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50 minutes | Apr 22, 2020
A Wind Pioneer’s Big Gamble
Michael Skelly is the former president and co-founder of Clean Line Energy Partners, a company that attempted to build a cross-country power line to send wind electricity to the Southeast. His nearly decade-long saga of Clean Line is filled with setbacks, frustrations and failures.“I do believe in progress. It comes in fits and starts and so maybe we're not successful but hopefully that the second mouse gets the cheese on these things,” says Skelly.But his career is filled with plenty of big successes. Before co-founding Clean Line, Skelly was the chief development officer for Horizon Wind. And earlier in his career, he built a mile-long ski lift in the jungle for eco-tourism. He knows a thing or two about complicated infrastructure.A book was recently written about his journey, called Superpower. It’s all about Skelly’s mission to build a 700-mile clean energy transmission superhighway -- and what happened as he grappled with the political and market forces stacking up against him. In our final episode of the season, we’ll talk about what Skelly learned from his experiences taking on big, daunting projects.Resources:Superpower: One Man’s Quest to Transform America’s Energy Axios: How America’s Biggest Renewable-Energy Power Line Failed
39 minutes | Feb 18, 2020
The Tough Job of Closing Down Coal
In this episode: how one CEO was forced to reckon with her roots in coal country, change her view on climate change, and reorient her utility to embrace the clean energy transition.Patti Poppe is the president and CEO of Consumers Energy, the biggest utility in Michigan. She’s an industrial engineer who got her start in the automotive industry managing plants for General Motors.For the last 15 years, she’s been working in the utility business. She’s done it all: power plant director, operations VP, customer experience lead, and now chief executive. Today, Patti is leading the biggest power company in Michigan through a massive transition toward renewables and energy efficiency. And she’s convinced that the transition needs to happen quickly.“We've made a big transition here. We used to have the ‘sucker's choice.’ You can have clean energy, it's just going to be expensive. Or you can have the cheap and dirty stuff, take your pick. We sold that story for a long time. And the reality is we don't have to make that sucker's choice anymore,” says Patti. Deciding to go all-in on a climate strategy was a huge transformation for Michigan’s biggest utility. And for Patti too.“And so when we actually brought the data...I think people felt free and safe for the first time to say what they really believed about it, and we could really come to a place that we could all agree on how to move forward.”In this episode, we’ll detail how it all unfolded.Resources:Wall Street Journal profile of Patti Poppe’s approach to the clean energy transitionCrain’s Detroit Business: Consumers plan to close down coal plantsEnergy News Network: Poppe is “betting on the people of Michigan” to clean up the grid
35 minutes | Feb 4, 2020
The Birth (and Near Death) of Demand Response
Tim Healy co-founded EnerNOC in 2001. EnerNOC was one of the companies that turned demand response from an obscure, low-tech process into an automated and powerful tool for managing the electric grid.Tim found his calling as an entrepreneur early on in life. But he’s had plenty of people who told him he wouldn’t be CEO material — including his first business partner in college.“I would say it's driven me for the last two and a half decades, to really take that as motivation rather than as some sort of negative criticism,” explains Tim.He later used that motivation to get him through one of the roughest periods of his professional life: a battle at the Supreme Court that threatened the existence of EnerNOC.“There were times during that period of time where I did feel more isolated and alone than usual, where I felt like it was unfair that we were having to fight this big of a challenge and that something so good for society, something so good for the energy innovation sector was having such a difficult time making its business work,” he says.We’ll talk with Tim about his tumultuous journey building one of the most influential companies in clean energy.Resources:Profiles of EnerNOC’s co-founders from the Tuck School of BusinessGreentech Media: Enel Buys EnerNOC for $250 millionFortune: Why the Supreme Court’s demand response ruling is important for innovation
34 minutes | Jan 21, 2020
How Trust in Companies Is Changing Rapidly
Rachel Botsman is a trust expert. She predicted the rise of the sharing economy and wrote two books about trust — Who Can You Trust and What’s Mine is Yours. She also has a podcast called Trust Issues. So why are we talking about trust? As we’ve detailed, the energy system is changing fast. New distributed energy players are entering the space, customers are increasingly in control of their energy choices, and utilities must think differently about their relationships with customers in order to remain competitive. Trust is a big part of this shift.“Regulation will not protect you ... so much of trust is tied to power ... you can have the most powerful lobbying groups, regulation, but it won’t protect you around behavioral changes. When the consumer says, I want this in my life and actually the old way didn’t really work for me. It was just money and power centralizing something... regulation will take time. But it will not protect you.”Rachel calls trust the “currency” or the “social glue” of life and business. But we don’t necessarily think about it in that way. “Companies and sectors are starting to realize that if you put money, profits, growth, everything tied to the transactional side of things, if you put those above, and ahead, and continually prioritize them over the currency of trust, you're going to run into problems and issues,” says Rachel.In this episode, we’ll uncover how trust guides everything around us — and what that means for businesses that are facing change.
