“The next frontier is storage. Our mission is to make storage synonymous with solar.”
What drove you to work in climate solutions?
Over the years, I have realized that solar PV [photovoltaic systems] is one of the most promising technologies for combating climate change. I’ve always had the sense that the world is one connected place, one human family. Problems that happen across the globe will eventually make their way into other areas of the world. Climate change is a global problem that requires all of us to take action.
How has your idea evolved since you started?
We started as a two-person team in our garage. We are now a 12-person team and shipping beta [pre-released] products out to early customers. We expect to double our headcount over the next two years and deploy 35 megawatt-hours of energy storage into projects.
How did you finance your venture?
We started Yotta by funding the venture ourselves. And then, eventually, we found a group of investors. This led to more and more investors and, subsequently, more and more interest in the technology. We’ve benefited from the maturity of the technology itself: Solar is now commonplace and nearly everyone has agreed that it’s the cheapest form of renewable electricity.
The next frontier is storage. Our mission is to make storage synonymous with solar.
What’s the burning opportunity in climate change?
One of the greatest opportunities that we have now is that solar energy provides electricity in many parts of the globe. Add to this the electrification of transportation and the transition to renewables in other industries. All of these forces are helping solar continue to rapidly advance.
Because of these rapid advancements, the economics for solar plus storage finally make sense. Solar is not only a good industry to get into from an environmental perspective; it’s also a fiscally responsible alternative. We can produce a kilowatt-hour wherever the sun shines cheaper than it would cost to build a power plant or run a diesel generator.
What’s your advice to investors and buyers in the climate economy?
If you’re interested in the technology, take a closer look at the company’s history. What has the team done with the resources they’ve had? What has the company accomplished in the past? What have companies in energy, for example, accomplished? Don’t just look at hype and glorified marketing efforts talking about some “breakthrough” or “game-changing” technology.
Our best investors have asked us in-depth questions. And those are the ones we really appreciate because not only do they get to a point where they really understand the technology but they become your allies.
“We can produce a kilowatt-hour wherever the sun shines cheaper than it would cost to build a power plant or run a diesel generator.”
What differentiates Yotta from other companies?
Having been in the industry, having been the customer myself, I know what it takes and I know what to look for. It’s not always the cheapest product that matters. What matters is what’s the easiest to integrate or has the least amount of friction and then what’s the lowest-cost product. One of the breakthroughs of our technology is the ability to add storage incrementally over time. The ability to add energy storage to a project has been a big barrier to date. It’s either large energy storage installations or none at all.
What insight do you have for other innovators on accelerating the transition from polluting energies?
When I got into the solar industry, it was an upward battle.
At the time, it was a “green” movement. It didn’t make financial sense. Today, it’s not just about being green. It makes financial sense.
My advice is to figure out where you want to play in the energy transition. Do you want to be an innovator of a technology? Do you want to integrate a technology? Do you want to create a business model to help promote the technology? There are many facets of how you can get involved in the energy transition. It’s not going to happen overnight. But every kilowatt-hour that’s being produced by renewable energy is having a lasting impact.
The price of renewables has been dropping, putting it on par with — and even below — the cost of coal in many countries. What does this mean for Yotta?
One of the greatest things about solar is that it’s one of the only forms of energy generation that’s completely passive. It doesn’t require something to spin or have kinetic movement. A coal power plant burns coal to produce steam to run a turbine. Natural gas also produces steam to run a turbine. Even wind energy requires kinetic movement. The beauty of solar is that you can take one or two solar modules and a battery and start producing your own power.
But solar by itself cannot compete with a coal power plant because a coal power plant has a reserve of capacity. We need to solve energy storage. Solar power plus energy storage is a direct competitor to fossil fuel-based power plants. The difference being that solar plus storage has zero emissions.
Do you find the renewable energy space more open to young entrepreneurs than other sectors?
Yes, this is very much an entrepreneur’s industry. I’ve been in the industry for twelve years and so, by default, I’m considered a veteran. But I’m 36 years old. There is a very low threshold to breaking into the industry; it’s very open to new entrepreneurs. In fact, we get interest all the time from folks in the oil and gas industry who are looking for change.