The next step in our Energy Evolution
By: Nico Johnson
[This is the #3 in a 4-episode series highlighting leaders in Distributed Solar Generation in Latin America and the Caribbean, brought to you in collaboration with Solarplaza as part of their upcoming Unlocking Solar Capital LATAM conference]
My ancestor from 10,000 years ago was smarter than me. He knew every plant, mushroom, animal, predator, prey in a several mile radius.
He knew how to make weapons. He knew how to capture something, make it edible. I can barely order take-out! And as far as weapons, they say "the pen is mightier than the sword", but it's a rare blog post that will slay that mountain lion (real or metaphorical) lurking around you.
My ancestor also knew how to adapt to new terrains, how to handle strangers who could be threats, how to learn who to trust and who not to trust. I wish I had his skills.
Not only that. Archaeological evidence says his brain was bigger than mine. And bigger is better.
But, then again, my ancestor still used the same element to both cook his food and light his cave - fire. While that's something I am definitely glad I don't share with my ancestor, nor would I want it back, it's still the raw, simple reality of nearly 1.3Billion people on the planet today!
In fact, even if these "societies" have evolved enough to enjoy a small step towards "modern" energy delivery, it's highly likely that energy delivery is STILL based largely on fire. But more than 5000 people in a remote town in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, will soon rely on a fire that's burning nearly 93 Million miles away - safely extracting all that energy from the Sun itself, instead of all the dead things buried inside the earth that my ancestor once took shade under during unbearably hot days. And that number is growing every day.
When Andy Bindea, today's guest on SunCast, started his solar company, Sigora Solar, he wasn't even a US citizen yet, but he was already (in his 20s') well-versed in the fight for equal rights and access for humans around the world. From Green Peace to the Inc. 500, Andy has the kind of diverse background you expect from today's global citizen entrepreneur, and I think it helps him stay grounded in his pursuit of changing the modern energy paradigm.
So, what's next? Andy says the energy infrastructure is going to evolve, in much the way the telecom sector did in the latter portion of the last Century and the first 10-15 years of this one. Technology is evolving much faster than we are. Andy says the next step in energy evolution is distributed architecture, remote payments, localized grid control & stabilisation, and the elimination of energy poverty. I'm excited.
Here's what I learned:
1. Knowledge is power
There’s a change in the nature of the economy from a material based economy to a knowledge-based economy. The main assets in the past were material like gold mines or wheat fields. These are the types of things you can conquer through violence. And, the people of Haiti are a living legacy, as it were, to corruption through conquering, and squandering of precious resources.
That’s how they became the poorest country in the hemisphere, and the largest market in Latin America of people without access to electricity. Their leaders invaded and absorbed their wealth. But you can’t invade and absorb knowledge.
The only good investment you can make for your future is the investment you make in yourself today. So, Sigora International is teaching that truth to the locals in the towns where they're delivering their energy-paradigm-busting technology, helping them invest in their own knowledge about how to build, own and operate these new kinds of electric grids. And they've developed a model not just to teach them how to fish…but how to own the fishery! Their main "asset" in the Haiti market is having proven that Haitians can manage and grow their own electric grid if given the chance.
2. Electrification is a straight-forward and simple calculation
Resources today are different. They’re abstract.
So are global resource problems, but some are more concrete than others.
"But take a look at some of the challenges we have today, health care, education, access to fresh water, sanitation, they are all very difficult problems, and some of them have more complex and difficult to implement solutions," Andy says.
"Electrification is one of the big problems that has a fairly straightforward, implementable and immediately deployable solutions. I frankly wouldn't even know how to begin thinking, not even conceptually, about how to wrap my head around the magnitude of other problems…however, electricity, it's straightforward."
Andy distills the business of energy, in countries that do have 24/7 access to energy, down to a very simple equation. "at the end of the day, you make Kilowatt-hours, and you sell kilowatt-hours…it's a business model that's been around for quite awhile."
3. There's not an off-grid, grid-tie divide, at least not in Latin America
In frontier markets, especially in Latin America, there are far fewer people who are not connected to some form of electricity generation, under 25% versus well over 50% in some Asia and Africa markets.
At the end of the day, what we are bringing to the market is a cost-effective revenue control and management solution, both on the software and on the hardware side.
It starts with cost of energy metering solutions and moves all the way through payment methods and efficacy and consistency of those methods. Sigora is recreating the types of systems and technology required at a community level to handle deployment a scalability of what Andy calls the micro-utility model. They're technology allows for the levels of grid control, electricity ramp, demand management, etc that you'd expect from a veritable Independent System Operator!
An element that's been an important driving force is that Andy views Utility companies as entities that have moved from startup stage into the monopoly stage, in most Western markets. "We often view them as the bad guys, the enemies, so forth. But at the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with the Utility model, make kilowatt-hours and sell kilowatt-hours. They are just not startup people anymore."
"What we are trying to achieve with our technology is to create the entire system (software & hardware) stack that will allow for the proliferation of small micro-utility companies, developed from the perspective of being able to operate that utility from anywhere."
Andy sees a world where the existing Utilities will rely more and more on these micro-utilities and the "startups" in remote areas of the world to help balance the loads and extend electricity into frontier markets, empowering local economy with reliable technology and system controls. Andy's vision is not just deploying the grid-in-a-box solution they're piloting in Haiti, but also to provide grid stability and reliability support to the more established markets who, though have electricity, lack RELIABLE access to it!
This isn’t science fiction. It’s already happening.
I’m sort of amazed and excited.
The next step in the energy evolution for much of the world.