36 minutes | Jan 8, 2020
From Dotcom Bust to Clean Energy Visionary
Michael Liebreich is the founder and former CEO of New Energy Finance, a research and analysis firm that was acquired by Bloomberg in 2009. It’s become one of the premier organizations focused on clean energy investment and deployment trends.Michael is one of the savviest and most vocal energy experts out there. His talks, articles and twitter threads are closely watched in industry circles. He has a knack for explaining things clearly and provocatively. And as it turns out, he has a pretty wild story. We’re going to hear about how he went from McKinsey cheese consultant to olympic skier to a debt-laden founder who lost almost everything in the first internet bubble.“You're not expecting 10 years out of Harvard Business School...you're unemployed and you're unemployable. Your Rolodex is gone, because everybody that you know has also lost their job,” reflects Michael.In spite of his dotcom bust, Michael later created a highly-influential research company focused on wind, solar, biofuels, hydrogen and other cutting-edge energy sectors. It made him an early visionary on the global energy transition.“I saw all of these problems in the fossil and in the incumbent energy system, and I had had enough exposure to technology and venture capital to understand that there were alternatives. And I had the very great fortune in my pre-business school career of being forced to calculate experience curves,” he explains. “And I decided ‘I'm just going to follow my gut. There's something big here.’ And I started with another unemployed friend. We started New Energy Finance just started collecting data about energy.”We’ll talk with Michael about the ups and downs of his entrepreneurial career. And we’ll examine the economic and technology trends that convinced him of the transformative impact of clean energy.Resources:A 2011 Financial Times profile of Michael Liebreich after he sold New Energy FinanceMichael Liebreich BNEF analysis on the road to deep decarbonizationMichael’s new company: Liebreich Associates
35 minutes | Dec 23, 2019
An ‘Intrapreneur’ Driving the Corporate Clean Energy Revolution
Miranda Ballentine is the CEO of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, a group that helps companies like Apple, Google, Disney, GM, Citigroup ink wind and solar deals worth billions of dollars.Miranda knows this space better than anyone. As a former leader of sustainability teams at Walmart and the Air Force, she’s had to buy renewable energy for hundreds of stores and military bases, and track carbon emissions across complex supply chains.In this episode, we’ll talk about Miranda’s winding career that led her from neuro-psychology to deploying solar in developing countries to Walmart and the Air Force. What was her intrapreneurial superpower that helped her drive change inside these massive organizations?“Nobody ever talks about or celebrates becoming an intrepreneur driving change from within large organizations. And it is a different skill set,” she says.“It's often about persuasion and influence and trust-building and identifying where you want to go and all the internal stakeholders and levers that need to be pulled to get you there. Patience. Tenacity. These are the kinds of natural superpowers that are required to be an entrepreneur in the world needs both environmental entrepreneurs and environmental intrepreneurs.”Resources:GreenBiz: New era of large-scale renewables growthNPR: From Walmart to Google, companies teaming up to buy more renewable energyIlluminators is a podcast from Uplight and Post Script Audio.
