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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.

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.

emPower

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.

eLab Landscape

Visit the eLab Landscape interactive map of projects.

Puzzle image courtesy of Shutterstock.com.