Road Tripping Today’s America in Search of Tomorrow’s Grid

Classic American Cross-country road trips are a part of pop culture lore. Think Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe and Mark Twain.

Those authors were seeing and portraying Americas that used to be. Sometimes road trips are a good way of gauging where the country is headed in the future.

Energy and resource sustainability firm Engie Insight (formerly Ecova) sent some of its leaders on a “Coast to Coast Sustainbility Tour” of the U.S., focusing on dozens of U.S. businesses which are trying new and more efficient ways of getting the most out of the all-mighty megawatt.

The Engie Insight Group Sustainability Tour included CEO Mathias Lelievre and colleagues. Mike Kaplan, vice president of marketing with the company, replied to ELP Executive Digest on what he saw and took to heart the most from a summer across America.

This road show seemed to touch a lot of ground, from blockchain to financing and physical construction of clean energy projects. Is there a theme to all of these elements? Did the Engie tour look at mainly company-related developments or even renewables by other players?

“Our goal with the Coast to Coast Sustainability Tour was to understand the market challenges and opportunities that corporations are pursuing, and have a deep level of conversation about how that aligns with our experiences working with our clients every day. The tour touched a broad range of ENGIE Insight-related client projects, start-ups, business influencers, and yes, several projects we were not directly involved with. The goal was not to make this an ENGIE Insight advertisement for our work, but to have a real conversation and exchange of ideas in an intense time frame.

“We set out to touch a large range of technologies across the sustainable resource management spectrum. We wanted to see firsthand what differences and similarities existed in how businesses were pursuing and looking at early stage projects, to more established solutions and approaches.”

What impressed you the most in traversing the U.S. looking at both the reality and future of sustainability efforts?

“The most impressive aspect was how eager companies are to capture all viable opportunities that exist — even more so than just 5-7 years ago — for different types of commercial and industrial customers across the energy management, renewables and sustainability landscape. A challenge that we saw, particularly for the companies we work with that have a portfolio that span the country, was the need to assess opportunities across different geographies, utility and retailer rates, incentives and building types.”

How do bees play into this?

“The start-up we visited, Bee Downtown, strategically partners with major corporations around the Atlanta region to re-invigorate the honeybee population. We learned that in 2015 alone, the US lost over 40% of its bee population — and they are a crucial component to the overall sustainability story. Seeing enterprise businesses partner with something so foundational like bees was an unexpected way we could share how organizations can make an impact beyond the typical lighting, water and waste programs. The bees were certainly a topic that we came across in our research that we knew was a little different than all the others, but it fit into two themes that we saw on the trip. The first being that businesses are looking for unexpected ways to build sustainability programs and employees are an important piece of the sustainability puzzle. I now look at sustainability as a new type of employee benefit.”

Blockchain, no pun intended, is all the buzz around transactive energy projects of the future. How far are we from taking from pilot to mainstream? What does blockchain need to prove?

“Blockchain is still in its early days, but there is a lot of exciting progress being made with all of the different applications that are emerging and being tested throughout the energy landscape. The path to become mainstream will be less about the technology proving itself, but rather which of the applications drive the most business value and developing program models to unlock that value.”

Many companies seem committed to carbon reduction and the Paris Accord, even if the U.S. political leadership is not. Why is this so important for industrial firms that otherwise might be wary of the costs in sustainability efforts?

“Most businesses are not looking at what is happening in political landscape, but simply responding to the short and long-term value that taking a sustainable resource management approach delivers. This includes projects that make sense from an economic perspective, to responding to what customers, employees and investors are demanding, to recognizing the need to evolve in a world where resources will be scarcer.”

Anything else surprise you about the tour over America?

“Several surprises came along driving a Tesla over long distances and everything we learned about how to best manage the charging needs. But, the biggest surprise was the trunk space. The amount of trunk space when there is no engine in the front of the car was shocking for a father of three who struggles to fit things in a large SUV at times. Being able to fit five people’s luggage and many extras like video equipment in such a small vehicle was very, very surprising!”

 

 

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