Collaboratory Report Outlines Our Energy Future


Post date: May 12, 2016

There is a growing, global momentum among businesses, communities, states, and nations toward an economically and environmentally sustainable energy system.

To achieve such a system will require harnessing the speed and innovation that only the market, bound by the right policy framework, can deliver. And that will require fresh thinking: enter, the Collaboratory.

Last fall, as part of our annual Energy Innovation Celebration, we convened a few dozen energy thought leaders and innovators from the Midwest and beyond to crowdsource their collective wisdom about the arc of the energy system over the next 5 to 20 years.

To describe this gathering, we borrowed the term “Collaboratory,” which means “collaborative laboratory.” You can think of the Collaboratory as an incubator for creativity and bold ideas among smart people who don’t often get together.

The Collaboratory was based on three fundamental premises:

1.   Society lacks informal settings in which smart people of good will but with different backgrounds, expertise, institutional interests, and worldviews can think strategically together about our common future;

2.   Despite the natural inclination to focus on where we disagree with one another, identifying areas of general agreement can accelerate progress, reduce transaction costs, and reveal where to focus our collective attention; and

3.   The Midwest has an opportunity for global energy leadership that not only taps our comparative advantages and draws talent, but also positions us to flourish economically long into the future.

We asked these leaders to explore: what they think are certainties about the energy system in 20 years and what potential game changers most excite them in the next five years? The collective wisdom from this group of thought leaders resulted in a fascinating discussion. The results of this process and discussion can be found in the newly released report here.

The following are the top headlines for the certainties and game changers crowdsourced from this group of thought leaders.

For those in the energy sector, this list may not seem revolutionary. What is notable is the level of agreement that these are certainties and form the outline of a shared vision of our energy future.

Top Certainties About the U.S. Energy System in 20 Years

1.   Greater consumer choice and control

2.   More energy efficient

3.   More renewable energy

4.   Steady evolution toward zero carbon

5.   Less centralized and more integrated

6.   A modern grid will manage two-way flows of information and electricity

7.   The grid and utilities will remain essential, even as more consumers choose to produce some or all of their own power

8.   New, more customer-focused utility business models will emerge that offer products and services beyond just electricity

9.   Energy, water, and food production will become more inter- dependent as pressures on each increase

10.  New, cleaner energy technologies will emerge and change our notion of what is possible

Potential Game Changers

1.   A plunge in solar prices sufficient to make fossil fuel-generated electricity  non-competitive

2.   Cost-effective energy storage

3.   Electric vehicles with range and refueling time comparable to conventional vehicles

4.   New business models that align utility financial incentives with achieving a sustainable, low-carbon energy system

During a time when the conversation around energy and climate is often politicized, the Collaboratory offered participants a space for meaningful dialogue around a shared vision for our energy future.

Some of the observations from the participants include:

“There was something magical about the mix of optimism and pragmatism in the conversation.”

“I am struck by the degree of shared vision.”

“Ten years ago this level of convergence around the arc of change may have been unthinkable.”

The Great Plains Institute plans to identify “coalitions of the interested” to help move forward some of the priority ideas identified by participants and is in the process of organizing this year’s Collaboratory as part of the annual GPI Energy Innovation Celebration, scheduled for September 29, 2016.


Learn more about the Collaboratory in the 2015-2016 Collaboratory Report, here.

Find out more about the 2016 Energy Innovation Celebration here.