Renewable Energy

August 27th, 2010

From Software to Cleantech: Interview with Paul Berberian CEO of ZettaSun

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zettasunThis week’s post is an interview with Paul Berberian,  a successful investor in Boulder, Colorado. He is the President and CEO of ZetaSun, Inc., a concentrating solar business. How many tech/software people do you meet who are also changing the world with clean tech businesses as well? Well, maybe more than you think. Paul is cross-applying his industry expertise in exciting ways into the Clean Tech space. You can follow Paul’s business ventures and high altitude aviation adventures at his blog: http://www.berberian.com/

Tell us a bit about your business:

*Zettasun, Inc. is building a new kind of solar panel designed for commercial rooftops.  We use our unique optical and mechanical designs to build a high-concentrating photovoltaic panel that can track  and concentrate the sun over 500 times without external devices.

+ Continue Reading

July 12th, 2010

Diversity: Unleashing Innovation

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I once heard that the blades of modern wind turbines are modeled after the fins of humpback whales.  I’m not sure its true, but there is a striking resemblance, and such a practice has a name in design and engineering: biomimicry.

There is a less specific, more systemic feature of natural systems that I am interested in: the role of diversity.  It seems that diversity has a protective effect on some of the most critical natural systems, which directly or indirectly impact social well-being and human health; for example, its role in natural carbon sequestration, water purification, curing disease, and – oh yeah – evolution. + Continue Reading

July 1st, 2010

The 1603 lb Gorilla in the Room: Termination of Cash Grant Program Could Spell Disaster for Renewable Energy Finance

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Project finance is the key to clean energy growth and many in the industry are worried about the ramifications on financing if the Recovery Act section 1603 cash grants AKA the “cash-in-lieu of tax credit” grants expire at the end of 2010, as they are set to do.  The success of 1603 has been undeniable as it allowed a streamlined way for these capital-intensive projects to get financed during the global recession, accounting for up to 30% of the capital expenditure of a project. + Continue Reading

June 25th, 2010

A Slight Miscalculation…No Solar in Abu Dhabi? Learnings from Being First Movers in Cleantech

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A funny thing was recently discovered in the middle east. The folks planning Masdar, the zero-carbon, zer0-waste and (supposedly) 100% renewable energy (proposed) city just outside Abu Dhabi did a little calculation on the solar resource they could expect in the area. All along they had figured to develop large solar arrays just outside the city to power everything. Wind was taken off the table earlier in the planning of the city as there really isn’t much of a wind resource in the area.

But solar. Now we KNOW there’s a great solar resource in the UAE, right? The country where nobody goes outside because it’s too hot, where people leave their AC and cold water running while they’re gone on vacation so the house is livable when they return, and the country that doesn’t really even HAVE sidewalks because, well, it’s too damn hot to walk anywhere.

Their calculations regarding the solar resource in the area apparently didn’t even happen because it was so obvious. They must have just estimated… Because, now, a few years into the plan? It appears  the initial ‘calculation’ was off by, oh, about double. That’s right. Apparently there are sandstorms (shocker) and a consistent haze from the UAE’s proximity to the Persian Gulf. These two factors dramatically cut the available solar resource in the UAE to about half of what could be expected in other similar latitudes.

Why does this matter. Well, for one it puts a damper on the solar dreams of Masdar. But, if we take a step back, it dramatically illustrates a common problem in the renewable energy industry. So many projects throw money around, make plans, and shoot for the stars without ever really doing their due diligence.

Here’s a comparison. Cape Wind was doing something no one had ever done in the USA. They had to forge ahead blind in some regards because the permitting structure and financing partners didn’t exist when they started the project back in 2001. Now they’ve spent 40+ million dollars and it’s still not done. While I don’t necessarily agree with the public outreach and incorporation methods of the Cape Wind project, its an example of a project that was in a position to fly blind and not feel dumb if something came out of left field (like Indian burial grounds 5 miles out to sea) because it was, for many intensive purposes, a first.

