The first Energy Thought Summit I ever attended was in 2017, I was 24 years old. It was hosted at the Intercontinental hotel in Austin for part of it and in a small warehouse-like building down the street that housed the main stage. My job at that time was to run from session to session taking pictures and snagging quotes to turn into content for Zpryme’s previously inactive twitter page. I didn’t know anything about the energy industry at that time, I hadn’t even met most of the team. 

6 years later, ETS23 launched to celebrate its 10th anniversary and a lot changed. The event was still in Austin, but everything was contained within the 7th floor of the gorgeous Hotel Zaza, which didn’t even exist when ETS began. Some names and faces have changed, the nature of the grid has undeniably shifted with rapid digital transformation and decarbonization, plus I’m about 20lbs heavier with gray starting to creep into my temples. Otherwise, ETS still has its commitment to changing the conversation of the energy industry, and doing it in our signature kooky style embodied by this year’s theme: Keep Earth Weird, a play on the local slogan of ETS’ home city.

The tone of the speakers was more optimistic than I would have expected (though to be fair, I am an unflinching cynic). From the sound of things, resilience has come a long way, even as storms worsen and cyberattack capabilities are expanding. Utilities who are committed to decarbonization have a better understanding of the technologies and logistics of realizing plans. Data management is improving, reducing silos and expanding use cases. We had some solid mic drop moments this year like when Drew Higgins, CPS’ Sr. Director of Products and Services, said “It’s time to face facts. EVs have won. It’s over” or when Holy Cross Energy CEO Bryan Hannegan laid out how they’re close to a fully zero carbon utility. GE’s Chief Production Officer, Sean Moser expertly articulated a growing frustration of how electrification and decarbonization are used interchangeably when they are different and sometimes competing forces.

We also featured two Zpryme Cofounders signing a pledge with Blue Planet Alliance and their Founder, Henk Rodgers (yes, the guy from the Tetris movie!). We also gave tribute to Austin Energy’s retiring Manager of Electric Vehicles and Emerging Technologies, Karl Popham, who has been instrumental in getting ETS and Zpryme involved with the local energy community.

My favorite quote from the event, however, came from SMUD CEO Paul Lau in a fireside chat. “Investing in communities helps on both sides: decarbonization and community development.” It’s a simple sentiment, but a really important one now that the role of the utility is evolving. Coming from the utility with the most aggressive climate goal in the country, zero carbon by 2030, this is not just a platitude, but a business philosophy as well. Decarbonizing the grid requires investment from the customer side as they need to decarbonize their end of the grid by choice to allow for the removal of legacy infrastructure. By engaging with the community and actually building accessible green infrastructure on the ground, you can help bring them along and achieve your goals, plus it helps build trust in communities and lifts up underserved populations. The ethical implications of utility modernization have always been key to ETS discussions and the approach Paul takes with his organization is the gold standard for approaching key issues, even if actual tech and strategy may vary from service territory to service territory.

ETS always represents a culmination of a year’s worth of hard work from our team and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our Events Director Sarah Fregeau, Senior Director of Marketing Ricky Murray, Digital Manager Chris Holt, and everyone else on the Zpryme team who put in long hours and extra effort to make this event and previous events successful. It really has always been a team effort. But more than that, the event is a pulse check on industry developments and trends straight from the mouths of some of the most prominent leaders in the space. Whether it be our first, tenth, or hundredth, ETS will continue to provide space for those conversations in order to help create a better energy future for everyone.

If you weren’t able to attend the conference, videos of the sessions are up on our Youtube channel.