Episode #016 - Charles Gay
Episode #016 with Torsten Brammer & Charles Gay:
In episode #016 of The Solar Journey Podcast, Dr. Torsten Brammer Speaks with Dr. Charles Gay.
Charlie Gay is a pioneer in the PV manufacturing industry with over 45 years of solar experience. He served most of his career in the private sector as leader at ARCO Solar, Siemens Solar Industries, ASE Americas, and Applied Materials. Dr. Gay also led the Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) for the U.S. Department of Energy and served as Director of the National Renewable Energy Lab.
He is co-founder of the Greenstar Foundation, an organization that develops multi-function solar-powered community centers in isolated villages throughout the developing world. As President of Galaxy Energy, Dr. Gay is transforming the automotive, aerospace, construction, pharmaceutical, energy generation, and storage industries. Charlie holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of California, Riverside. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 2013.
Connect with Charles Gay on LinkedIn.
26:48-28:42: Bringing information and energy together unlocks wealth for everyone.
38:47 - 40:34: Using hydrogen to reduce the greenhouse impact of methane. Post: Learn more about using hydrogen to reduce the greenhouse impact of methane. Charlie Gay explains how the information and energy conversions that he worked on in Greenstar are now brought to China to demonstrate how much Carbon reduction potential can be practical and cost effective.
1:01:38-1:03:52 What is missing on the political level to get solar to the next level? Charles Gay has more than 45 years of experience in renewable energy and he makes it pretty clear: Even more important than getting rid of all regulatory obstacles is consistency over time on a political level. Technology in the energy space changes slowly, it’s measured in decades. You need long term consistent policies built around a strategy. If that gets turned around every few years because of an election, it gets hard for anybody to reach the consensus for tackling climate change.
[00:00:04.150] - Torsten
Hello everybody to a new episode of The Solar Journey. And today we have onboard Charles, Charlie Gay, a living legend in the PV business. Hi Charlie, how are you? Torston good things. So let me just tell you who Charlie Gay is. If you don't know, I guess most of you do know because as I mentioned, he's been in the PV space for a very long time. Currently he is the President of Galaxy Energy Company, based in California, but also in the US, but also in China. What Galaxy does we will learn later. But just as a teaser, it's about magnesium electrodes and energy storage. If you have been in PV solar for some time, you do know Charlie Gay. And if you still don't, then it's about time. Here's why. He has over 45 years experience in renewable energy. He has significant private sector experience. For example, he was the President of Applied Solar, the business unit of Applied Materials. He was chairman of the technology advisory board for SunPower and he was President and chief operating officer of Siemen Solar and President of Aku Solar. Charlie was also in the public service space. So he was director of the Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology office.
[00:01:47.490] - Torsten
And he was the director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NRL in Colorado, USA, which is one of the oldest and most well known solar energy institutes worldwide. But he's also the cocreator of the Greenstar Foundation, an organization that delivers solar power and internet access to villages scaling micro enterprise in the developing world. So by training, he's a physical chemist. So he's got a PhD in chemistry and he holds many patents and his first peer reviewed paper dates back to 19th. Yeah, and he also got plenty of awards. So for example, the US National Academy of Engineering. So he was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering and he won the Charles Greeley Abbott Award of the American Solar Energy Society. And less unknown, he was also key in getting Led flashes into the solar seller market. In more detail, it took him 5 seconds to make sure that my own company, Wave. Let's go to the initial CD investment. I'm not sure, Charlie, if you are aware of this, you're not aware it's almost eleven years back there was at the PVC conference here in Hamburg, Germany, and I approached you back then.
[00:03:22.100] - Torsten
I said, hey Charlie, in a few minutes I've got a guy coming with me and Jan Sutus, the cofounder or the originator of Waveflaps. We want to get his money. So he does the initial seed investment for Wave Flips. So we returned and you saw us at the Applied Materials booth and you opened up your arms and said, I love those guys. And I think that's when our CEO Harulsman had no chance then to give us the millions and billions of these dollars to get the Wave Flip started. So thanks a lot again, for this. But anyhow but I think your other achievements are even larger that I lined out up front. Charlie, when did you get started in solar and why?
[00:04:19.310] - Charles
I got started in 1974. It was right after the first oil embargo, which was October of 1970. I had gotten my PhD working on the thermodynamic properties of fluids near the critical point in studying heat capacity and the effect of compressibility on these fluids, something that doesn't have much of a connection at all to form a tax. But it turns out it does have a connection now, finally, 45 years later, to the concentrating solar field, where people use a super critical CO2 for the working fluid rather than steam. Anyway, long story short, I've got my degree PhD. I went to look for a job, and the only job that really could make any use of how I spent so much time getting my PhD was injecting steam or CO2 in the ground to get more oil out of the ground. Okay. I had an interview in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which is kind of an isolated remote area where Philips Petroleum had their headquarters, and they offered me a job. But as I was thinking about it, on my way back to Los Angeles, where I lived most of my life, I ought to look and see if there's something else I could do.
