Designing the Electrical Grid of the Future

eLab, Rocky Mountain Institute

How can we shift the U.S. electrical system toward renewables and smarter management of our energy resources? It’s a ferociously complex undertaking, and the barriers are as much institutional and economic as they are technical. That’s where eLab comes in.

eLab brings together a full spectrum of stakeholders with the collective power to put promising ideas into action.

A multi-year program of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, eLab was created to be a force for collaborative innovations to help transform our electrical grid. Research is a big part of that. eLab works to investigate and test a range of practical solutions—from demand-responsive infrastructure and smart grid interfaces to distributed solar power, electric vehicles, and other new ideas in energy efficiency.

As eLab notes,“Rapid innovation and change, cooperation and conflict, are occurring at the ‘seams’ in the electricity sector: places where no single stakeholder or industry group can control the outcome.” To facilitate and implement solutions, eLab regularly convenes a working group of energy providers, customers, policy-makers, regulators, advocates, and other experts for intensive sessions of shared learning and project-focused work.

One of the most group’s most exciting projects is unfolding right now in the state of New York, which is leading the way in remaking the electrical grid around a distributed energy resources (DER) concept. The goal is to enable the integration of renewable energy into the state’s mix of sources, rather than relying on big oil and gas fueled power plants alone. With eLab as one of its chief consultants, the New York Public Service Commission has launched the nation’s first initiative to create a “distributed system platform.” eLab has also been working on a similar project in Fort Collins, Colorado, a community that’s aiming to have a carbon-free electrical system by 2050. These groundbreaking efforts could provide a new kind of model for energy generation and distribution across the U.S. and beyond.

Our Role

Our $125,000 grant was part of the seed money used to launch eLab back in 2012. We were privileged to be part of its creation and are pleased to know that a large proportion of its ongoing support now comes from subscription fees paid by institutional participants.

Why This Grant

We see eLab as being uniquely structured to pursue energy solutions through science, communication, and action—the three critical elements needed to achieve and scale meaningful change. Add the visionary leadership of Amory Lovins, and it’s a winning effort we’re thrilled to be part of.