Bringing the ESG Conversation to the Forefront at Distributech: Exclusive Conversation with Damien Quentin, ESG Practice Lead at Copperleaf Technologies

Posted to Energy Central in the The Energy Collective Group
image credit: Energy Central
Matt Chester's picture
Energy Analyst, Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

  • Member since 2018
  • 11,292 items added with 1,638,772 views
  • Feb 20, 2023

Earlier this month, the Distributech Conference took place in San Diego, California, once again bringing together thousands of leading voices and decision-makers in the energy and utilities sector. The topics discussed throughout these days in the conference hall, at presentations and panels, and even at the after parties extended across the gamut of critical areas for the power industry today: digitalization and modernization to security to wireless communications to grid resiliency and much more. A key node amongst all those conversations, though, was the common thread of corporate responsibility and ESG.

Your access to Member Features is limited.

A key voice in that conversation at Distributech 2023 was Damien Quentin, the ESG Practice Lead at Copperleaf Technologies. Damien is focused on helping clients align investment planning to enterprise ESG goals and grid safety, reliability, and resiliency risk objectives. His background includes a master’s degree in Engineering Physics from the University of British Columbia.

At the conference, Damien spoke to eager attendees in a presentation entitled Equitable Investment Strategies for a Just Energy Transition. After that, he caught up with Energy Central at the Copperleaf booth to share more about his ESG-related takeaways from the conference and to share further details that we could share with those Energy Central members who couldn’t make it in person.

Matt Chester: You spoke earlier at the Distributech Conference on Equitable Investment Strategies for a Just Energy Transition. For our readers who weren’t able to attend, can you give us the Cliff Notes version?

Damien Quentin: There is pressure now on utilities, more than ever, to significantly incorporate environmental justice in capital planning. The EPA recently added environmental justice to its National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives. California requires environmental justice for inclusion and investment planning, even going so far as to ask PG&E for an overlay of planned mitigations on top of CalEnviroScreen. Across the United States, federal initiatives like Justice40 are directing funding to underserved communities, and state legislation and regulation are mandating utilities to consider social impact and environmental justice.

So there's suddenly this big need to demonstrate an awareness of the social impact of utility investment plans, at the very least. Leaders now realize they have to develop a strategy and align their investment plans to objectives that come out of that strategy.


MC: Can you talk more about what Copperleaf’s role is in all of this?

DQ: Copperleaf is a decision analytics solution. We help companies managing critical infrastructure make value-based decisions on how they invest in that infrastructure. That means understanding capital and resource constraints to ensure core elements of the organization’s strategy, like risk mitigation and capital efficiency, are implemented in ways that deliver the most value to stakeholders—both internal and external.

But beyond risk management and capital or resource constraints, you also need to have a social impact strategy that informs investment decision-making. How and where can (and must) a utility invest to deliver safe, reliable, and affordable energy while also meeting community and sustainability targets? Copperleaf helps utilities strike that balance.


MC: So what’s the differentiator in what you’re doing vs. other people in this space?

DQ: Two of our biggest differentiators are the way that we calculate investment value, and our ability to optimize investment portfolios based on that value. That means we help develop and communicate the business case for investments by monetizing mitigated risk and benefits (including non-financial drivers like social impact, customer satisfaction, and regulatory risks) to allow every capital investment across the utility’s portfolio to compete for funding on the same basis. Then, we can set financial or resource constraints and targets (e.g., capacity, reliability, DER, emissions) and optimize portfolios to determine the highest-value investment plans that achieve targets within constraints.

Our competitors can’t do that, and our ability to apply that technology to environmental justice and social impact strategy makes us an essential solution for utilities navigating today’s modernization challenges and regulatory pressure.


MC: How have the conversations at Distributech this year varied from the types of customer conversations you’ve had in the past? Is there movement?

DQ: I think if I had given this talk a year or two ago, I might have expected people to say something like, “This sounds really good, but I don’t know if we’re there yet.”

Sustainability and equity have always been important, but now it’s becoming required and expected, and a big challenge is that none of the old strategic priorities have gone away. If you take wildfire risk mitigation as an example, utilities have a real equity challenge in how they can manage those massive capital investments with an understanding of how the most marginalized customers are particularly sensitive to rate increases.


MC: So do you have any takeaways from the conference that are going to change your approach or ideas once you head back home?

DQ: I can see so many more opportunities to create real value. There’s a lot of funding being made available for renewables and equity, and I’m expecting a lot of new ideas and innovative solutions in the next couple years.


MC: What do you wish you heard / saw more at Distributech?

DQ: Selfishly speaking, I would have loved to see more emphasis on data and software that can create valuable insights from that data. Objectively speaking, there are so many solutions that are being developed and have been developed that can help everyone plan better, faster, and more confidently. I’d love to learn more from the varieties and functionalities of all these solutions, because there’s potential for such big impact for everyone.

Especially in the realm of ESG, we know this is coming up more and more where people don’t know how to get started, don’t know how to assess the value of their asset base to make the right decisions, for the right outcomes and the right reasons. But we don’t need to do this alone. Just by gathering at Distributech together and sharing stories and challenges, we’ve proven that we aren’t alone. So another thing I’d love to see more of are exactly opportunities like these where we can set aside that time to collaborate and share as an industry, because this is what will drive us forward in terms of technical innovation and social progress.


MC: So what comes next? Where is your focus turning?

DQ: Fundamentally, asset management has always prioritized reliability and risk mitigation, but there needs to be a way to make sure that those making asset-level decisions can do so with clear alignment to enterprise strategy. Executives need confidence that goals can be met, and asset owners need the right tools to understand trade-offs and make the highest-value decisions to achieve them. There’s a gap there today, but with the data and technology available, there isn’t really an excuse for that anymore.

My focus is on pushing the energy industry further down that path. To change how infrastructure decisions are being made and put value at the center of it.


MC: In one sentence, what was the most surprising takeaway for you from the conference?

DQ: ESG is everywhere!

Energy Central
Energy Central is an online community for global power professionals searching for information, products and services related to the energy industry. Energy Central helps the Power Industry work better!
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 20, 2023

What do you think Energy Central, have you seen ESG become central to all high-level utility conversations? Or is there still work to do to get to that point? 

Rafael Herzberg's picture
Rafael Herzberg on Feb 20, 2023

Hi Matt! Here in Brazil the ESG conversation is "everywhere". It became a very popular theme. But...the "leap" from conversation to action is still a super challenge.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »