North America Smart Energy Week


September 23-26, 2019
Salt Palace Convention Center Salt Lake City, UT


Get to Know Your SPI & ESI Speakers: ENGIE’s Walker Wright

Solar Power International & Energy Storage International continues to be the industry’s most powerful educational platform, highlighting over 300 hours of top-notch sessions, over three days from leading experts in their fields. Before heading to Anaheim this year, join Solar Energy Trade Shows (SETS) as we get to know some of these thought-leaders in our weekly series highlighting speakers you’ll meet in September.

This week, we meet Walker Wright, Director in ENGIE North America’s Strategy & Policy Group and Vice President of Public Policy to ENGIE Storage (formerly Green Charge Networks), where he is shaping the storage leader’s national and state policy strategy.

SOLAR ENERGY TRADE SHOWS (SETS): Tell us how you came to be working in this space?

WALKER WRIGHT: By the time I was finishing grad school there was chatter among my peers that clean energy was going to go mainstream finally. Amidst some career indecisiveness and reading “Chasing the Sun: Solar Adventures Around the World” by Neville Williams, I landed a consulting job to research the early carbon offset and REC markets.  I then moved into business development in solar and quickly confirmed that policy acumen would be an advantage for success as early state level markets developed. As my career progressed I was fortunate to work in a few environments where I was constantly engaged with “policy mentors” who were seriously experienced policy leaders across our industry, some of whom had earned their stripes putting in place the early building blocks of state level solar markets. Going further back I grew up in a household where these issues were often part of the kitchen table discussion. My father worked in both politics and energy at different points and there was certainly good banter on the “sausage making” process.   

SETS: What do you think is special about SPI?

WRIGHT: Simple: Everyone is there. It is the time to stroll around and catch up with colleagues from across the US at the events & panels. I think I’ve only missed one SPI since 2006 and still vividly recall Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speech in October of 2008 in San Diego when he enthusiastically proclaimed it was time to double down on solar amidst the difficult economy of the time.   

SETS: At SPI this year, you are speaking about the economics of energy storage. What’s next for the energy storage market?

WRIGHT: Energy storage truly is bacon in that it is delicious with everything. It is the solution for so many of the challenging questions surrounding the “grid of the future” as we aim for a cleaner and more distributed electricity system. For onsite energy storage, we have work to do in terms of rate design, interconnection, permitting, customer education, and finance models etc.

The “next step” many at this conference are excited about is enabling the aggregation of customer sites with paired solar and storage systems to participate in wholesale and ancillary markets.  Overall, the customer value proposition for energy storage will continue to improve and this transition will help out ratepayers as a more efficient grid with comparatively more power produced and stored close to where it is consumed will require less transmission infrastructure upgrades.

SETS: You lead the ENGIE Storage (formerly Green Charge Networks) policy effort and serve as a Director of ENGIE North America’s Strategy & Policy Group. What is driving ENGIE’s pivot to clean energy?

WRIGHT: We get that question a lot. First it is important to highlight that clean and low carbon energy has been part of ENGIE’s portfolio for decades, including wind, solar, biomass, and hydro.  So, it is less of a pivot and more of a massive, concentrated focus here in North America and around the world by ENGIE to prioritize on how best to meet customers’ desire for clean power. We can do that at a utility scale or in localized ways, dg, energy storage, microgrid work, EV charging etc. The point is to design projects that make sense for the customer.

SETS: We know you love solar energy, but what do you like to do in your spare time?

WRIGHT: My wife and I are always looking for physical activities for our two young energetic boys. Personally, I collect maps, always have a history book on the nightstand, and play or watch a fair amount of soccer.

Block off your calendar on Tuesday, September 25 from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. PST and hear more from Wright as he discusses The Expectations for the Economics of Energy Storage at SPI & ESI 2018.