Energy Business Innovations

Energy Business Innovations examines the challenges and opportunities for the electricity, transportation, and industrial sectors that emerge from the transition to a decarbonized energy future.

Despite broad consensus that the world’s economies must transition to decarbonized energy sources, questions remain whether this can be achieved in time to avert the most harmful consequences of global warming due to increased CO2 concentrations. Neither is it clear how different pathways to decarbonization compare in terms of economic benefits and costs.

EBI focuses on how the transition to a decarbonized energy future can be accelerated and accepted in the marketplace.

Research Focus Areas

  • The economics of moving to clean power
  • Integration of renewable energy into electric power systems around the world
  • Costs of energy storage
  • Prospects and synergies for electric mobility and the electric grid
  • Advances in digital technology in creating a flexible and decarbonized grid

EBI is a joint focus area of Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Precourt Institute for Energy. EBI receives partial funding from the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, and is housed within the Sustainable Finance Initiative at Stanford University.

Featured Research

Stephen D. Comello, Gunther Glenk, Stefan J. Reichelstein
Applied Energy. March
2021, Vol. 285

Comprehensive global decarbonization requires that transportation services cease to rely on fossil fuels for power generation. This paper develops a generic, time-driven life-cycle cost model for mobility services to address...

Gunther Glenk, Stefan J. Reichelstein
Production and Operations Management. October

In vertically integrated energy systems, integration frequently entails operational gains that must be traded off against the requisite cost of capacity investments. In the context of the model analyzed in...

Stephen D. Comello, Stefan J. Reichelstein
Nature Communications. May
2019, Vol. 10, Issue 1, Pages 2038

Energy storage will be key to overcoming the intermittency and variability of renewable energy sources. Here, we propose a metric for the cost of energy storage and for identifying optimally...

Naomi Hirose, former TEPCO president & CEO, on Leading After a Nuclear Disaster
Leading After a Nuclear Disaster
A conversation with Naomi Hirose, Vice Chairman, TEPCO, on how to effectively lead a company through catastrophe.

Past Events

Naomi Hirose: Leading After a Nuclear Disaster

Leading After a Nuclear Disaster: A Conversation with Naomi Hirose, Vice Chairman, TEPCO

February 2019

Eight years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. Steady progress has been made towards the reconstruction of Fukushima, repopulation of surrounding areas, and the decommissioning of the plant, of which Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings shouldered $150 billion (USD) in accident-related costs.

This talk illuminated how TEPCO senior management responded to these challenges, how progress was made, and what remains unfinished today. This event featured Naomi Hirose, President of TEPCO (2012–2017), who shared his personal insight and story of leading a company through disaster.

Innovation in the Energy Industry

July 2017

The electricity industry is undergoing fundamental shifts at the global level. Utilities, especially, are caught in the crosswinds of change as they see their existing business models and core competencies upended. The traditional utility industry as a whole has not had to innovate fundamentally in decades and while some utilities across the world remain sanguine, others are actively exploring new operations and offerings to capture potential new value. The key challenge remains for utilities: When should they innovate and on what, how and with or by whom?

To explore this challenge, SEI and the Group for Sustainability and Technology at ETH Zurich co-hosted a moderated panel of representatives from leading electricity firms.

The Birth and Growth of Opower: Changing the World of Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency Seminar Series, Session Four
May 2017

In this session, Alex Laskey, president and founder of Opower, the cloud services company acquired by Oracle in 2016, discussed how Opower introduced the concept of behavior-based energy savings to the world of energy efficiency, using advances in technology and the application of behavioral science techniques. He discussed policy innovations advocated by Opower that were eventually adopted by multiple public utility commissions. Finally, he described the evolution of service offerings as Opower grew to reach more than 60 million households globally.

Intelligent Energy Systems

Energy Efficiency Seminar Series, Session Three
May 2017

The extraordinary confluence of sensory data, ambient computation, and advanced algorithms has driven the rapid rise of artificial intelligence. In this session, machine-learning and energy evangelist Jim Gao of DeepMind explored the applications of AI to intelligent energy systems for large-scale social impact.

Australia’s Broad-Based Approach to Energy Efficiency in Office Buildings

Energy Efficiency Seminar Series, Session Two
May 2017

While the energy efficiency of Australia’s office buildings has improved significantly in recent years, progress still varies among sub-sectors. In this session, Rob Murray-Leach, head of policy for the Australian Energy Efficiency Council, discussed the key drivers of investments in office building energy efficiency, and included an in-depth look at how such decisions are made. He also covered key components of creating effective EE strategies, including energy efficiency ratings, training approaches, minimum standards, standardized contracts, and addressing the principal-agent problem with a proposal to introduce minimum standards for office rentals. 

