2018 Energy Fellows visit Rocky Mountain Institute. Elizabeth Hartman is pictured third from the right.
The Energy Fellows Institute (EFI) is now taking applications for the ninth year of this executive immersion course into the advanced energy ecosystem of Colorado. The following interview with Elizabeth Hartman continues our series of interviews with Energy Fellows alumni. The 2020 program is taking early applications through February 14, 2020.
CCIA: What attracted you to the Energy Fellows Institute program?
Elizabeth Hartman (EH): I was most attracted to the Energy Fellows Institute program because I wanted to get a more comprehensive overview of all the energy innovation happening in Colorado, a state which is in many ways demonstrating leadership on the clean energy transition. During the time that I completed the Energy Fellows Institute program, I was working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) running a national network of clean energy incubators and accelerators called the Incubatenergy Network. In this role, I was traveling quite often to cities around the country and seeing how energy innovation was being supported in many different regions, but I didn’t have as much opportunity to see all the activity happening in my own state. I’m also from Colorado originally so I was really interested to get a better understanding of how our work in energy innovation compares with other states around the country.
CCIA: Tell us a little about yourself, your work and the path you’ve followed to get there.
EH: I’ve been focused on energy innovation and entrepreneurship for about ten years now, starting when I completed a year-long post-graduate fellowship program at the Silicon Flatirons Center in the University of Colorado Law School in 2010-2011. The Silicon Flatirons Center focuses primarily on entrepreneurship, privacy and telecommunications, and during my fellowship program there was an increasing recognition of the many parallels between the telecommunications industry and the changes taking place in the energy industry including the smart grid.
I was fortunate to learn a huge amount about the emerging disruptive innovation in the energy industry during my fellowship through joining conferences and roundtable discussions, and writing reports based on those meetings. I also had the great honor to lead the third annual New Venture Challenge, a cross-campus student business plan competition run by the Silicon Flatirons Center in partnership with other organizations around the university. This was a tremendous opportunity to work directly with student entrepreneurs and learn firsthand about the many challenges that founders face when launching a new venture.
Following this fellowship, I had the opportunity for even more direct experience with entrepreneurship through working with a startup called Simple Energy, soon after the company completed the Techstars Boulder accelerator program. At this early stage, the company consisted of the two co-founders, a few software engineers, and me, so I got to work on everything from marketing to sales to website design to HR to event management and anything else that needed to be done. It was a truly exciting and often exhausting endeavor, and I will always be very thankful for the opportunity to experience first hand the realities of working at an early stage energy startup. Since those early days, the company has merged with another local energy startup called Tendril to form a new company called Uplight, focused on utility customer engagement.
After this experience with entrepreneurship, I moved more into energy research, first at E Source for a few years and then joining EPRI to run the Incubatenergy Network in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). I ran this network for four years, during the full DOE funding period for the project, writing reports and traveling all around the country to startup demo days in cities including Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and others. I even went to Barcelona and Shanghai for international energy entrepreneurship events! It was an extremely interesting and exciting project, and I’m very happy to see that EPRI is continuing to run the program beyond the duration of the DOE funding period.
Still, even with all this national and international travel, or perhaps partially because of it, I was looking for a stronger connection to Colorado. So, when I saw an open position for a manager in the electricity practice at Rocky Mountain Institute in Boulder, I eagerly applied, and have been very happy to be here now for about a year and a half. After about a year on the electricity team, I recently joined the office of the CEO and have been very honored to support Jules Kortenhort’s work overall and join him at conferences including Climate Week in New York, COP25 in Madrid and the World Economic Forum in Davos.
CCIA: What are some direct or indirect results of your involvement in the Energy Fellows program?
EH: Most directly, I was very happy to visit Rocky Mountain Institute during the program, and tour the company’s office which is the largest multi-tenant net zero office building in the country! Seeing this example of how RMI really walks the talk on energy and climate further clarified my interest in working with the organization. More indirectly, I really enjoyed getting to learn more about energy innovation across the state, as I had hoped for when applying to the program. Touring facilities from Fort Collins to Denver and all along the front range, I got a much better sense of how organizations across the state are collaborating. I also gained a deeper understanding of how important city and state level policy is for driving innovation in energy, and now feel I have an even stronger appreciation for leadership shown by Governor Jared Polis, Governor Bill Ritter, Colorado Energy Office Director Will Toor and others.
CCIA: Describe your favorite tour from the program.
JM: All of the tours were excellent, but I think I’ll have to go with Powerhouse in Fort Collins just because I don’t often visit that area, and I have a special appreciation for incubators! It was really cool to see all the prototyping and work space they have there, and to talk with some of the entrepreneurs like the professor from Colorado State University who built a laser that can be mounted on top of a car and driven around to detect gas leaks. I also enjoyed stopping by the Lightning Systems factory on the way back from Fort Collins, and seeing directly how they are building electric motor retrofit kits for delivery vans. I saw an announcement earlier this month about how their electric retrofit kits are already being used in Amazon delivery vans, and I got so excited! I know those guys!
CCIA: What information, connection or presentation during the program was the most impactful for you, and why?
EH: I think for me the most interesting information was on some of the recent policy passed in Colorado, because that’s an area that I know less about given my focus more on technology and business model innovation. Some of the recent policies Colorado has passed on carbon pricing, electric vehicle charging infrastructure and clean energy targets are really important drivers to help accelerate the transition to a low emission economy, complementing the progress we’re making in technology and business model innovation.
CCIA: What advice would you give someone considering applying for the program?
EH: Do it! What are you waiting for?
For more information or to apply before the February 14, 2020, early deadline, go to the Energy Fellows Institute website. Check out other Fellows interviews with Arrelaine Dameron, Cassie Quaintance and Dennis Roark.