Posted / 9th August 2018
In April I left my position as COO of NaturEner to join Alpha, Telefonica’s moonshot facility, as CEO of the Energy Moonshot. My role is to lead the development of innovative technologies to deliver reliable clean energy, democratize distribution and produce positive social change within emerging energy markets. Last week I made the big move over to Barcelona and wanted to mark this by sharing a recent interview I gave to the Telefonica team here.
Have you always been passionate about energy and renewables?
I have always been passionate about making a difference and thinking creatively to solve problems. Working in renewable energy and developing innovative ways to market and distribute a good product aligns my sense of purpose with my professional work. I love being a part of building a disruptive industry that has the potential for positive global impact on many levels.
How did you start your career and what were the key points that got you to where you are today?
My career in energy began when I was quite young. My father, a general contractor, started taking me to work when I was 8 years old, and that is where I was introduced to electrical work. After university, I spent a number of years working for charitable organizations and ended up at AIDA, an Earthjustice organization, where we built case collaborations with many environmental law firms in Latin America based on the link between human rights and the environment. It was (and still is!) incredible work. However, the limiting nature of being dependent on fundraising for these important issues is what ultimately convinced me to join the start-up world in the hopes of building businesses that drove clean policy and the economy together. This transition, from non-profit to start-up was a big turning point for me. Over the last 10+ years I have worked with innovative clean energy start-ups that have built technology solutions to help scale the growth of renewable energy around the world. It has been a rewarding and challenging experience that keeps me on my toes, excited for what is coming next.
What’s been the most interesting energy development or technology that you’ve worked with so far?
I worked for a utility wind energy company where we built and managed the first two NERC certified wind-only Balancing Authorities, allowing us to interconnect to the local utility grid that otherwise could not have integrated the variability of an intermittent generation source. We built sophisticated forecasting tools, and developed customized software to enhance a utility grade Energy Management System to control the assets in a highly unique and stable manner. This not only gave us the ability to integrate our renewable assets but also gave us the ability to schedule and sell firm power from an intermittent generation source. I was able to see, in real time, how the proper mix of technology and creative thinking could facilitate sophisticated interconnections. These types of non-traditional innovations are applicable across the spectrum of renewable generation for both traditional and highly regulated utility, as well as emerging “grid edge” environments. The future grid must adapt to renewable generation and this is one of the technologies which will drive the transformation of the industry. It will be intelligent, efficient, modular and adaptable to all generation, from utility wind to residential solar to supply from a moving electric vehicle.
What does the energy mix of the future look like?
I look at what is happening across the globe in areas with the most projected growth in energy demand. China, for example, is investing heavily in and deploying more renewables than fossil fuel generation for both economic and environmental reasons (it is expected that China will invest upwards of $350 billion dollars on renewable energy by 2020). In the US, the California Energy Commission has mandated that all newly constructed homes must have rooftop PV beginning in 2020. The proliferation of Electric Vehicles and charging stations driven by demand, advancements in battery technology, and an evolving regulatory landscape, represents another huge untapped network of distributed load and generation resources. Micro and mini grid deployments are increasing and grid defection is happening in many energy markets. The growth of renewables alongside new sophisticated software and integration solutions convinces me that we can get to a place where all our energy comes from clean renewable sources. I truly believe that we can achieve this goal soon through innovation, disruptive technology and creative thought. There is a lot of work to do, specifically on the reliable distribution of clean energy, yet it is entirely possible.
What are the most forward thinking solutions for energy distribution that you are aware of?
The future of energy distribution will be a combination of a smart grid, demand side modelling, load aggregation, data intelligence and distributed (decentralized) generation. There are a number of really innovative businesses in this space that are already deploying key pieces of the future solution. Smart devices, IoT applied directly to endpoint loads and generation assets, wireless charging and sophisticated forecasting all exist in some form today. There are a number of exciting and innovative mini/micro and peer-to-peer grids that are beginning to build the framework for these concepts. Yet to scale these solutions we need continued innovation and investment in both hardware and software, and we need government policy and regulation to align with the goals of a clean intelligent and efficient grid.
How close are we to achieving the UN’s 7th Sustainable Development Goal, and what needs to be done to help this further? (Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all)
It depends. On one hand we have all the fundamental ingredients to achieve this today, yet on the other hand, the effort of successfully combining these ingredients in the right regulatory environment with patient capital still requires significant effort. Improved efficiency alongside declining costs for solar, wind and storage provide significant opportunity yet we need advancements in grid technology in both hardware and software to integrate this at scale. Progressive government programs, policies and regulation is the final critical piece to make this goal happen. Without policy support, even the best solutions can end up gathering dust on a shelf.
How do you think governments can best support renewable development?
The current utility system has been protected and promoted by governments for over a century and until the recent rise in distributed renewable generation, there was no impetus for innovation or change. Now that we understand the negative impacts of a predominantly fossil fuel system and economy, it is time for the government to support, with consistent long term policy, regulation and subsidies, a new model that is smarter and clean.
What should we expect from Alpha Energy?
We are building an incredible multidisciplinary team and setting up partnerships and collaborations who work together to provide real solutions for clean energy distribution. We are looking at the future of the grid from the vantage point of Access Parity in emerging energy markets. Our goal is to develop radically new distribution systems to deliver reliable clean energy that is affordable and accessible, at a productive level, for the next billion people. We are committed to working with existing utilities and governments to be a part of this transition and help shape the future. Our approach is going to be one of extraordinary collaboration, open innovation and rapid development.