Driving the Energy System of the Future

RMI is pleased to announce the invited projects for the third-annual Electricity Innovation Lab (e-Lab) Accelerator, a four-day working meeting that brings together teams from across North America working on high impact and innovative projects at the electricity system’s distribution edge.

The following 13 projects are tackling today’s tough challenges as the electricity system transitions to one that is more clean, distributed, and renewable. The emerging questions in the 2016 Accelerator projects are reflective of broader emerging industry challenges that, if answered, can unlock a new energy future in North America.

The 2016 eLab Accelerator teams include:

  • Air Force Energy Assurance: Creating a foundational plan for price-competitive electrical power that provides a reliability rate approaching 100 percent for critical mission areas for the United States Air Force, beginning with Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst.
  • Berkeley Microgrid Resiliency Project: Developing a multi-technology, multi-facility, scalable, and replicable microgrid pilot to improve access to clean energy in an urban context and support community resilience in the city of Berkeley.
  • EVs as Sustainable Grid Solution in Hawaii: Evaluating options for a long-term vision, strategy, and business plan for incorporating electric vehicles into utility business models, leading to 1) accelerated electric vehicle adoption rates, 2) a more effective path to 100 percent renewable electricity, and 3) increased access to low-cost and low-carbon transportation solutions in Hawaii.
  • Electrifying New York City Transportation: Developing an electrification strategy for local transportation that would result in a dramatically reduced carbon footprint in New York City.
  • Energy Innovation Asheville: Developing a foundation and framework to meet the region’s growing energy needs through innovative, cost-effective, and reliable energy solutions.
  • Eugene Grid Resiliency Collaborative: Aligning infrastructure investments to create community value and enhance grid resiliency and creating a shared planning and decision-making framework to share costs and benefits among the utility, city, and other local government institutions.
  • Oregon Path to Solar+Storage: Developing a pilot program for deploying solar plus storage at several sites in Oregon to identify the benefits, challenges, and solutions to those projects for customers and utilities.
  • Fresno Power the Tower: Advancing a strategic opportunity to transform Fresno’s Tower District into a smart and connected clean energy business corridor—serving as a model for distributed clean energy solutions throughout the region and the state.
  • M&V 2.0: Enabling a coordinated approach to building-efficiency markets through emerging measurement and verification methods (M&V 2.0) that leverage interval meter data and data analysis to evaluate savings.
  • Minnesota e21 Initiative: Implementing a customer-focused, performance-based regulatory approach that aligns the way Minnesota utilities are compensated with achieving an agreed-upon set of performance outcomes, rather than simply rewarding capital investment and electricity sales.
  • Rhode Island Microgrid Program Planning: Creating a successful and cost-effective state-directed program to foster microgrid development, critical facility energy assurance, and resilience for communities and public agencies in Rhode Island.
  • Drive Evergreen: Expanding the use of electric vehicles, including among low-income and minority drivers, with a managed network of charging infrastructure that supports grid balancing of renewable energy in Sonoma.
  • Zibi—Ottawa’s Zero Carbon Community: Developing the business model for a district utility including the asset ownership, rate structures, investment strategy, and operations plan in the Zibi development in Ottawa.

While the 13 teams come from diverse locations and have different goals, certain key trends run across many of the teams as they navigate the complexities of a future powered by distributed energy resources. The teams are tackling four main topics: electric vehicles, new utility business models, microgrids, and efficiency.

1. A Brave New (EV) World

Two key issues that several Accelerator projects are trying to address are how to spark vehicle electrification and how best to utilize EVs to support grid-wide goals. Spurring the adoption of EVs can take many shapes with many different champions including non-profits, city and state governments, and even electric utilities. Teams are thinking about several key questions for these projects including how to encourage EV adoption in their jurisdictions, the technical aspects of this shift including expanding EV charging, how to manage charging to provide services to the greater electric grid, and the role of the utility with EV adoption and deployment.

2. The Distributed Utility of the Future

A hot button issue this year is rethinking the future of utilities as the penetration of distributed renewables continues to increase. Teams coming to Accelerator are working on a host of issues including the changing roles of key players in the future, how to plan for and operate a highly distributed grid, the creation of a more dynamic market to incorporate distributed renewables, and the role and development of policy to implement these changes. Specific issues include new methods for designing electric rates, alternative sources of revenue for distribution utilities, how to value distributed energy resources for the benefits they provide, and the ownership structure of distributed assets.

3. Microgrids of Tomorrow

A common project trend at Accelerator for the last few years is teams working to construct a microgrid or implement a microgrid policy within a city or state. Microgrids are inherently challenging projects since they often involve many stakeholders and complex regulations. This year we have seen an uptick in states and cities looking to establish programs and governance to increase microgrids in their jurisdiction. These teams are working to solve key issues such as financing, the role of third parties, engaging the utility, regulatory frameworks, and innovative business models and revenue streams for microgrids.

Another interesting trend with this year’s teams is a more diverse set of strategic and well-articulated goals for developing microgrids. Teams are acutely aware of resilience concerns, for example, or are seeking a more economic and secure energy future. These goals are shaping the development of microgrids from the outset, providing guidance to determine key design elements.

4. The Next Generation of Energy Efficiency

One team will be focused on M&V 2.0, emerging measurement and verification methods applied to building energy efficiency projects that leverage interval meter data and data analysis to evaluate savings. There are a number of questions that need to be answered, however, in order to fully leverage M&V 2.0 to advance efficiency markets, including better methods to value efficiency in markets; the data requirements and underlying methods that best support meeting program objectives; and enabling guidelines, standards, and policies.


The 2016 teams will meet at Sundance in Utah, April 24–27. Accelerator will take these projects to the next level through structured sessions designed to rapidly accelerate progress, by providing tools and training to conceptualize problems in collaborative and innovative ways, and by helping form new alliances to develop a broader support network with other teams working on similar projects. Follow along as these project teams progress at https://rmi.org/elab_accelerator. We look forward to providing future updates on team progress and 2016 eLab Accelerator outcomes.