Energy Literacy, Innovation, and Economic History: a Recent Talk

The Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF) is a foundation that uses its grantmaking to “create a more energy-literate society that’s ready for the smart grid“. Working through local community organizations including educational and religious organizations, ISEIF provides grants to promote understanding of and use of markets and technology to promote behavior change in energy that reduces energy bills and energy consumption. They target outreach to low-income, elderly, and rural communities. I am a peer reviewer in ISEIF’s grantmaking process, and I’m honored to play a part in this important and valuable work.

Recently ISEIF held a summit in Chicago for their grantees so they could bring together people doing this work on the ground, enable them to share their lessons learned on best practices for such outreach, and give them some more ideas to help them think about creative ways to achieve their objectives. I was thrilled to be invited to speak to the participants, to get the perspective of the people on the ground in communities working to make demand response and technology adoption happen at the very decentralized (and hard to reach) individual level. On a more mundane note, I was also excited to attend an event at the Bridgeport Art Center, which is a beautiful, innovative art gallery and set of studios in a 1911-era former warehouse — and it was a gorgeous day so I rode my bike there down the lakefront path!

The first part of my talk was on a topic near and dear to my heart: the history of the electricity industry. Technology, patents, big personalities, it has it all. Thinking through the history of the industry is a good way to learn the economics of how we got the electric systems and regulated investor-owned utility businesses that we did. This rich economic history is an essential foundation to thinking about how digital and distributed resource technologies are now transforming this 135-year-old industry. The video of my talk is at the top of the post; I hope you enjoy it!