[00:06:02.470] - Charles
And I picked up the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times and looked for jobs. One of them was an Advertisement from Spectral Lab for somebody to Weld solar cells together for satellites and make them more resistant, okay, to laser attack and melting of the interconnects. So I rewrote my resume a little bit there to highlight what I knew about metallurgy and materials and went for the job interview at Spectral Lab and was offered that job figuring out how to Weld solar cells together. Three or four months after I was at Spectral Lab, my boss said, you know what? I probably should tell you why we hired you. I said, oh, by all means. I'd be very keen on the feedback. He said, well, when you came, it was clear you had the technical knowledge, but you were wearing an Orange pair of pants and a polyester shirt, and we figured if you didn't know the technical stuff, you'd be quite entertaining. Anyway, for the rest of the group, part of that is because I'm colorblind. Oh, right.
[00:07:25.530] - Charles
That ended up working out well. The task of welding was a two year program that had been funded by the Air Force, and it maybe took three or four months to figure out how to set up a parallel gap. Welder and, well, solar cells. And my boss said, you can use the rest of the year and a half. Just follow the materials around Spectral Lab, learn the processes, whatever you'd like. There. It went all the way from chakroski growth of Silicon to assembly of power systems for communication satellites. So I got a chance to learn Crystal growth wafering solar cell making design of power systems from the people who really knew what they were doing there. And that has served the foundation of my knowledge base from that point forward. I joke with people, but I haven't had to learn a whole lot more since I did that. And I was very glad. It seemed like solar would be a possible path to address the impact of the oil embargo. And it was a field that was material science oriented. I was interested in it. All the A students were becoming nuclear engineers and building nuclear power plants.
[00:09:07.130] - Charles
So the competition wasn't so much either. That's how I got started.
[00:09:14.370] - Torsten
Excellent. So basically Spectral today would say a vertically integrated solar cell manufacturer if they started on except for the feedstock. But then they had everything in house, from Crystal growth to modules.
[00:09:29.190] - Charles
[00:09:30.720] - Torsten
And it was all for mostly for satellite application?
[00:09:35.010] - Charles
Yes, it was almost all except for the beginnings of a terrestrial solar program. At that point in time, NASA had set up three ground based large antennas to communicate with spacecraft as they were orbiting the Earth. One was here in California, a place called Gold Stone, which is out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, one in Australia that shows up now and then not too far outside of Canberra. And then the third one was in a very rural, isolated area of Nigeria. People were quite poor. And the program was led by the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. And they came to Spectral Lab and said, we would like to be able to do something to bring electricity to this rural village. And maybe an application Besides lighting that would work well is to grind the husks off of rice. So part of the project that I worked on after welding cells was working with a team looking to get cost out of the solar cells in order to power this rice Husker in Nigeria. And NASA could exchange some improved infrastructure for the rights to put the antenna on their land. And that's really a lot of how some of the early work at replacing vacuum deposited metals or electroplated metals for contacts, evaporated panel and pentoxide for AR coatings with much lower cost approaches towards processing metalization damage removal, texture, etching.
[00:11:50.160] - Charles
At that point, the actual chemistry of what enables texturing to occur was puzzling too. And so I had a chance to work on some of those kinds of things and also to see the benefit of the impact of solar in this rural community in Nigeria.
[00:12:14.890] - Torsten
Wonderful. So from satellite space to terrestrial, one of the early terrestrial applications, what was the efficiency back then for the satellites or back then for the Nigerian application.
[00:12:29.530] - Charles
For the satellite side? I had a project to see how efficiency varied with thickness. And so it's actually where I think the thinnest solar cells they made were about 35 microns thick Silicon.
[00:12:52.210] - Torsten
[00:12:52.740] - Charles
And they were about 16% efficient. And at 150 or thicker, they were a little more than 18% efficient cells. And the terrestrial modules with the lower cost metabolization and the sort of glass front packaging were around ten or 11% efficient. And that was sort of a broad span of activities. The management of Spectral Lab changed from a company called Tekstron, which was a conglomerate of everything from Bell Helicopter to other businesses to Hughes Aircraft. Hughes wanted to have its own in house solar cell satellite communications satellite capabilities. And when Hughes came and took over Spectral Lab, a lot of the people I worked for lost their jobs to longtime Hughes executives that happen to occur in and in 1978, the second oil embargo took place. And most of the guys who left Spectral Lab started terrestrial solar companies. And I joined a fellow named Bill Yerkes, who was one of those folks to leave Spectral Lab. He had been President of Spectral Lab, and he started a company called Solar Technology International with about six or seven people, half of them from Taco Bell nearby, who are making tacos and burgers to start making solar panels.
[00:14:55.570] - Charles
And when the second oil embargo took place, almost every oil company under the sun wanted to diversify into high tech. Atlantic Ridgefield was one of those and started Arco Solar, Shell, Exxon, Mobile hotel Showa. They all had initiatives to get involved in high tech and manufacturing, which is a very different kind of business than the oil and gas business, but they brought a lot of not just long term consistent financing to support the early startups, but a lot of the know how for the encapsulation and packaging. So the coming European TV conference, the folks in Switzerland who have had some of our modules from our solar the first grid connected system in Europe was installed in 1082. They're reporting on the 40 year results for that system. And we had three different encapsulate systems in the modules. The best of the three is producing 95% today of what it did 40 years ago.
[00:16:30.380] - Torsten
[00:16:31.460] - Charles
The worst one is about 85%. So we have this fabulous existence proof that we know how to design something that will last the length of life that a power plant needs to last or longer, more than 40 years here. And, of course, that's the springboard for bankability for project financing when you can project what the cash flow is going to look like because you know how much power to anticipate being generated.
[00:17:04.150] - Torsten
Yeah. So let me just recap. So from Spectral App, you moved onto Aqua Solar? Yeah. That was the next. Okay.
[00:17:14.970] - Charles
Yes. I was hired to run RND manufacturing and engineering at Arco Solar and mainly to staff up that company. And I spent almost ten months trying to recruit somebody to come and work with me in this crazy solar business and people who are getting their PhDs and advanced degrees, as I mentioned, went to RCA, to Bell Labs, to General Electric, to Siemens. And after spending that much trying to recruit somebody, my youngest brother was just graduating from MIT with a PhD, inorganic chemistry. And I went to see them and I browbeat them into joining me. So I had my second R and D employee to work in solar. Then his job was to go recruit people to come enjoy this crazy industry. At that time, it wasn't an industry. So people leaving school saw solar as a very risky career move. But looking back and thinking about it, the best time to take a risky career move and you can probably speak to this as well is while you're still young and you don't have a lot of children, you have other responsibilities to occupy your brain cycles every day. So the build up of Arco solar.
[00:19:02.530] - Charles
By the end of 1980, we manufactured 1 MW in one year. And of course, you think today 1 MW is a little less than an hour in facilities. And in 1982, as I say, we had our first grid connected system in Europe. And in 1982, we had our 1st 1 MW power plant connected to a Southern California Edison substation in the transmission system here in California. And the chairman of Edison, Bill Gwell, gave up a really nice speech talking about how his predecessors in the utility industry spent 100 years putting up wires. And his successors in the utility industry wouldn't have to worry about putting up more wires because they could put the power close to where it was needed. So a lot of the visionaries that we benefit from today came out of the oil embargo times, came out of the times of need. And we're sort of in a similar situation of climate change, needing to attract people to take a risk to mitigate the risk of climate change.
[00:20:32.910] - Torsten
Yeah. Interesting. By any chance, do you still know who built the inverters for those very first grid connected systems? Because this must have been also like prototypes or could you rely on yeah.
[00:20:49.370] - Charles
There were two major suppliers. Neither one of them is still in the business today. Both of them were acquired. One of them is still operating as part of Siemens power business.
[00:21:04.990] - Torsten
Okay, fantastic. From Aqua Solar. What was the peak time? How many people worked at Aqua Solar for this 1 MW them we had.
[00:21:20.990] - Charles
Probably not only we grew Crystal wafers shells, modules and built power systems, and we also developed water pumps, battery storage designs, all of the things that we take for granted that today you could go to Gren Post for a solar water pump, but in the beginning, there weren't the right pieces of equipment to go with the output of the solar panel. So in 1982, we had about 600 employees.
[00:22:04.550] - Torsten
Okay, cool. And then from Archaola, where did you move next?
[00:22:12.350] - Charles
I went to the National Renewable Energy lab. Okay, so the NRO, it start also because of the oil embargoes and Jimmy Carter was President, and the lab has its start. Maybe it was October 77 somewhere right around the turn of the year. And the lab did well during Carters period, followed by Reagan, who chopped the budget in about 75%. I was brought to NREL because I had experience in industry, putting business objectives in place and dealing with the outcome of the election here in 1994, where there was a Contract with America that also targeted cutting investments in RND, in renewables. And Enrolls budget was cut by a little more than 30%. There were about 1000 employees at Enroll in 1994 when I got there. And so if we were to just take a straight ratio there, that would mean 300 people would lose their job. So I had a chance to sort of restructure a lot of the way business was carried out at NREL to streamline overhead. And at the end of the day, I think it laid off maybe 45 employees instead of 300.
[00:24:13.020] - Charles
And started what was called the Industry Growth Forum, which was a venue to bring venture capital in to meet the people at the lab and the industrial and academic teams who were contracting with the lab to carry out research and applied research and development programs. And that program, the Industry Forum, still is going this year. I think it's probably been close to 42 of these four. But there's a lot of the networking that got started where investors could meet and learn more about the technologies and could see sort of over the horizon what technologies were coming could participate in helping invest in startups. Yeah. A lot of the experience at Enroll was linking more strongly with the finance community and industry.
[00:25:27.890] - Torsten
Okay, so how did you put up with moving from Los Angeles on the coast to Colorado to the mountainous people?
[00:25:35.930] - Charles
Well, Colorado is absolutely lovely. The snow sort of sublimes off of the ground. It doesn't form big blocks of ice that are built with mud. It's one of the best living experiences I've had. It's very outdoors oriented. There's a lot to do all year long. And Kurz Brewery is based right there where Enroll is for a good reason.
