineers and manufacturers have low cost PV to work with (and 60 GW/year of PV supply capacity!)

    Thanks and good luck.