Now let’s take Masdar. There’s an iphone app for sun-eye for crying out loud!  Not to say that’s the technology to use in this case, but solar resource is NOT a hard thing to quantify. Had no one built a solar project (even on a house) in the UAE that could have spoken up and said, “Gee, this is producing a lot less energy than I thought it would…?”

Simple. That’s what a lot of this industry is. And yet we see time and time again people missing the trees for the forest.

June 21st, 2010

Namaste Solar Puts Their Money Where Thier Mouth Is – 2000% Growth in 3 Years [Audio Interview]

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Solar, Colorado, Excel Energy, Lauren Coyne

Here’s a little snippet to kick off the the launch of The Green Light Distrikt – Boulder, an interview I did with Lauren Coyne from Namaste Solar about six months ago.

We’ve been kickin’ around Boston for the past couple months and now I’m curious how things are going in other US cities. We’ll do much the same thing that we did in Boston, recruit young cleantech pros that are working in the industry that are interested in joining our community. I’ve been speaking with James Moreau who is going to start writing soon. Stay tuned for his first post, the goal is to get a follow up with Namaste and potentially get some video footage. Also, if you’re in the Boulder area and interested in joining us, contact me.

Here’s the story.

Alteris Inc, a New England based company, was named to Inc 500, 500 fastest growing companies with about 1000% growth. While I was skimming the list I noticed that Namaste Solar had grown over 2000% in the same period, so I was curious about their growth.

Nameste Solar, Nameste, Solar, Colorado

I contacted Namaste and Lauren nicely and quickly responded to me.

Lauren is a co-owner, and in charge of education and community outreach. We had a great conversation, and it lasted about 40 minutes. I had to split the interview into two parts due to the constraints of uploading.

Here’s the interview

Nameste Solar Interview Part 1

Namaste Solar Interview Part 2

For your reference here’s an overview of the questions I asked during each part.

Part 1:

  • How did you get into the industry? What’s your story?
  • How did your experience getting the Colorado state incentives passed give you skills and information that were helpful in landing the job with Namaste?
  • You’ve grown so fast, what was the source of your growth? What challenges has that created for your company and how have you dealt with them?
  • You mentioned that the new incentives were a large part, but it seems like you have grown much faster then the industry and your competitors, what’s the reason for this?
  • What are unique aspects of your business model?
  • Describe the co-ownership model? It seems unique and gives you a clear social dimension do your business, why and how was that business model chosen and how do you keep that structure with growth?
  • How does co-ownership affect the day to day decision making process?
  • Looking to the future, do you plan on expanding into other markets other than Colorado with your current business model?

Part 2:

  • What hiccups do you see in industry growth in Colorado?
  • Has financing of residential systems drastically changed the Colorado market? How?
  • What are you most excited to see happening in the industry in the next 5 years?
  • What advice would you give to people, current graduates, career changers who are outside of the industry looking to get in?
  • You mentioned training and workshops, are there any particular things you’d like to see when going through resumes?
  • Within a solar company, do you see more opportunity on the sales, design or installation side?

Here are some of my reflections and conclusions after speaking with Lauren.

  1. She’s really nice. It was about six months ago that we spoke, but I still remember this.
  2. She has a really insightful explanation into the role of state incentives in Colorado and how the feed-in-tariffs with Excel energy work
  3. They donate 1% of revenue to develop solar on non-profits every year regardless of their profits.
  4. It’s clear that career changers need to stand out from the crowd and do something to show their passion for the industry. If they’re looking to get into the industry just to make money, it won’t make your attractive to companies, you need to be dedicated to the mission.
  5. The largest that stood out is it seems that Nameste Solar put their money where their mouth is. Here are some examples:
  • They operate a low emissions fleet
  • They operate in LEED certified building, zero waste buildings
  • Co-ownership model has clear social impact. At that time we spoke 47 of their 62 employees were co-owners.
  • Donate 1% of revenue, NOT profit

All in all, I want to thank Lauren for speaking with me. I was great to learn about the Colorado industry and I’m looking forward to seeing if James can get some video footage of some of their installations.

What did you think about the interview?

Chris