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Back in Gear

It’s spring break here in Texas, so naturally it’ll be 80 degrees during the day and then down to 40 degrees at night, while a Nor’easter is hitting New England and an atmospheric river is slugging California. I’m up early, catching an hour or so of quiet time before the rest of my family wakes up (and I don’t have to be the one waking them up, with school out this week).

This is always the opportunity to catch my breath after the start of any calendar year, and 2023 has been nothing short of astounding. In quick succession I have attended the Midwest Energy Solutions Conference in Chicago, the Ameren Illinois All-Hands meeting in Collinsville, and AESP’s Annual Conference in New Orleans. Turnouts have been significant, equaling if not exceeding pre-COVID numbers, and in many cases, it’s been the first time to see friends and colleagues in a few years. I could feel a new energy and focus at the venues that hasn’t been there for a while.

Chicago in January, but the Ice Storm is in Austin

The Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s (MEEA’s) conference was a great kickoff to 2023, with nearly 850 attendees and an agenda capturing the potential in the Federal government’s climate investments through the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as state legislation. Dr. Henry McKoy, Director of the Office of State and Community Energy Programs at DOE, laid out his Office’s mission to support and oversee community implementation of programs and services using DOE funding.

Photo Credit: MEEA 2023.

The conference agenda effectively addressed the evolving policy and program landscape while focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across multiple sessions. Attendees were engaged – at the AIQUEOUS booth I could sense urgency to solve program barriers to allow utilities and other organizations to quickly scale their efforts.

As always seems to happen at the MEEA conference, bad weather hit – but this time back at home. Freezing rain accumulated ice on the tree canopy in Central Texas, and as tree limbs began to fall, power went out across Austin, for us the second time in a two-year span. I returned home to manage five days without power as crews worked 24/7 to restore thousands of small power outages across the service territory. Despite all of the talk about electrification in Chicago, it was Texas Gas Service who still provided my home with hot water and a working stove. Some neighbors had invested in backup generators after Winter Storm Uri and created daytime havens for those of us without. Everyone pitched in to help one another.

For me, the MEEA conference heightened visibility on equity, and the storm heightened the importance of both system resilience in the pursuit of decarbonization and the need and cost to ensure equity as we move forward.

Meet me in St. Louis

Ameren Illinois and Leidos hosted the first All-Hands meeting in Collinsville in a few years. AIQUEOUS has the privilege of being a part of this team – Ameren’s commitment to “efficiency for all,” it’s innovations to drive diversity and equity in portfolio participation by customers, trade allies and implementation partners, has been inspiring. Every attendee had an opportunity to introduce themselves – given the number of people there, an investment in time, and also a recognition of everyone’s value.

The keynote speaker for the event, Carmel Brown, spoke to us about the importance of a “trauma-informed workplace” and the likelihood of our colleagues having poor mental health without a mental illness. If trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event (an emotional injury), then a trauma-informed workplace prioritizes psychological safety to create a productive, effective and efficient team. It’s hard work that requires balancing your own energy levels and boundaries with the needs of those around you.

Given the national and global events of the past few years, this was a thoughtful and inward-focused presentation. I appreciated the choice.

Not Easy in the Big Easy

The 2023 kickoff rounded out with the AESP Annual Conference and the initial focus on DEI in Chicago became a crescendo in New Orleans. From pre-conference and conference sessions on Supplier Diversity to a plenary session on Justice 40, AESP’s conference tackled DEI head-on.

To me, the most candid comments came from Andreanecia Morris, the Executive Director of NOLA, who challenged attendees to check their visions of the future at the door when engaging with diverse communities, and instead asking and really listening to what those communities need and want.

I satisfied my energy nerd craving at a session on “What’s Holding DERs and NWAs Back?” which focused on a recent study in Ontario on distributed energy resource (DER) potential and the relatively low level that could be achieved to address a looming capacity shortfall. Why so little? Based on the panel discussion, it seemed to be a combination of (a) dozens of different load serving entities within the IESO, possibly each having its own interconnection rules, standards and tariffs, and (b) uncertainty in future energy values, making it difficult to determine the future value of a DER investment.

That panel session highlighted a reality that our major sector barriers are institutional and not technical. It’s about us, folks, not the widgets.

Looking Ahead

So how did these first 10 weeks shape my view of 2023? First, it gave me hope that there is a renewed and restored energy and focus within our industry. The conferences and events did not have a “same old” feel to them. Second, it restored connections between myself and my colleagues and friends – video calls and conferences are not a substitute for seeing one another in person.

And, based on the conversations that I had with multiple utilities and companies at these events, I truly believe that AIQUEOUS has built products and services to meet the growing demand for customer programs and services. I’m excited about that, and the opportunity to really help drive decarbonization, resilience and equity in this decade and beyond.


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