[00:26:07.960] - Torsten
Yeah. So you started skiing and I don't know, maybe you switched from softball to skiing.
[00:26:16.270] - Charles
I assume when I was in College, I actually met my physical Ed requirement surfing every Thursday rather than going to class.
[00:26:30.150] - Torsten
Yeah. Excellent. All right. So Unreal, how many years did you spend at Enroll? Four years. All right. And then what was the next station where you took your footprint?
[00:26:48.070] - Charles
Two things. I started the Greenstar Foundation to essentially bring information and energy together. So we went to rural villages that didn't have electricity, but they didn't have Internet either, and set up community centers with solar power and spread spectrum modems that could link the village to an area that had some copper infrastructure. With that, we created what we call digital culture, went to the village, recorded the music, art, stories, poetry. And I came back here to La and licensed a lot of it to Disney. The royalties from the licensing of the culture of the music went to the village. It helped preserve the traditions and the history of the village, of course. But then the village had capital to create microcredit structures, banks that would fund entrepreneurs in rural villages. And they could use the Internet access to identify markets for when the best time to bring a harvest in, bring coffee beans in, how to maximize the quality of tomatoes or Bell peppers, other crops for international export, because they had information and they had their own liquidity, their own capital based on their culture. So the next thing I did was scale this.
[00:28:46.630] - Charles
It was a result of looking at most of the multilateral development banks. The World Bank, Asian American and Development Bank had capitalized funds intended to help support solar and renewables in rural areas. But for a rural villager, if you were to access that money, you were required to show how you would repay the money with the currency risk and with the interest rates of a rural village, which are 40% to 70%. And so a rural villager couldn't qualify to receive a loan. So the money was sitting at the World Bank or International Finance Corporation, the private equity arm of the World Bank. So this idea of Greenstar was, how do you start business in a rural village when you have nothing but you have a lot based on the culture and history and the music of the village. And when I would go to a village, I would usually have with me a laptop, a satellite phone, and a solar panel. And I'd go to visit the theater arts Department of the University that happened to be closest to this isolated area to get a theater arts major, a mime to come with me to the village.
[00:30:35.130] - Charles
So I would use no spoken words when I got to the village. And the mine knew the local language, local dialect could help translate questions that came and we would act out, say, in a Royal Indian village where we did this, the children are the ones who catch on first to what's going on. They wanted to know about the soccer game or the cricket test with Pakistan and found that they could get the information because they had some energy that could run the equipment to have a computer with a link to the Internet. And much of what is possible today is also about connecting information with energy. And it's part of what I'm doing in my current venture at Galaxy Energy, getting to sort of the end game here, where our energy networks run autonomously without people needing to intervene into how the network operates. And we have a pilot underway. Galaxy has a 50 50 business venture with China, with some folks in China. And we're operating in Shangji Province, more or less the middle central section of China, where I spent most of my time while I was working at Applied Materials. Because our customers for equipment were almost all in China at one point, by 2010, we had over 200 customers, unique manufacturers in China buying our bikini screen, printers, wiresaws.
[00:32:47.730] - Charles
And we set up a solar R and D Center in Xian to support folks all across China. When I was there, the governor of the province asked for me to help electrify every unelectrified village in Shanji Province. And I said, if you have the army loan me the helicopters, we can get to every village and electrify more than 2000 villages that didn't have electricity. We did that with solar in less than one year.
[00:33:28.580] - Charles
So the ability to bring people together to work on things. We have an initiative to couple solar power with smelting of magnesium ore to make magnesium in an area called Fugu County, where the Yellow River runs about 150 km through that county. So there's a great pumped Hydro opportunity with the Yellow River there, I've been using Andrew Blaker's pumped Hydro maps to line out where we can have 24 X seven power. All solar upgrade the metal making since sort of a worth the world is today. Solar wind, those are electricity generation. So we're working on maybe a third of the energy consumption. Another third is transportation. So electric vehicles are helping clean up transportation. And the next big nut to crack is cement, steel, metal foundries. So we're working on a metal magnesium, which can be useful in reducing weight in the transportation side. But it's a great hydride material for storing hydrogen. So we have a system to solar pumped Hydro deliver power 24 hours a day. And the relationships are there because there are so many dams along the Yahoo River already that the links with the utilities are working. And we're producing magnesium that's used to reduce the weight of lithium ion cells.
[00:35:34.310] - Charles
And it's used to reduce the mass of the housing. A battery is like a solar panel is the heart of it. And then the packaging of a cell called battery lithium ion case. A lot of the designs are moving from small diameter cylinders to long narrow rectangles that shorten the distance current has to flow to get to the terminal. And then the housing of the rectangle is made in our prototypes here of magnesium alloy. So we're getting a lot of the weight out of the lithium ion cell and out of the lithium ion battery. The network here of bringing solar from Hydro, producing magnesium for applications that are relevant to transportation. And at the outset, it turns out that not only does the Yalu River cross Bought County, but also the major transmission system that runs from west to east in China crosses Yahoo County. And the major gas pipeline crossing China goes through Yahoo County. So we're working with sort of a blue version of converting natural gas into hydrogen and then propane, butane lunker chain LPG liquid propane beach stocks so that we have more hydrogen generated from the pipeline and can use that with the magnesium being produced as a hydrogen storage medium.
