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eLab Accelerator: Kickstarting Energy Innovation Districts (Part 1)

Originally published on Rocky Mountain Institute.
By Rebecca Cole.

This week, RMI kicks off eLab Accelerator, our bootcamp for electricity innovation. More than 100 participants from across the country are rolling up their sleeves to make rapid and targeted progress on the trickiest issues they’re facing.

Across the electricity sector, stakeholders are reimagining conventional business models and system designs to develop solutions for today’s energy challenges. But success in these projects is not assured; a host of challenges and barriers threaten to prevent the full system benefits of renewable and distributed resources from being realized. New solutions are needed to work through vexing problems. New processes are needed to enable constructive dialogue between stakeholders, share best practices, and scale results.

In this first of three blogs, we explore some of the teams coming to scope, develop, and fund energy innovation districts in their communities. These four teams are faced with tough questions about understanding and surmounting the inherent barriers, selecting the right technologies to meet desired performance objectives (such as zero emissions), and engaging stakeholders within their community to support these projects.


Spokane’s University District project is focused on creating, attracting, and retaining new economy workers and businesses and represents a fundamental shift in the pursuit of economic development for the city and the region. City leaders have an important opportunity to position the District as a “smart city” proving ground that would include a profound shift in the way electricity and other resources (e.g., water, natural gas, transportation, etc.) are used and supplied.

Key issues the team will tackle this week include:

  • Developing a shared understanding of the current state of the University District project, particularly as it pertains to implications for energy and smart city dimensions
  • Developing a first cut assessment of key barriers that will need to be overcome, who else needs to be involved, and next steps
  • Developing effective, collaborative partnerships with the city, the District, and the utility

Learn more about the Spokane University District project and team


In 2011, the city of Bloomington acquired 12 acres of land in the heart of downtown with the goal of establishing a Certified Technology Park (CTP). The master plan for the CTP aims for the development to become a model of modern, sustainable urban redevelopment, with energy innovation as a key piece of the long-term vision. Options under consideration include on-site solar, biomass, waste-to-energy, geothermal, cogeneration, energy storage, demand-side management, power from the utility grid, and microgrids.

Key issues the team will tackle this week include:

  • Developing an energy plan and strategy to meet their long-term vision
  • Building a shared perspective of what success looks like for different stakeholders in the project
  • Exploring and weighing the options available for building a microgrid

Learn more about Bloomington’s CTP project and team


In addition to a goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2025, Arizona State University is working with Ameresco and others to reduce energy costs; improve grid reliability, redundancy, resiliency and flexibility; and offer a unique demonstration project that will benefit research and education for faculty, students, and the community.

This week, the team will explore the feasibility, implications and impacts of taking the university completely off the grid during normal operations or in the event of a grid outage. The group will also investigate the potential for capacity displacement and firm energy supply that a microgrid can provide to the grid, including the necessary utility business models to enable these services.

Learn more about the ASU microgrid project and team


HOUZE® (the “ZE” stands for Zero Energy) Advanced Building Science Inc. is an innovative, technology commercialization company integrating disruptive technologies into real estate development and building. HOUZE® is partnering with Houston city officials and leading building materials and appliance manufacturers to revitalize the neighborhood of Independence Heights by building homes that cost less to own, operate, and maintain.

Key issues the team will tackle this week include:

  • Building perspective and framing the complexity of the challenges facing the Independence Heights initiative and other future net-zero communities
  • Understanding how the challenges that face the project in early phases will evolve with scale
  • Developing a project collaboration plan that will meet the needs of the different stakeholders

Learn more about the Independence Heights project and team

Follow news about eLab Accelerator, the teams, and the projects on Twitter using #eLabAccelerator.

Read Part 2: Evolving Utility Business Models and Regulation

Image courtesy of Bloomington, Indiana Certified Technology Park.

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Written By

Since 1982, RMI (previously Rocky Mountain Institute) has advanced market-based solutions that transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure future. An independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank, RMI engages with businesses, communities and institutions to accelerate and scale replicable solutions that drive the cost-effective shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Please visit for more information.


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