Going Green doesn’t often take sides when it comes to being involved in the political scene, because we feel climate change and sustainability goes beyond political views. That being said, with the Biden administration taking over the office in Washington D.C., we are entering an historic day for renewable energy and sustainability. Being adaptive is key to progress in sustainability and renewable energy, because we are always facing new problems, while also implementing new, state of the art technology to combat these issues. We are also entering a time where the future of the health of the planet is transitioning into being the responsibility of a new generation. As younger people enter politics and business, it is up to them to lead the way to a more sustainable future.
One person in particular who has stood out to us as a leader in sustainability is Allie Detrio, the founder of Reimagine Power. Allie was one of the first people to enroll in ASU’s Sustainability Program, and since then has been doing exciting things in the renewable energy, cleantech, and sustainable industries. We are excited to sit down with Allie to learn more about her background and her vision for a more sustainable future.
Allie is going to be a featured guest on the Going Green Podcast. Be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform to listen to Allie’s episode when it drops.
Allie, thank you for being here today. First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up a mile away from a coal plant and drove over the railroad tracks that hauled coal to and from the plant every day. It was just a normal part of life for this midwesterner. When I was 18, I moved to Phoenix and enrolled at Arizona State University for civil and environmental engineering. I made it 2.5 years before declaring myself a weed out engineering student and coming to terms with the fact that engineering was not for me. It just so happened that ASU was launching their brand new, first of its kind in the world, Global Institute of Sustainability. Not knowing really what sustainability was at the time, I did a bit of research and decided to switch majors. I ended up doing a 180 from engineering and decided to get minors in history, philosophy, and economics. I didn’t realize at the time how that coursework would prepare me for a career in energy policy, I just wanted to learn some new subjects.
I ended up LOVING sustainability. It was so interesting to me and I loved that there were so many avenues in which to pursue sustainability as a career. I ended up doing many different research projects on everything from environmental history and policy to renewable energy, urban planning and sustainable development, to globalization and environmental economics. I was particularly passionate about water and energy. I am a utilitarian in some ways… what do we need more than anything else in the modern world to survive? Water and power.
I got an internship in college with Salt River Project doing groundwater management policy research. It was really enjoyable and I learned a ton about water rights and regulations, the history of water resources in the west, and the utility business. I graduated and they kept me on for a time after, but I was a contractor and eventually the contract ended. It was then that I turned to the power sector and decided to focus on pursuing a career in renewable energy. I went to work at First Solar, then the Association of Energy Services Professionals , then Verengo Solar, and back to AESP for a second stint doing business development.
In the early 2010s, I realized that the regulatory market for renewables was not very favorable in AZ and I wanted to be in a place where solar and renewables were growing. At Verengo, all my business was in CA, so I had learned a lot about the regulatory environment there and liked the progressive policies on sustainability that were being enacted there. In 2014, I moved to San Francisco so I could live in the capital of cleantech and sustainability. AESP was surprisingly supportive of me moving there, something I will be forever grateful for, and I worked remotely for almost 2 more years for them.
In 2016, a recruiter reached out to me about a job at OpTerra Energy Services, which had just recently been purchased by the energy giant ENGIE. I was really excited and took the position. There I got back into policy and started doing government and regulatory affairs work focusing on energy efficiency, solar, battery storage, and microgrids. My work really took off and in 2018, I spent most of my time at the CA state capitol lobbying for 2 bills that both passed that year. SB 700 authorized $800mil in new energy storage incentives and SB 1339 directed the creation of a standardized interconnection process and price signal for microgrids. It was one of my proudest moments in my career. That year, I was awarded the California Solar & Storage Association’s Annual MVP Award for leadership in energy policy.
In 2019, I was unfortunately one of many who was laid off in ENGIE’s energy services business unit. However, I happened to get the notice right after giving a presentation at a global conference and several people at the conference offered to help me find a new position. It really helped soften the sting at the time. One of the companies that I had met asked me if I was interested in the bioenergy sector and wanted to know if I was interested in consulting for them since they were expanding into the CA market. The workshop organizer that I had presented at also was interested in having someone be their boots on the ground in CA. Before leaving the conference, I had decided that I was going to continue my work, just for other companies. There the idea for Reimagine Power came to life.