[00:37:40.430] - Charles
And we have a magnesium oxide based catalyst that can also help catalyze the conversion of methane to propane and extraction of hydrogen. Of course, if you just throw magnesium in water, it splits water into hydrogen and make magnesium oxide, which is useful for construction materials, wallboard and some concentrations to improve cements. So the goal is to have an autonomous energy network demonstration of somewhere around 30 to 40 magnesium metal smelting facilities in Fugu Province County, being linked to getting their electricity from solar and from pumped Hydro generated from the solar and working with some of the early opportunities of hydrogen, which can of course just be injected up to 15, maybe 20% into a natural gas pipeline without making major changes to the infrastructure. And by moving to LPG, moving to propane, you turn the greenhouse gas potential of methane, which is like 25 times or so CO2, into having almost zero greenhouse impact from propane and from hydrogen. So we have a project to make this network autonomous, that the energy flow can be essentially operated in micro grid format, which makes it much more resilient. And with the software systems that some of the collaborators I worked with while I was at the Doe developing the algorithms for smart grid autonomy.
[00:39:56.260] - Charles
So the information and energy convergence that I worked on in Greenstar for rural village Electrification, we're bringing to county in China to demonstrate how much carbon reduction potential can be practical and cost effective here and continue to scale the adoption of the clean fuels electric vehicles and of course, expand more PV.
[00:40:39.190] - Torsten
In the center for your company you work for now, it's magnesium. It sounds like a magic material which can be applied in so many interesting ways for energy storage. Is that a new come on that material in the renewal space or is there other companies working on the application?
[00:41:09.050] - Charles
The application first shows up in vehicle weight reduction. So sports cars in racing for the Chevy? Yeah, you can make magnesium alloys with aluminum and zinc are the primary alloy additives where you have anywhere between 3% and 8% aluminum and a few percent, maybe 3% to percent five zinc. You can make structural materials to take weight out of cars. So magnesium has quite a long history for aircraft and for racing cars. And the materials I think with the background I had in materials going way back, it's just a really interesting material both for the networking with renewables. And one of the areas of interest I also have is in superconductivity magnesium Diboride has a superconducting transition temperature of around 37 38 Kelvin. It's relatively high for bevels that are used in superconducting. So there are some applications that are long term but are also interesting that could help with energy efficiency. But at the moment, we're just looking to demonstrate this autonomous energy network. Usually the operator of an electric grid is different than the operator of the gas pipeline and owner of Hydro generation facilities. Sometimes it's linked to the electric grid, sometimes not.
[00:43:15.370] - Charles
If we could bring together the stakeholders, where the load here is the smelter, the industry in China today, if the amount of pollution being generated to produce electricity, mostly from coal, trips of threshold, steel Mills are the first things to be shut down, metal fabrication facilities closed down. So we're out there on that third sector of industrial scale cement, steel, metals to help them become cleaner. And they're long entrenched industries that don't have a history of changing. So that a CEO at a steel company may be there for 30 years or 40 years, and it worked 30 years ago. So why change it? The opportunity is here, Interestingly enough, because of the roadmap for going to zero carbon by 2060, and because China has a regular five year planning cycle, they have an ability to do long term planning to get to the objective. And so part of what we're doing here is enabling financing from global sources and enabling the link up of knowhow for how do you bring the autonomy to bear? So a lot of work that the National Renewable Energy Lab does now, Pacific Northwest Lab, Oak Ridge, Sandia, Argon Labs.
[00:45:18.650] - Charles
It links into grid operation and looking at autonomous micro grids connecting into the electric grid. What we're doing is extending that to include gas and to include teaming with the load centers, like production of magnesium, in this case.
[00:45:44.930] - Torsten
Give us an idea. Who is Galaxy Energy? I think there's another company. How many people and what's this history?
[00:45:59.310] - Charles
Part of a group called Asia Pacific Trade and Technology. Galaxy Trade and Technology, which has been around for a little more than three years.
[00:46:13.550] - Torsten
[00:46:13.980] - Charles
It's a 50 50 venture with some Chinese companies and businesses. And Galaxy my partners are based in New York, Geneva and Honolulu. So we have a network here across the US, but it's mainly the financing network across the US and Europe, and the technology Implementation group in China for putting these pieces in place to demonstrate what we can do with the smart utility network of gas and electricity.
[00:47:02.370] - Torsten
Okay. So how many people work in China for Galaxy?
[00:47:09.140] - Charles
There's little less than 50 in China.
[00:47:12.630] - Torsten
[00:47:13.100] - Charles
And a little less than two dozen here across the US and Europe.
[00:47:18.100] - Torsten
[00:47:18.860] - Charles
[00:47:20.000] - Torsten
Yeah. All right. And the focus is not really the casing for lithium ion batteries, but it's really more on the smart grid software side.
[00:47:29.890] - Charles
There's some immediate opportunities to take weight out of a lithium ion battery by replacing the copper anode with a magnesium electrode that has a surface treatment that gives it the same chemical properties as copper has in the lithium ion cell.
