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What is eLab Doing?

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In addition to its convening function, eLab undertakes several projects that allow the group to explore complex issues in depth, develop well thought out insights and recommendations, and partner with key industry stakeholders to test and apply new ideas. Currently, eLab is working on four projects.

The Electricity System Value Chain

The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has developed a framework that describes the major activities required for the electricity grid to function. Because the grid system network is not a linear value chain it becomes more difficult to see how a node can be removed or where new value can be created.

Transforming How Communities Use Energy: Learning from Fort Collins

The City of Fort Collins has adopted climate action goals that are among the most ambitious climate commitments in the nation. Under new goals adopted in March 2015, the city aims to reduce its community greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030 (relative to a 2005 baseline) and 100% (reaching carbon neutrality) by 2050. In adopting these goals, the Fort Collins City Council accelerated by 20 years the previous target of 80% emissions reduction by 2050.

Rate Design for the Distribution Edge

There is a looming disconnect between the rapidly evolving new world of distributed energy technologies and the old world of electricity pricing, where relatively little has changed since the early 20th century. By changing electricity pricing to more fully reflect the cost and value of electricity services exchanged between customers and the grid, utilities and regulators can unleash new waves of innovation in distributed energy resource investment that will help to reduce costs while maintaining or increasing system resilience and reliability. This report discusses a pathway for deliberately and gradually increasing rate sophistication for residential and small commercial (i.e., mass-market) customers.

eLab Accelerator

In Spring 2014, the Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) assembled leading projects from around the country for a high-impact meeting to support and advance innovative work at the distribution edge of the electricity system. Multi-stakeholder teams joined Rocky Mountain Institute, eLab expert faculty, and other project teams to collaboratively advance their work. The invitation-only, four-day meeting accelerates high-potential projects by providing teams a structured working session to make real progress on their unique initiative.


emPower addresses two needs: 1) insufficient ability to make relative valuations between investments in centralized and distributed resources, and 2) there is insufficient knowledge and tools to understand the costs and values of distributed resources. The first phase of emPower identified what is known and unknown around the categorization of costs and values, methodological best practices, and gaps in understanding and approach. As part of the project, RMI conducted a literature review to determine the current state of knowledge about costs/values, methodologies, and key gaps.

Building off the gaps identified in phase 1, the currently ongoing phase 2 has two objectives. First, the project team has developed a framework to bring clarity and consistency to the language and concepts industry stakeholders use to describe the costs and values of distributed energy resources, which offers a clear articulation of how different resources can create cost or provide value. Second, the team is working to fill important modeling gaps necessary to accurately assess the costs and values of distributed resources.

New Business Models

The increasing role of distributed energy resources in the electricity system is leading to a shift in the fundamental business model paradigm of the industry. To support the transition, new utility business models will need to provide versatile and flexible platforms that harmonize the interests of electricity providers, customers, and distributed resource developers at the distribution edge. The project team is framing clear objectives and principles around the design of electricity business models, reflecting the variety of perspectives on this topic, and taking the first step towards identifying viable new models.

Innovation Beacon

eLab's Innovation Beacon project is designed to help meet the urgent need for greater opportunities for innovation in the electricity sector. Innovation Beacon conducts design charrettes for microgrids, other aggregations of distributed resources, or other relevant economic or deployment issues at the distribution edge. As part of this effort, we will develop case studies of ongoing projects innovating around these issues.

The first Innovation Beacon charrette was held November 7–8, 2012 with Fort Collins Utilities in Fort Collins, Colorado. The purpose of the charrette was to engage community stakeholders and outside experts to develop new ideas and approaches that will allow Fort Collins Utilities to achieve its aspirations to create a zero energy district and to drive carbon emissions reductions throughout the community faster than would otherwise be possible. The charrette produced important outcomes, including the possibility of a more aggressive goal, new approaches to financing, a tariff concept that could accelerate deployment while equitably addressing costs and benefits, and innovative deployment models.

Other Innovation Beacon charrettes include one with the U.S. Navy focusing on developing a clear value proposition for microgrids at Navy bases and identifying strategies the Navy can undertake to optimize around that value proposition.

Shared Vision

The lack of a shared vision among stakeholders slows progress and sometimes drives stakeholders to work at cross-purposes. Having a unifying sense of purpose and greater stakeholder engagement around that purpose is key to effectively and efficiently transforming the electricity system. Based on these needs, the Shared Vision project’s purpose is to orient eLab participants around a common sense of purpose, align project efforts for greatest effect, and ultimately inform and engage others.

eLab Landscape

Visit the eLab Landscape interactive map of projects.

Puzzle image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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