Back when I was in college and decided to pursue sustainability, I got a tattoo on the back of my neck to commemorate that decision. It was a peace sign with the word REIMAGINE under it. I had watched a documentary in one of my classes, where I believe it was David Orr, who was a well-known early leader in sustainable development, was interviewed and kept stating “Reimagine the world in this way, reimagine this, reimagine that”. I remember that really speaking to me, the word had been burned into my brain, and that really inspiring and energizing me to pursue sustainability. I wanted to reimagine the world becoming more sustainable. So I got a tattoo of it.
When I told my dad about the layoff and my decision to start a consulting firm, I knew I had to have Reimagine in it. My dad said I needed to pick a good name, associate it with something powerful and the name should imply what I did. My plan was to work with and help companies that were revolutionizing the energy sector. It clicked in my head immediately upon him saying that: Reimagine Power. It was settled before I left the conference hotel.
I never planned to start my own business, but here I am. I’ve now been leading Reimagine Power for a year and a half. I have worked with clean energy developers, cleantech startups, nonprofits and serve as the representative for the microgrid industry. I’ve intervened in regulatory proceedings, lobbied for bills, written papers, organized grassroots support for policy, and served as a liaison for many trade associations. My focus remains on policy and market strategy for microgrids, distributed energy resources, cleantech, and sustainability in the west coast.
What is a fun fact about you?
I am a big sports fan. In particular, I love the NBA but also dig hockey, football and baseball. I’m one of those people who yells at the TV when a big game is on and the score is close. I don’t have time to follow it as much as I used to, but I used to school all my guy friends in sports talk. I spent 6 months roadtripping around the remote areas of the mountain west on a whim by myself when the pandemic first took hold. Instead of sheltering in place in crowded SF, I left the city for more open space where it was easy to social distance and spent time in states with less restrictions than CA.
I ended up traveling through 18 states and drove probably more than 20,000 miles over a 6 month period. Not the conventional way to deal with the pandemic, but as a single person with no kids or pets, it was an opportunity I was uniquely able to pursue. My favorite place in all my travels: The Black Hills and Sturgis, South Dakota.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Climate change and sustainability are more important now than ever. The science is clear that we need to make significant progress on reducing carbon emissions in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change on humanity. My favorite quote about sustainability came from my education at ASU:
“Sustainability is really the interconnectedness of all things.”
It is the interconnectedness of our environment, economy and society – those are the 3 pillars of sustainability. Achieving true sustainability requires us to understand and acknowledge the delicate balance of these systems in our world. We cannot just reduce GHG emissions, we have to do it in a manner that balances the impacts of the environment, economy and society. It is a tall order, and not an easy balancing act, but we must figure out sustainable solutions to mitigate climate change. It is important for us to figure this out so that the world is inhabitable and enjoyable, and ideally left better, for future generations.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
I work with organizations that are reimagining the power sector. In 10 years, I envision the power sector and the electric grid to be vastly more decentralized, decarbonized and democratized. We will evolve the utility business model to be one that is more focused on managing a vast network of microgrids and distributed energy resources that are locally owned and operated by communities, businesses and individuals. The power sector will be more energy independent, but it will also be shared and localized. I see big advancements from software, controls, and other technologies driving significant change in how we currently generate, transmit, and share power. Communities will drive investments in resilience and sustainable energy, it won’t just be the traditional investor owned utility model anymore.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
Get involved in local and state politics in a small way. Join a local organization or group on an issue that you care about. Talk with your state legislator, your city council, your mayor, your public utilities commissioners, any elected officials. Individual voices do matter and when they are harnessed as part of grassroots organizations, they can be very powerful and influential. If you have the resources, invest in cleaner energy sources or sustainable products. Vote with your wallet whenever you can. It does make a difference.
If people want to connect with you, what is the best way?
People can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Going Green wants to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your story and vision for a more sustainable future.
As we move to a more sustainable future, leaders like Allie will pave the way in the private sector by launching businesses that will continue to improve the economy, employ more people, support sustainable businesses, and push for a more renewable energy friendly future.
Going Green, hosted by Dylan Welch, interviews leading experts in cleantech, sustainability, media, finance, and real estate on the Going Green podcast. Tune in and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify to listen to interviews with leading cleantech and sustainable experts. If you are interested in being featured on Going Green, click HERE.