Maximizing the Value of Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency Seminar Series, Session One
April 2016

Mark Wallenrod, director of Demand Side Management Programs at Southern California Edison (SCE), led a discussion about SCE’s efforts to maximize the value of energy efficiency in a changing electric industry and the historical role of energy efficiency as an alternative to generation and transmission investments. He also covered the impact of changing technology on EE programs and SCE’s innovative approach to delivering market-based solutions that meet locational needs. Finally, he detailed SCE’s Preferred Resource Pilot, which facilitates and integrates third-party technologies and customer participation in EE programs as both a stand-alone solution and within a system of distributed energy resources. 

Isabelle Kocher: Becoming a Leader in the Energy Revolution

March 2017

An energy revolution is underway, propelled by the forces of decarbonization, decentralization, and digitalization. This revolution is causing a fundamental shift in the global landscape, where traditional businesses and organizations will need to significantly evolve or be left behind.

In this session, Isabelle Kocher, chief executive officer of Engie, the French multinational electric utility company, shared insights about how Engie is adapting to the energy revolution and how this impacts the way the company runs.

Engie is the world’s biggest non-state-owned electricity company, employing 155,000 people in 70 countries and generating more than €69.9 billion in revenues (2015).

The Changing Electricity System: NY REV Discussion and Implications

October 2016

The Sustainable Energy Initiative hosted a facilitated roundtable examining the opportunities and challenges facing New York’s “Reforming the Energy Vision” initiative, and to discuss implications for similar actions occurring worldwide. Rudy Stegemoeller, special assistant for energy policy at the New York Public Service Commission (retired) and lead author on NY REV, served as a key discussant. Attendees included faculty, students, utilities representatives, regulators, investors, and energy technology companies.

Launched by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2014, NY REV aims to restructure the grid to provide a platform for utilities and third-party solution providers to offer services. The platform will handle both supply of electricity and management of loads. This new architecture is intended to unlock competition and innovation, benefit the environment and the grid, and reduce customer energy bills.

However, NY REV will require immense changes to how utilities currently conduct business and how the physical grid is operated. Currently, municipal and investor-owned utilities (IOUs) host and coordinate a wide range of third-party distributed energy resources (DERs) on the grid. New York’s commodity provision by IOUs is deregulated, and utilities continue to own transmission and distribution grids. Moreover, utilities have an exclusive monopoly on the planning and operation of their respective distribution system, of material consequence to the economic viability of DERs.

The Changing Electricity System event summary highlights some of the main ideas discussed. This event adhered to the Chatham House Rule, so this summary does not attribute any statement to any individual or organization.

The Changing Business Model for Utilities

June 2016

The utility industry is undergoing fundamental structural changes in many jurisdictions throughout the world. The traditional vertically integrated utility with monopoly status is increasingly replaced by networks of interacting and competing suppliers. At the same time, incumbent utilities are facing new federal and state-level regulations, driven in part by the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector. The changing regulatory landscape continues to put pressure on the cost of delivering electricity services and existing rate structures.

In June 2016, the Sustainable Energy Initiative explored the recent structural and regulatory developments in the utility industry, seeking to understand the forces causing utility business models to evolve, and potential future changes to value creation, market organization, and new service delivery approaches. Day One brought together a group of about sixty experts, including policymakers, utility executives, academics, and investors, who shared U.S. and international perspectives, and Day Ywo convened a roundtable of 20 selected participants for a facilitated discussion.

The highlights some of the main ideas discussed. This conference adhered to the Chatham House Rule, so this summary does not attribute any statement to any individual or organization.

Yieldcos: Prospects for an Innovative Energy Financing Mechanism

June 2015

As a means to reduce the cost of equity and attract a wide set of institutional investors, renewable energy project developers have turned to sponsoring yieldcos (publicly-traded corporations that hold a portfolio of operating assets as a means of generating predictable, high-quality cash flows). More complex than a traditional corporate structure, yieldcos are designed to emulate the tax-efficient structure of master limited partnerships, which are not open to renewable energy projects.

With many unanswered questions about yieldcos — how they work, how they are valued, and their influence on national and international renewable energy deployment and finance — the Sustainable Energy Initiative convened an expert panel to discuss the opportunities and risks of yieldcos.

Energy Storage: Technologies, Business Models and Policies

November 2015

Energy storage has been heralded as the next boom in clean energy technologies, an industry currently positioned today where solar PV was seven years ago. Energy storage not only has the ability to “firm” intermittent renewable energy, it also provides the prospects for the value streams of advanced demand response, peak shaving, ancillary services, and enhanced grid resilience. Additionally, innovations in energy storage will have effects on the grid through the growing electrification of transportation and increased need to share information across entities. How all of these elements fit together, what business models will emerge and what policies will drive or hinder deployment remain open questions.

With this backdrop, the Sustainable Energy Initiative convened an expert panel to discuss the technologies, business models, and policies that will shape energy storage deployment. Topics included history and background, technologies and applications, business models, markets, information and rate structures, and policy drivers and barriers.