It was my privilege to moderate the first public event hosted by Grand Innovators, a group of “entrepreneurs, investors, leaders, educators, techies, scientists, connectors, authors, and discoverers who enjoy sharing ideas that spark innovation.” The topic of our conversation at the Headwaters Center on September 24th was energy innovation, and we were joined by local and state leaders for a panel discussion spanning the utility, public and private sectors, including Austin Gray, Director of Growth for Green Spaces coworking, Quinn Antus, executive director of the Colorado-based tech coalition Responsible Growth, Scott Simmons, engineering director and assistant general manager of Mountain Parks Electric, Rich Cimino, Grand County commissioner from District 1, and Peter Van Dusen of Peter Van Dusen Project Management and Design. Together, Peter and Lucy Van Dusen provided the architectural creativity behind the highly innovative Headwaters Center in Winter Park.

So what do we mean when we talk about energy innovation? We’re all familiar with energy – it’s the stuff that powers our lives: the fuel we put in our cars, the electricity we plug into to power our laptops. It has radically transformed our world in the last 100 years. Most people don’t think of the energy sector as being particularly innovative: When people think of stable business models, they often think of “utilities.” Much of that is now changing: we’re seeing an incredible amount of innovation in the energy industry. Some people compare it to the innovation that revolutionized the telecommunications industry not so very long ago.

We kicked off the evening discussing three mega-trends happening across the energy space: falling costs of renewable energy, electrification in vehicles, and increasing building and appliance efficiency.  From there, architect Peter Van Dusen talked about the Headwaters Center, highlighting the unique blend of state-of-the-art technology with century-old recycled barn building materials. The Headwaters Center is truly a “first of its kind” facility, combining energy innovation like its direct current (DC)-powered lighting and electronics with traditional architecture. Van Dusen expects to see more buildings like it in the future.  

Scott Simmons spoke about the new solar facilities Mountain Parks Electric is constructing in Fraser and Jackson County that will provide enough energy to power hundreds of local homes, and invited the community to stay tuned for a “Brews, Brats and Kilowatts” event later this fall—dates are to be announced. As a professional engineer, Simmons also described the challenges and opportunities inherent in integrating new technologies, as well as challenges and opportunities inherent in trends toward decentralization of energy supply. Commissioner Rich Cimino described how the county was able to step in and help save the solar project by ensuring our electric cooperative had access to land when a deal to use Denver Water land couldn’t be reached, and challenged fellow panel members to explore ways to better harness more of our county’s renewable energy resources.

Local entrepreneur and business owner Austin Gray described how he and his partner Jayson Harris decided to expand their coworking enterprise in Winter Park and how they came to acquire the Green Spaces brand. Gray emphasized the importance of building community and empowering entrepreneurs—including those in energy related fields—to pursue their passions, which he believes co-working spaces facilitate. Highlighting that notion were several Green Spaces members involved in the energy industry in attendance, including panelist Quinn Antus, Executive Director of Responsible Growth.  Antus, who has a background in impact assessment and network engagement, spoke about trends in Colorado’s tech community, and how our state’s tech leaders are starting to engage to spur climate action in the energy sector.

Expect to see more events aimed at “sparking innovation” hosted by Grand Innovators in the months to come!