eLab Accelerator 2015: Call for Projects


What will be Minnesota’s 21st-century utility business model, and what is the best stakeholder process to achieve it? How should a small town in Colorado with big energy ambitions identify and finance the highest-yield clean energy investments? How can a university town in Washington State create the best economic, social, and technical foundation to transform the downtown University District into a smart grid test bed?

These are just a few of the questions that project teams worked through last April when the Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) convened its inaugural eLab Accelerator meeting. Over four days at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, twelve project teams collaborated with RMI staff, professional facilitators from Reos Partners, and eLab expert faculty to develop new solutions and action plans for their unique projects. Teams left Devil’s Thumb with a renewed focus and sense of purpose for their projects, from which impressive results and progress continue to unfold.

Building on the success of the 2014 eLab Accelerator, we are pleased to announce the start of application season for the 2015 eLab Accelerator meeting. Beginning today, RMI is seeking nominations from leading projects and regulatory reform initiatives across the U.S. that are innovating at the distribution edge of the electricity system, developing new solutions for the integration of clean energy resources. The top teams will be invited to attend eLab Accelerator 2015, March 23–26 at Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah.

If the meeting is anything like last year’s, teams can expect content-rich, strategy-focused discussions that will put them on an accelerated path to achieving project goals. Minnesota’s e21 Initiative, for example, brought together members of its stakeholder group—including participants from the MN Public Utility Commission, the state government, and Minnesota’s largest investor-owned utility—to critically review their plans to evolve the regulatory framework in the state, including greater clarity about what Minnesota’s effort can learn and adapt from related efforts around the country.

“RMI’s eLab Accelerator created the ideal environment for our e21 team to think both deeply and concretely about the complex task in front of us,” says Rolf Nordstrom, president and CEO of the Great Plains Institute. “We left with new insights about how ‘transformative scenario planning’ could help us manage this complexity, and with new relationships across the country that have already proven valuable as we reimagine the regulatory framework in Minnesota.”

In a project close to home for RMI, citizen activists, city officials, and sustainability leaders from Lafayette, CO, forged stronger relationships at Accelerator as they developed a shared vision for community energy goals, which they have taken back to the community for further refinement and application. In the months since, the Lafayette team has built an expanding coalition to advance this strategy in the community, leading toward a unanimous vote by City Council to put a major clean energy referendum on this November’s ballot. Energy lawyer Susan Perkins credits Accelerator with providing the team “with a process and an amazing set of skilled professionals to assist us to clearly state our goals and identify the steps required to achieve them.”

In eastern Washington, a group of city planners from the City of Spokane, senior management from Avista Utilities, and local business leaders have set out to redevelop a 770-acre former industrial zone adjacent to downtown into a thriving clean energy district. The Spokane team came to Accelerator with a vision, but lacked a more comprehensive strategy and a plan for how to engage with other stakeholders in the community. Over three-and-a-half days at Devil’s Thumb, the group gained new insights on collaborative tools, as well as raised their ambitions to create a transformative urban sustainability plan that will be a prototype for similar efforts elsewhere.

Other teams from across the country worked alongside these projects, each addressing their unique issues and challenges in focused team sessions, while benefitting from the rich peer-learning environment cultivated by eLab. Among those, a team from the University of North Carolina system of 17 campuses developed a strategy for cross-campus collaboration on clean energy development. Another team of entrepreneurs, businesses, and community organizers examined what was needed to scale development of net-zero-energy moderate-income homes in Texas.

As the 2014 class of Accelerator teams continue to impress us with their ongoing achievements, eLab is eager to find the next class of innovative projects that are making change in their communities—as well as face persistent challenges that will benefit from attention at the 2015 meeting.

Teams attending Accelerator will benefit from:

  • A structured working session to make progress on their project or initiative
  • A rich learning experience featuring experts on the latest thinking around new utility business models and distributed energy resources in the U.S. electricity sector
  • Tools and training to conceptualize problems in collaborative and innovative ways
  • New alliances to form a broader support network with other teams working on similar projects
  • The opportunity to step back from typical workplaces and meeting spaces, creating an environment conducive to creativity and breakthrough ideas

Teams should consist of 4–6 people from different organizations working together toward a common goal. Teams should be oriented around the theme of innovation on the electricity distribution edge: accelerating adoption of distributed energy resources, new business models for electricity delivery, and other local projects involving utility business strategy and community clean energy development. RMI will work with team leaders through the application process to guide selection of the best mix of participants to achieve project goals.

Have a project that you want to bring to Accelerator? Learn more at Accelerator’s web home, and then contact us with a description of your project and ideas for a multi-stakeholder team. Formal application processes will occur through the fall and winter, with team selection to take place early in 2015.

Image courtesy of Sundance Mountain Resort. Used with permission.