So, it should come as no surprise that the electric power industry is in the midst of a major transformation — these are not your “mom and pop” utilities of the past.
In fact, the industry is investing more than $90 billion annually, on average, to make the transition to cleaner energy generation and to enhance the electric grid. When we think of utility innovation, this is what we might think of — huge generation projects, scalable grid technologies.
The rest of the story
But, the story is actually even broader than that. The electric industry isn’t just at the cutting edge of these kinds of large-scale innovations — it’s actively encouraging innovations on a smaller scale as well.
Take, for example, the second annual 1776 Challenge Festival in Washington, D.C., which recently brought together more than 70 entrepreneurs from around the world to compete in four prize areas, including energy and sustainability. The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) was one of the lead sponsors of the energy semifinals at this event, and I had the honor of serving as a judge for the energy semifinal. All of the participants in this competition are doing important work that will help us achieve a future with cleaner energy and increased connectivity.
Being able to witness the dynamism and innovation at work at the Challenge Festival was especially exciting to me because I know these young innovators are tomorrow’s partners.
Of the 20 entrepreneurs who pitched, we had to select just two energy startups to receive a $50,000 investment from 1776, as well as advance to the Global Finals for the chance to compete for their share of $650,000 in prizes. The two winners were: Radiator Labs, which designed a Wi-Fi-enabled system that improves radiator efficiency; and BaseTrace, which uses DNA tracer technology to track the movement of industrial fluids and, thereby, improve environmental monitoring capabilities. RadiatorLabs ultimately went on to be one of three Challenge Cup Global Winners from among the nine finalists, but all of the competitors are great examples of the types of developments that will help us build a more sustainable energy future.
Events like these are a natural fit for an industry in the midst of a transformation, and they benefit everyone. Electric utility companies get to partner with new technology companies and potentially bring their products to market, while entrepreneurs get to connect with potential investors. The industry is constantly looking for new ideas on how to improve the grid. The more ideas we can all bring to the table, the better our ability to make electricity even more reliable, efficient, and affordable for customers.
The electric utility industry is a key part of the equation here, since many of these startups wouldn’t be able to bring their technologies to market on their own. To really be able to mass-market a new energy product or service, they’ll need established partners, and the electric industry is excited to be on the cutting edge of these partnerships.
Looking forward, one thing that’s certain is that the electric power industry is on a path of evolution and innovation. New technologies are constantly being developed, both by established companies and by entrepreneurs like those at the Challenge Festival. The building blocks of collaboration that we put in place today should pay dividends down the road as we work to improve the grid and meet customers’ evolving needs.
About the Author
Brian Wolff is Edison Electric Institute executive vice president of public policy and external affairs.