[00:47:59.330] - Torsten
[00:47:59.790] - Charles
So we get a big chunk of weight out of the cell by substituting magnesium at low density material for copper. And we get weight out of the housing two ways. One, because it's mostly a magnesium alloy for the housing, but it's designed along the lines of what BYD does in China with what they call a blade design, a rectangular cross section that brings torsional stiffness and part of Galaxy's Network, we have Galaxy Transportation. It's a team of people who comes from the race car industry. So integrating the structure of the battery housing into the structure of the car, you can reduce the weight because the function of stiffness can be provided both from the housing of the battery and the structure. Today people just drop little round cylinders in a box and put a cap on top and bottom. But it's not a structural unit, it's just a box. So use the strength of the housing and the design is convenient because you don't have to have active cooling and you can do quick recharge without active cooling as well. So there's a number of benefits to this thought process of how to hybridize the benefits of lightweight on the battery and structure side.
[00:49:54.430] - Torsten
So how much is the weight reduction potential from magnesium for the lithium I battery? When you replace the electrode and the case.
[00:50:06.970] - Charles
At the outset, it's a little under 20%. There's a meaningful initial opportunity for weight reduction because copper is a heavy hitter, so to speak, in the cell. And this can work without needing the weight and without the cost of copper.
[00:50:33.490] - Torsten
And when you mentioned we used the battery as a structural component of the total car, can you still replace the battery?
[00:50:43.810] - Charles
Yes. The battery? Yeah. Single access trackers are designed with a torque tube, so think about being able to swap out torque tubes on single axis trackers. You can swap out torque tube battery.
[00:51:16.290] - Torsten
[00:51:17.330] - Charles
That's bringing the stiffness. It's actually easier in the battery case, but because it's not clamp two big wings of solar panels. But the structural advantage, the single access tracker designs built around the difference between having a round cylinder or a square cross section tube for a single access tracker. There are trade offs that you can make take that same thinking. It doesn't map one for one with the functional need, but the mechanical property side, all of the knowhow exists for running models of the strength of the materials in the configuration options that are available readily replaced within the assembly. That's the receptacle for the battery, and it serves as where the termination automatically matches plus and minus links into that receptacle easily.
[00:52:36.100] - Torsten
Yeah. And another thing you mentioned was the circular design of battery cells and the blade design of BYD. So first of all, is BYD the only one who does the blade type design.
[00:52:54.470] - Charles
I think the first ones to introduce it and they license it without a royalty fee. It's a really good idea. And part of the history of thinking that batteries are round cylinders. We all carry that bag of old thinking every time we walk out the front door of our homes. And being able to think about the design in a different way opens up the nice part. There are some great YouTube videos that BYD has produced showing the blade battery design. That explains it far better than me trying to articulate it here without video.
[00:53:50.030] - Torsten
Excellent. So we jumped a little from you being at Naval. Now we are at Galaxy. So we need to fill that gap. So you left narrow, you started Greenstar, the foundation, and that's when the 90s or something.
[00:54:10.070] - Charles
Late ninety s. Okay. And in the late ninety s, I also joined Winfread Hoffman at ASC Americas, previously Solar Energy, based in Altonow, and they were owned at the time by RWE. And then that piece of the business was acquired by Tessag and ASC in Alzheimer acquired Mobile Solar business in Massachusetts. And so Mobile Solar became ASC Americas.
[00:54:54.330] - Torsten
[00:54:54.790] - Charles
So I joined working with Winfreyd and the team in Altonow as part of joining ASC America. This was edge defined film fed growth. It was ribbon Silicon.
[00:55:09.830] - Torsten
[00:55:11.090] - Charles
Rather than single Crystal cylinders. So the goal there was throw away less Silicon and sawdust.
[00:55:21.830] - Torsten
[00:55:22.320] - Charles
By making a ribbon. And the Silicon was drawn through a graphite die to shape an eight sided Octagon which had sides that were 100 or 150 match the wafer size, one of the dimensions of standard wafers being used.
[00:55:52.370] - Torsten
Okay. Excellent. So Ace and Mobile, we got that bridge. And where did you go after mobile?
[00:56:02.640] - Charles
I went to SunPower.
[00:56:04.830] - Torsten
[00:56:06.590] - Charles
Sunpower was looking to get investors to scale interdigitated back contact cells. Whoever Linden had worked at SunPower, Ron Mercord, some of the very along with Dick Swanson, the founder of SunPower, incredibly brilliant people all had some common thread linked to SunPower at some point. Yeah. I joined SunPower to work with Dick Swanson's team to put the business plan together to get the financing.
[00:56:47.570] - Torsten
When did you join San Paulo?
[00:56:50.210] - Charles
2001, October of 2001.
[00:56:56.110] - Torsten
[00:56:56.860] - Charles
So during 2002, we were trying to raise money.