30 minutes | Dec 10, 2019
How Failed Green Jobs and Energy Poverty Shaped This Founder
In this episode, an entrepreneur who’s applying community organizing tactics and data crunching to clean energy in inner cities: Donnel Baird. Donnel is the CEO and Founder of Blocpower, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York. Blocpower helps inner-city buildings lease heat pumps, install new lighting systems, or invest in solar. And it has a piece of software to help microtarget the right buildings and make installations faster.Donnel grew up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where he experienced energy poverty and was forced to think about how the environment directly impacts quality of life.“I think when you're poor you have to be aware of your environment and the kinds of adverse health impacts that can be caused by your environment. That's part of surviving as a poor person in America or any country. And I think that in my family we were, we were definitely super attuned to that,” explains Donnel.Later, he played a role in the green jobs push within the Obama Administration. It opened his eyes to the limitations of the green building sector.“The green buildings and energy efficiency industry is fundamentally broken. It has sales problems, it has mechanical engineering and energy efficiency audit problems. It has a huge financing problem, it has a construction and installation problem. It has an M&V problem, and if you pour $7 billion into that failed industry and hyper fragmented industry, we didn't get the results that we would've hoped,” he says.In this episode, we tell Donnel’s story of frustration, confusion and inspiration that led him to become a founder. Resources:Grist profile: Donnel Baird makes inner cities more efficientNation Swell: How to power a renewable energy startup
34 minutes | Nov 26, 2019
Origins of the Modern Battery Storage Business
Welcome to our second season! Over the next eight episodes, we’ll hear from people who’ve scaled new clean energy technologies, built market-changing companies from scratch, and managed big firms in the face of competitive threats.In this episode, a pioneer in storage who helped prove out the business case for putting big batteries on the grid: John Zahurancik.John is the chief operating officer of a company called Fluence, a storage supergroup made up of teams from AES and Siemens. He and his co-founder Chris Shelton were some of the earliest visionaries in the grid-scale storage industry.“I think at the beginning we faced every doubt, if you will. If there was a doubt to be had, it was mentioned to us. So I think it's referred to as the Holy Grail because no one expects that you'll ever actually find it,” says Zahurancik.Today, lithium-ion batteries on the grid are surging. Just last year, the global battery market grew 140%, according to the research firm Wood Mackenzie. It’ll double in 2019. And it’ll triple in 2020.Back in 2006, there were a lot of skeptics. But John saw something that the skeptics didn’t — lithium-ion batteries, when scaled, had the potential to completely reshape the grid.Resources:The first storage supergroup has arrivedLong before Tesla, there was AES
1 minutes | Sep 23, 2019
We're Coming Back for Season 2
We're coming back for a new season of ILLUMINATORS!In our first season, we told stories of disruption in other industries and then applied them to energy.This season is a bit different. We’re talking to some of the leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and executives in energy — people who’ve grappled with extreme change — and bringing their stories to you.And of course, we’re going to hear about what they’ve learned from other areas of business, at a time when companies of all kinds are constantly under threat.We are still in the early stages of production, but we’ll be dropping episodes later this fall. So don’t go anywhere.
23 minutes | Jun 27, 2019
Reflections on Utility Disruption With Adrian Tuck
Over the last four episodes, we’ve detailed the history of corporate innovation, wins and fails in customer strategies, the winding path of technology adoption, and the role of big corporates in catalyzing change.We’ve been talking about the recent and distant past, trying to understand how it applies to the competitive challenges that energy companies face today.In this episode, we are revisiting those themes — and looking to the future — with Tendril, now Uplight, CEO Adrian Tuck.Adrian has two decades of experience building companies and bringing technologies to market. He spends a lot of time thinking about what other industries can teach utilities about embracing disruptive change.We’ll talk start the episode by looking at the impact of artificial intelligence with Erik Brynjolffson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. AI is mostly good at narrow tasks — and that leaves a lot of room for the things that humans are good at: creativity, relationships, persuasion, leadership.Then, Adrian joins us to talk about how AI will impact the energy industry. He’ll also share thoughts on other emerging tech trends, how utilities can set up a culture of innovation, and why leaders fail to embrace change.ILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
31 minutes | Jun 20, 2019
What Do Google Glass, Segway and Thermostats Show Us About How Tech Evolves?
New technologies and products fail all the time — but sometimes those failures turn into something unexpected. In this episode, we’re exploring the surprising ways that technology evolves.Remember Segway, the personal transporter that became a cultural joke? Turns out, it’s a major force behind the scooter revolution.Remember Google Glass, the augmented-reality glasses that freaked everyone out and became an object of scorn? It's now a powerful tool in manufacturing and industry.Uplight has a few examples of technology investments that didn’t pan out — but they led down a path to other interesting areas of product development. We’ll revisit a few of them.We’ll also talk with a venture capitalist who’s evaluating all kinds of consumer technologies — some without an obvious application in energy — that could benefit the way utilities deliver services.Guests featured in this episode:Steven Levy, journalist and editor-at-large for WIREDLindsay Luger, partner at Energy Impact PartnersResources:Steven Levy’s article on the startling second act for Google GlassCNN feature on Segway’s surprising impact on the scooter revolutionILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
35 minutes | Jun 13, 2019
What Can JCPenney, Southwest Airlines and Green Mountain Power Teach Us About the Customer?
