My Top 10 Picks from Back-to-back Conferences

The best classroom is the one that is off-campus! During the first month of school, I was lucky enough to attend two conferences back-to-back on the West Coast:’s VERGE 17 in Santa Clara, California, and the annual Environmental Grantmakers Association Retreat in Seattle, Washington. I experienced far more than can ever fit on a Top-10 list but here are my hot takes & highlights:

  1. Georgia is a great place to be if you want to work in energy. The spotlight was certainly on the Peach State at VERGE 17. From their innovative 18-mile stretch on I-85 to their colorful twice-appointed public commissioner, learning about the energy industry in Georgia fascinated me.
  2. Pitching in front of 2,000 people is not easy. One of the winners from VERGE 17’s Accelerate Showcase that blew me away was someone with a complicated idea, explaining it clearly to a room of people who (mostly) did not know what he was talking about. A lot of startups had great ideas, a few matched Lilac Solutions’ poise.

    A slide from Lilac Solutions’ presentation.

  3. Chieftain breakfast: As one of VERGE 17’s Emerging Leaders, we had the privilege of having power breakfast with chief sustainability officers from industry leading companies: Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, and more. Beyond data centers, these veterans told us that one of their biggest challenges is making consumers appreciate a store’s HVAC system.

    Emerging Leaders repping Duke’s MEM program; Devyn & me during one of the mixer sessions.

  4. Evolution of the Power Purchase Agreement: Everybody can stand to learn a little bit more about contracts. Brian Janous (GM of Energy for Microsoft) joined a panel of experts on why RECs are still important. Without RECs, there is no “currency” to value PPAs and other models. Despite their bad reputation, they’re still needed.
  5. Only the cool conferences have their own microgrids. The key to unlocking value for microgrids is certainly not set in stone. We saw that first hand during VERGE 17’s half-day breakout session where we got to tour the mobile microgrid on conference grounds. The most unique component goes to All Power Labs, producing energy through gasifiers with walnut shell fuel stock.
    One component of the microgrid was a solar panel EV charging station with a battery. The stored energy was being sold onto the grid once the car was fully charged.


  6. Take a deep breath, and present to 500+ philanthropists. As an EGA-UMich Fellow, I had the chance to present on my summer work and the future of environmental grantmaking in front of 500-plus Executive Directors and other officers at major foundations. It was a riveting and empowering experience.

    My notes acting as my security blanket as I went up on stage.
  7. Alaska’s philanthropies are paving the way for clean energy. During a breakfast meet-and-greet with the Fellows, a program officer from the Alaska Conservation Foundation spoke to me about the state’s unique energy dilemmas. Alaska is a state with breathtaking natural views and plentiful hydrocarbon resources. This has made the case for clean energy both politically and economically difficult. ACF aims to position young leaders standing up to the fossil fuel industry.
  8. How do you appreciate yourself? Prior to the full launch of the EGA Retreat, the Fellows did this exercise where we took a full 2 minutes to appreciate ourselves. This was not a marathon of boasting, but rather, a time to reflect on our strengths as we enter into a room of billionaires. If you haven’t done this already, I highly encourage trying it with a peer.
  9. Indigenous communities are left out of the clean energy revolution. The Pacific Northwest is a region that has a vibrant indigenous presence. The EGA Retreat kicked off with a blessing of welcome by James Rasmussen from the Duwamish tribe. Sadly, while they are the lawful stewards of the land, they are being cast aside when it comes to energy negotiations. As future clean energy leaders, it is our responsibility to keep our mouths closed and our ears open as we engage indigenous stakeholders.

    John Rasmussen, welcoming us into Seattle.  

  10. Clean Electricity is a Human Right. It was a honor to be published in EGA’s 30th Anniversary journal. Over the course of the retreat, my pre-summer thoughts on why we should care about renewable energy as a universal human right was reiterated. As the onslaught of anthropogenic climate change buffets our Caribbean neighbors and our very own states in the Gulf Coast – I get reminded on the importance of changing our ways for good. 

    My publication, along with a mandatory selfie.

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