[00:57:00.530] - Torsten
[00:57:01.360] - Charles
And TJ Rogers from Cypress Semiconductor ended up bringing his financial horsepower to SunPower. And we initially set up pilot manufacturing in Round Rock, Texas, just outside of Austin, where Cyber Semiconductor had an integrated circuit Fab line. And the chips produced in Texas were shipped to the Philippines for packaging. So as SunPower scaled, we ran a pilot line in Texas and then scaled the manufacturing in the Philippines. I think at that point, Cypress probably had 18,000 employees in the Philippines. So there were a lot of very good people to work with for the first factory for interdigitated back contact cells with SunPower.
[00:58:02.690] - Torsten
All right, excellent. So this runs now as Maxion. So the samples kind of reorganized their business and IBC solar cells again on the rise? I would say still a small portion, but there's a continued interest and rising interest in the sell concept, but it dates back to a few years.
[00:58:34.670] - Charles
Then SunPower, then I went to Applied Materials.
[00:58:39.380] - Torsten
[00:58:39.690] - Charles
I was hired Applied Materials at the time had been in the business. It still is in the business of providing equipment for the semiconductor industry manufacturing and for the large area flat panel display manufacturing. And I was hired to set up a solar division at SunPower in 2006. By that point, it was a lot easier to hire people into solar 30 years before. Between 2006, we went from having no business to selling over $2 billion a year. By 2010 went from zero to over 2 billion in four years.
[00:59:30.560] - Torsten
Yeah. Excellent. Amazing. And then after Applied.
[00:59:41.290] - Charles
Then I was at the Department of Energy running the solar energy technology office for the USDOE.
[00:59:50.490] - Torsten
Yeah. So you decided on which technology is worthwhile being funded?
[01:00:00.170] - Charles
The independent reviewers are the ones who review proposals of what work should be funded.
[01:00:07.890] - Torsten
[01:00:08.680] - Charles
The job is more about defining categories for activity. So, like, lowering a solar panel cost, of course, is one part. But integrating solar into the grid is a big part of the work that's being done. Tackling soft costs, all of the permitting costs and other costs associated with deployment of rooftop systems, bringing solar to lesser, well off communities. Those are all themes that are important to the kind of work that's done at the Department of Energy.
[01:00:50.900] - Torsten
Yeah. I just did an analysis on what my guests say, what is required to bring solar to the next level. And it's not a big population. I think back then it was 13 people, but anyhow, it was like more than 50% said that the key is to improve the regulatory section just simply to make it easier to deploy solar. Right. To bring it onto the roof, to feed into the grid, just to get rid of all the, let's say, man made obstacles. It's less about technology costs, efficiency, cetera, reliability. It's really more on the regulatory level.
[01:01:33.710] - Charles
[01:01:34.970] - Torsten
Would you share that opinion?
[01:01:37.790] - Charles
I think even more important is consistency over time.
[01:01:45.410] - Torsten
On a political level, yes.
[01:01:47.890] - Charles
Because here in democracies, every time there's an election, the person who gets elected usually says the person before them had it all wrong. So they change whatever was underway to their way. And it's the source of major perturbation. When you think, what's the half life of Crystal and Silicon technology? Well, maybe 30 years, 20 years. It's measured in decades. It's not like integrated circuit. It's where a half life of my laptop is 18 months. Technology changes in the energy. Space changes slowly. You need long term, consistent policy built around a strategy, a vision. And if that gets turned around every few years because of an election, it's very hard for anybody to reach the consensus for tackling climate change, that we need to have the common thread that all of us need to be addressing in the best way we can find, to collaborate and partner, to get the momentum built and then to maintain it. So even if it's not the best idea, if it's consistent, you can adapt to whatever that equation and figure out how to circumvent them, live up with them, get around them, change the equation. But it's very hard when things change on a very short time horizon relative to the changing of an infrastructure that has so much capital already sunk into it.
[01:03:54.150] - Torsten
Excellent. So, Doe, and then from there, did you go straight to Galaxy or was there something else?
[01:04:01.640] - Charles
I spent time seeing if I could get a manufacturing plant built up here in the US called Violet Power.
[01:04:07.720] - Torsten
Right. Violet. Right.
[01:04:09.290] - Charles
And wasn't able to raise the capital necessary to carry that out. So I went from that. Serving on the boards, I helped a number of universities, which increasingly have entrepreneur programs. So students who have ideas for how to make businesses out of new technology, older guys like me, who have had a lot of experiences trying to solve problems, can help. I think in many ways, mentor students to navigate their way around problem areas and to navigate their way towards some successful new thinking, new ways of carrying out business. So I've got work that I do with three different universities here in California.
[01:05:08.730] - Torsten
All right, excellent. And if you don't mind, I would switch a little bit topic, because I think it's pretty interesting with your long experience as a businessman and entrepreneur, how do you pick new hires? Right. I mean, you you used to lead big teams and you need the best talent, of course, always to get your ambitious technology projects solved. Now, looking back, what's your trick to pick the best?
[01:05:44.490] - Charles
Make sure they're not like me.
[01:05:47.610] - Torsten
Okay. All right.
