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Five questions for an energy thought leader

Five questions for an energy thought leader

| Jul 15, 2015

On July 22-23 at the Chicago Symphony Center, the Austin TX-based Energy Thought Summit (ETS) will host an Infrastructure Thought Leaders panel on technology and collaboration, featuring heavy hitters from the White House, Exelon, ComEd, Argonne National Laboratory, and more. Ahead of that event, ETS partner and energy market researcher Zpryme sat down with Ellen Bell, a senior specialist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and one of the "thought leaders" speaking later this month. 


EDF senior specialist Ellen Bell.

EDF senior specialist Ellen Bell.

We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.


How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of the EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

Bell: "Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago" (Image c/o Preview Chicago)

Bell: "Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago" (Image c/o Preview Chicago)

Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

What individuals get you excited about energy?

Personally, I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Bell will be speaking this month at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23. To learn more about the summit and all of its speakers, visit or contact

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