What can JCPenney, Southwest Airlines and Green Mountain Power teach us about knowing (or not knowing) your customer?This episode will look at how companies are evolving in this customer-centric world. How can a fierce dedication to the customer change the fabric of a company? And how can companies fail when they lose sight of their customers?Sometimes the customer isn’t who you think. JCPenney is an iconic retailer who failed to understand its customers’ needs and became “America’s favorite cautionary tale.” In the first part of the show, we’ll look at why the retailer failed in a bid to reinvent itself.Sometimes it takes an outsider to step back and understand what the customer wants. That’s what happened when lawyer Herb Kelleher started Southwest Airlines. He didn’t have any airline experience, but he created a human resources culture that made employees happy -- and made customers happy in the process.Finally, we’ll profile Mary Powell, the CEO of Green Mountain Power, who makes interaction with customers a central part of her job. She’ll describe her approach to customer centricity and innovation: "One of my biggest fears is being out of touch with what people want and what really matters to people."Guests featured in this episode:Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia UniversityJody Hoffer Gittell, professor of management at Brandeis UniversityMary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain PowerResources:Mark Cohen’s Forbes article about management problems at JCPenneyJody Hoffer Gittell’s book, “The Southwest Airlines Way”Forbes article on Mary Powell and Green Mountain Power’s customer obsessionILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
33 minutes | Jun 6, 2019
What Do Edison’s 'Invention Factory' and Exelon Drones Have in Common?
Thomas Edison wasn’t just an inventor. He created a whole new way to make and sell his inventions — setting the stage for modern corporate innovation. His model influenced a generation of titans: General Electric, Westinghouse, Ford, and the electric utility as we know it today.And then, something shifted.In the 1970s, executives of large companies turned their attention to “shareholder value.” They valued efficiencies, cost cutting and dividends over invention and innovation. Today, when a startup with a few software engineers can present a competitive threat to a big incumbent in a very short period of time, this presents an existential challenge.We'll start this episode with a re-examination of Thomas Edison’s legacy. How did he set the stage for modern corporate innovation?Then, we’ll talk about the limits of that model. How can corporations shift from “big to bigger” mindsets into “new to big” strategies? We’ll talk about how to apply creativity and a venture capital mindset to utilities like Exelon.Guests featured in this episode:Leonard Degraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical ParkChristina Wallace, vice president of growth at Bionic, and co-author of “New to Big”Resources:Leonard Degraaf’s book: “Edison and the Rise of Innovation”Christina Wallace’s book: “New to Big: How Companies Can Create Like Entrepreneurs, Invest Like VCs, and Install a Permanent Operating System for Growth”Bionic case study on Exelon’s drone businessILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, a software and analytics leader changing the way the world uses energy. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
34 minutes | Jun 6, 2019
What Can Walmart and Xcel Energy Teach Us About Moonshots?
What can we learn from Walmart, Xcel Energy and the humble electric motor?In retrospect, big economic or technological shifts are often obvious — but they’re not always obvious as they’re unfolding. This episode will focus on how big businesses respond to external challenges in real time.We’ll start with a glimpse at how the distributed electric motor catalyzed the second industrial revolution. Are we in the middle of an “electric-motor moment” for the modern economy?Then, we’ll reflect on Walmart’s groundbreaking push into sustainability back in 2005. What does it tell us about how to craft a purpose-driven business case?We’ll finish with a conversation about Xcel Energy’s goal to get 100% of its energy from zero-carbon resources by 2050. How do you push a “moonshot” goal through an executive team and a company with thousands of employees? And how will it influence other electric utilities to make bold moves?Guests featured in this episode:Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital EconomyRebecca Henderson, economist and professor at Harvard Business SchoolBrett Carter, executive vice president and chief customer and innovation officer at Xcel EnergyResources:Rebecca Henderson’s HBS case study on WalmartXcel’s report on its zero-emissions goalErik Brynjolfsson’s book: “Machine, Platform, Crowd”ILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts. .
2 minutes | May 22, 2019
Illuminators is a show about the forces changing business. What can energy companies learn from them?Like in many other industries — manufacturing, retail, media, hospitality — leaders of utilities have a very difficult task. They can’t avoid change. They have to embrace it.This show will borrow from some of those industries.We’ll explore topics like: What can JC Penney’s flop tell us about knowing your customer?What can Thomas Edison teach us about corporate innovation?What does the second act for Google Glass tell us about the surprising ways that tech evolves?And what’s the role of big corporations in solving big problems like climate change?This is a show two kinds of people — energy nerds fascinated by the wider world of business. And people in business who want to learn from stories of disruption.Illuminators is a new podcast from Uplight. Subscribe right now on Apple, Spotify or anywhere you get your podcasts.
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