[01:05:50.490] - Charles
You need somebody who thinks differently to push back, to get the best result by diversity of ideas, diversity of experience, diversity of culture. That's why I've really enjoyed Greenstar working in, I think, over 80 countries with different cultures, figuring out how to communicate without words, being able to adapt to common themes that all of us who are human share with each other and come at it from different perspectives.
[01:06:42.310] - Torsten
So how do you test in an interview that this person can push back and tell you where to go?
[01:06:53.690] - Charles
There's some you can do, but the chemistry outcome, even if you had the perfect interview questions, it's not going to extrapolate very far into the second week on the job. A good example is one of the best technical people was on the solar team and applied materials came from the organic PV background. Organic PV is interesting because it's so difficult to work with organic PV. You've had to deal with far more problems than a guy like me who's only mostly worried about Silicon Crystal, single element. And so people with that ability to bring some immediate benefit because they can help, they can understand the aspects of a problem and can contribute right away in the organization, and they can bring that background of thinking from a different dimension into the organization. But my ability to interview people and predict doesn't have a very high correlation coefficient. It's usually just see what happens when you put the chemicals together and how that mix comes out.
[01:08:32.430] - Torsten
Yeah. And another question around, let's say running a tech company is the classic thing is you have a target. You want to achieve whatever 90% by using whatever a new element to doing the context. How do you meet the timeline? It's so hard to predict any technology projects. Right. Because there are so many uncertainty, because usually you don't know the path, how to get there. Right. And at the same time, there's a business that needs to be fed with your innovation. So it's very important to meet kind of some timelines. How do you do it? Right, because I think it's one of the trickiest situations. Right. Trickiest tasks, project management, predicting timelines.
[01:09:27.730] - Charles
Pick one thing to measure. So one of my favorite stories is here in the US, around Pittsburgh area, Carnegie Mellon University, fabulous for automation and advanced technologies. They were originally endowed with funds from Andrew Carnegie, who made his money in the steel industry. When Carnegie retired from running his company, he was hired as a consultant. And he would go visit steel Mills, and the plant manager would give him a tour, walk around. And a good example of the story is one steel mill that he went to visit at the end of the day, the plant manager asked him, what advice do you have for us to improve our steel business? And he said, could you give me a piece of chalk? And the manager went and got a piece of chalk out of the conference room. And Carnegie wrote on the floor of the factory, one. And then he drew a circle around the one plant manager said, well, what the heck is that? And he said, you are producing one ton of steel a day. If you measure and you just track against tons per day, you will end up improving the performance of your plan.
[01:11:04.710] - Charles
So he picked one clear metric that was easy to communicate to everybody in the organization. So everybody had a clear understanding of what that one meant and could use their good judgment and common sense. Empowering employees to use their good judgment and common sense is the secret to business success. And communicating a clear, crisp, easy to understand target. Then you or I working in any company, if we know that one is the number and we want to get to 1.1 the next week, the way we spend our time can help reinforce the efforts to get to 1.1%, you are empowered. You don't need to be micromanaged. You have the ability because you were able to clearly understand the metric to contribute your part. And far be it from me as a boss to tell you how to get to 1.1. I expect you to get to 1.1 and use your good judgment and common sense to take the actions to help everybody reach that. That's sort of an operating culture and.
[01:12:35.800] - Torsten
That's what you applied in many of your previous jobs.
[01:12:39.170] - Charles
Yeah, it came out I grew up on a farm and it was how many oranges were we able to haul to the market and how many crates? It was always a measure and I knew exactly from the time I was eight years old whether I was helping increase the number of boxes of oranges or not.
[01:13:03.570] - Torsten
Okay. Wonderful. Excellent. Hey, as always, I would like to close the decision today with the final question which is what does it take to take to get solar to the next level? So we already talked about the regulatory aspects and you brought in consistency. Is it number one and if it's number one, then what would be number two?
[01:13:38.430] - Charles
What I think is important here is the autonomous grid so that the pieces that we each can bring in a way it's similar to Andrew Carnegie and a clear way of having the decision making be automated like autonomous vehicles driving getting autonomous electrons to go where they need to go. The technology pieces, the scaling the market is what helps drive the manufacturing side of the business. So what can we do to enable the market for our technology to be faster adopted and incorporated into the grid? Those are the hurdles that will help open up the demand for product to go into that market. That's for me. The next level, the next level is letting the grid network function without human intervention.
[01:14:49.900] - Torsten
Yeah, excellent. So smart grids, right? I think that's the headline for what you mentioned.
[01:14:59.430] - Charles
[01:15:00.510] - Torsten
Excellent, Charlie, it's been a wonderful ride through your past and present solar journey. Thanks a lot for coming onto the show.
[01:15:14.150] - Charles
Well, thanks for the invitation. It's fun to see you tourist. It's been a long time.
[01:15:18.530] - Torsten
Yeah, it's been a long time. And all the best with Galaxy energy and all the other interesting, fascinating projects that will come for you in the future. Thanks a lot.
[01:15:31.900] - Charles
Thank you so much and good luck to you as well.
[01:15:34.540] - Torsten
[01:15:34.970] - Charles
Take care. Have a good day.
[01:15:36.530] - Torsten
Thanks. Excellent. Bye.