28 June 2017

EEx at VERGE Hawaii

 The VERGE Hawaii: Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit returned for a second year to Hawaii. The summit focused on how the state can achieve the mandate of 100% renewable energy by 2045. This year, our Elemental Excelerator team partnered closely with GreenBiz, hosts of VERGE, on topics ranging from policy and mobility to startups and scaleup. Read on for some soundbites from the week:

Day 1: Leadership & The Difference Between Research and Innovation

“Leadership always matters…leadership can come from anywhere. When there’s a vacuum in leadership, then others come to fill in.” – Connie Lau, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries

Hawaii’s Governor David Ige highlighted the coincidental timing and alignment of the conference with the return of the Hōkūleʻa’s Malama Honua voyage. The voyage’s theme of one island, one Earth rang true to kick off the conference, delivering the message of impact an island community can have on the rest of the world.

“We know leadership can start at home. We here in Hawaii can make a statement and can lead the world if it’s important enough to us…we all know we have choices to make. We can choose to sit on the side, and we can choose to lead and be counted. In Hawaii, we choose to lead.” – Governor David Ige

In Hawaii, we are less focused on the size of our goals and more focused on the speed at which we are moving toward them. In order to move with pace, it is important to recognize the difference between research and innovation, and embrace the risk that innovation brings. Aki Marceau, who oversees our Hawaii Projects Deployment, shared three key lessons learned from seven years of innovation:

1. Research and innovation generate different questions and therefore, different answers.

2. Innovation does not actually cost much more than research, and its impact is much higher.

3. We cannot always predict the outcome of innovation and that is where serendipity and momentum are created. “Serendipity is extremely important in building a successful business and serendipity never happens if you keep doing the same thing over and over.” – Dennis Teranishi, CEO of the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research

Day 2: The Power of Transformative Change

Our colleague Andy Karsner, Managing Partner at Emerson Collective and former DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and our CEO Dawn Lippert, who also serves as Director of Community and Innovation at Emerson Collective, joined GreenBiz President Joel Makower on stage to discuss what is needed for truly transformative change.

To close out the discussion, Joel asked, “What would it take to create transformative change?” Andy’s answer: “Passion and performance.”

Day 3: Pathways to the Future

On the final day, Dawn moderated a panel of utilities leaders from New Zealand, California, and Hawaii.

While they are oceans apart, the three regions actually face similar challenges in forging their clean energy futures. Dawn spoke with Commissioner Carla Peterman of California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Simon MacKenzie, CEO of New Zealand’s largest electricity network, Vector, and Hawaii’s PUC Commissioner Jay Griffin. The panel hit on three key things:

1. Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) – How does Vector find and implement new technology for their electricity network? Vector has traveled the world to find technology – in the case of DER, a company from Israel – that can be adapted to manage distributed assets efficiently and securely. “It goes back to the mindset we have in seeing disruption as an opportunity….We don’t actually think that regulation can protect us in the long run. We think customers are actually where the choice is at.”

2. Utility procurement – Just three weeks into the job as Hawaii’s newest PUC Commissioner, Jay Griffin highlights three priorities: new round of procurement for utility-scale projects outlined in Hawaiian Electric’s Power Supply Improvement Plan, reform of Hawaii’s DER market to open up new customer options, and aligning utility incentives with innovation.

3. Innovation – Dawn ended the session asking each panel member what they could use help with. Commissioner Peterman touched on energy equity, asking for help in “making sure that the technologies we’re investing in are accessible to everyone.”

A Theme Throughout: Innovation and Community

We have always been focused on helping the startups that best fit our mission succeed, so it makes sense for us to partner with GreenBiz on VERGE Hawaii Accelerate, their pitch competition, and host the Startup Showcase – a pop-up co-working space and hub for all things startup at VERGE Hawaii. We participate in these events with the intention to find and align with exceptional entrepreneurs who are a fit with our own portfolio and initiatives to further renewable energy in Hawaii and beyond. We are always looking to foster community and use our place-based innovation approach to build and more rapidly scale innovative technologies.

VERGE Accelerate

VERGE Accelerate was held over two days of the conference, and featured fifteen clean-economy startups. Two of our team members, Jill and Dana, participated on the panel of experts for the Accelerate Showcase. Showcase participants featured two of our own portfolio companies: Go Electric and Kunoa Cattle!

Startup Showcase

Elemental Excelerator hosted VERGE Hawaii’s pop-up co-working space and hub for everything startups. Here’s a quick run down of what took place over the 3-day conference:

  • We featured 16 startups, a mix of Elemental Excelerator portfolio companies and VERGE Accelerate finalists.
  • The space was abuzz all conference long highlighting a need for meeting and work space at events like VERGE.
  • What took place? Everything from first-time conversations, follow-up meetings with speakers, media interviews, and quiet time to get stuff done.

Pono Shim, CEO of Enterprise Honolulu (Oahu’s economic development board), ended the conference the way it started, by quoting Aunty Pilahi Paki who said, “In the 21st century the world will search for peace and they’ll look to Hawaii because Hawaii has the key…and that key is Aloha.”