Crazy, Dangerous, Obvious at Uplight’s Illuminate Executive Forum

By Hannah Bascom on

Illuminate 2024

Last week, we hosted our inaugural Illuminate Executive Forum, gathering approximately 30 utility and clean energy ecosystem executives from the U.S., Canada, and Asia, with the Uplight team in Chicago. Attendees included senior utility leaders responsible for customer and digital transformation, technology, and innovation at AES, Alliant, AvanGrid, Exelon, National Grid, Portland General Electric, CLP Power, and more. Many of our ecosystem and thought leadership partners also attended, including Schneider Electric, Resource Innovations, GridX, Brattle Group, and SEPA. 

We convened this group of people to catalyze discussion – and progress – around three guiding principles: electrification, digitization, and decarbonization in the energy industry. These imperatives, as one of our speakers put it, are “rapidly changing the nature and needs of the energy system” and we need to work together to achieve outcomes. 

Luis D'Acosta and AAmir Paul at Illuminate

The day began with a fireside chat with Aamir Paul, President, North America of Schneider Electric, and Uplight’s CEO, Luis D’Acosta. Aamir emphasized the urgency of acceleration in decarbonization, and the nature of change needed to drive adoption. He talked about the three phases of change: First, people see an idea as crazy. Secondly, they see it as dangerous, and finally, it’s obvious to them. 

We kicked off our panels with a session titled “Analog to Digital,” highlighting that new technologies demand new ways of thinking by consumers, utilities, and regulators alike – and new ways of valuing these resources. Did you know, a recent Brattle Study shows that customers could earn between $500-$1,000 a year for participating in VPP?!

Discussion about how to seed more DERs in the market continued in the session ‘Harnessing Electrification Everywhere’. The audience was reminded about why this trend is so important; homes and businesses account for 31% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and building electrification is the only way to decarbonize this segment. But all this electrification (plus the new load predicted to come online from AI-driven data centers) is predicted to double the load on the grid. How are we going to meet all this need?!? It will require a LOT of creative problem solving – and a lot of electrified things connected to VPPs! – but one way to start is by simply installing a pre-enrolled smart thermostat alongside every heat pump. This is an idea we’re regularly proposing to regulators and utilities – it’s an easy button!  

Also, electrification won’t achieve the outcomes we need unless all households (and businesses) can take advantage of it, and the last panel of the day ‘Ensuring Equitable Electrification’ touched upon the challenges and opportunities of engaging income-qualified customers. And energy equity is not just related to decarbonization, it is also related to health equity and economic equity

Our very own Luis D’Acosta wrapped up the event with a keynote speech emphasizing the importance of collaboration between utilities, OEMs, policymakers, and customers. He suggested that, to create a win-win for customers, utilities, the ecosystem, and the grid, we need to change the paradigm of how we think about customers: from “my” or “your” customer, to “our” customer. He also highlighted the Uplight vision of a single pane of glass allowing utilities and grid operators to have visibility into all DERs and assets on their grid AND all customer and program information.

And it wasn’t just work; we also had an amazing time continuing the conversation over dinner (with energy-themed cocktails) at a very cool West Loop restaurant. Thank you to those who attended and organized an energizing event! We are already looking forward to next year’s event!

Illuminate Dinner at Duck Duck Goat


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