Leading solar industry companies have joined a group of US electric power industry leaders established by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading energy and environmental think-tank.

RMI's Electricity Innovation Lab (eLab) is a multi-stakeholder forum that aims to find common ground between the clean energy industry and utility for the so-far intractable differences over net energy metering (NEM).

The group will collaborate on innovations to address critical institutional, regulatory, business, economic, and technical barriers to the economic deployment of distributed energy  resources (DERs) in the US electricity sector.

James Newcomb, programme director at RMI, said: “The most important new source of competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing electricity sector is the ability of innovators to work efficiently and effectively in complex multi-stakeholder environments.

“eLab creates a place for constructive dialogue between groups that otherwise might not even be at the same table. The interactive discussion and shared insights help players from all sectors of the power industry make more informed decisions.”    

Participants represent all aspects of the electricity ecosystem and include San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the US Navy, Wal-Mart and Microsoft.

Installers and manufacturers such as SunEdison and SunPower and Clean Power Finance, a financial services and software provider for the distributed solar industry.

James Tong, senior director of programmes at CPF, told PV Tech: "RMI saw as we did that there was a brewing fight over NEM where utilities saw it as a threat to their existence.

"RMI believes that as we do that there is a middle ground where solar can peacefully co-exist with the utilities - in fact the utilities can make money from solar it's just a matter of reconfiguring their business and updating their business model."

Tom Brill, special counsel and director of strategic projects at San Diego Gas & Electric, said: “Utilities, distributed energy companies and the public and private sectors all face a number of challenging issues about how we produce, provide and consume electricity.

“eLab facilitates the open exchange of ideas about potential solutions where forward-thinking companies like SDG&E can educate and learn from other stakeholders.”

Micah Myers, senior vice president of corporate development at CPF, said: "For CPF, our mission is to drive the mass adoption of DG generation we think that the solar piece is a massive market opportunity. Having a seat at the table will give us an opportunity to create beacon projects. Our goal is to create a more competitive environment but one that benefits consumers and the entire energy industry as a whole.

"RMI has done a phenomenal job breaking down the barriers and getting people to cooperate in a discussion rather than taking turns on the bully pulpit."