By Christine Scanlan and Tom Hassenboehler

Maybe you’ve noticed, the internet revolution isn’t just about the internet anymore. Today, data, software, and digital communications technologies are permeating every sector of our economy—from agriculture and manufacturing to transportation and energy. For the first time, energy consumers can access their energy data and take a more active role in driving demand for increased transparency, sustainability, competition, and choice.

Government has always played a fundamental role in energy. But today, trends like decentralization, ubiquitous connectivity, and embedded automation are reshaping the energy system. In response, policymakers must rethink the role of government in achieving energy and environmental goals.

The Energy Consumer-Market Alignment Project (EC-MAP) is a new venue to build policy maps for an energy future where digital technologies drive greater transparency, fair competition, and consumer choice—and where policy enables innovation instead of creating market barriers. EC-MAP is operating in collaboration with the Keystone Policy Center, which was founded with a mission to independently facilitate the resolution of national policy conflicts. Now more than ever, we need those skills to navigate the future of energy policy.

Together, we have a shared vision for a process to harness new ideas and creative minds to identify the technology pathways and public policies needed to accelerate and capture the benefits of this new era. Here’s what that means.

First, it means getting smarter about crosscutting digital tools and platforms that analyze, optimize, and monetize data in new ways. That’s why we are building a group of digital and policy advisors that represent experts not just in electricity markets and transportation fuels but also in blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things. To design policy for a digital energy future, we need input from across sectors.

Second, it means creating a comprehensive and detailed inventory of the policy and regulatory barriers to change. Much of today’s energy policy was designed for an analog world. Further, not all regulators have the resources necessary to determine how digital tools could make regulatory compliance and enforcement more effective. Our foundational white papers on transportation, electricity, and industrial supply chains set a framework for these discussions.

Third, it means engaging with a diversity of stakeholders—old, new, right, and left—to ask some tough but necessary questions. Questions like: Is it time to rethink policies under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and Federal Power Act? What are viable alternatives to the typical mandates, subsidies, and taxes? Can consumer choice lead to greater emissions reductions than regulation alone? How can digital tools empower consumers to make energy choices that are best for them? How do we translate consumer preferences into market signals that can unlock new business models and new capital?

Do we have all the answers? Of course not, no one does. But we are excited to embark on a journey to find them, and hopefully have some fun along the way.

We believe the era of energy digitalization is inevitable. The critical question is, will government accelerate or impede its benefits? If we can set aside longstanding rivalries and outdated thinking of the past, we can harness the power of innovation to benefit consumers, the environment, and our digital energy future.

Christine Scanlan is President and CEO of the Keystone Policy Center. Tom Hassenboehler is Founder and Executive Director of EC-MAP.