VERGE 2017 took place last week. As a conference that promotes itself as where “technology meets sustainability” it had a wide mandate with topics ranging from smart infrastructure and circular economy, to connected transportation and mobility, to renewable energy procurement. About half the schedule was dedicated to large plenary presentations, with the balance of the time in multi-track breakout sessions. And many times, it was difficult to decide what breakouts to attend – a good problem to have.
I was fortunate enough to attend the conference, along with several of my colleagues. Not surprisingly, I was most focused on attending sessions related to renewable energy. So, with that in mind, here are a few of my key takeaways from the conference:
- The market needs education about renewable energy procurement options I saw and heard considerable interest in corporates buying renewable energy – it was one of the most popular sessions I attended. And because the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) was meeting in the days ahead of VERGE, there were many sophisticated companies in the room. But there is a gulf between the handful of market players actively making long term investments in renewable energy and the vast majority that don’t have the necessary load, or balance sheet, or internal knowledge needed to do so. There is clearly opportunity to innovate and educate.
- It’s very early days in discussions about blockchain technology: The break out sessions on this topic were packed, but the panelists and the audience represented a very wide range of understanding about how and where blockchain technology might be relevant. One panelist stated: “Just because you could use blockchain doesn’t mean you should. Maybe you just need a spreadsheet.” With use cases still far and few between, the key question for now seems to be how to know what you need.
- We need a positive message about our environmental challenges. Jon Foley, executive director of California Academy of Sciences spoke passionately about the need to change the conversation about climate change. We need to speak about hope not fear; solutions, not problems; collaboration not conflict. To help reframe the conversation, the museum is launch Planet Vision in January. The goal is to paint a clear and optimistic vision about how we can tackle some of the most pressing environmental problems we have including food, water and energy.
Overall, I left the conference energized and excited to be part of defining what is next at the intersection of technology and sustainability.