In today’s episode of Hardware to Save a Planet, Dylan is joined by Erika Boeing, to discuss the start-up journey of Accelerate Wind, from identifying a product fit and a suitable business model for growth to the future of Accelerate Wind. They delve into how Accelerate Wind is evolving into having an efficient approach to generating wind energy with rooftop turbines
Erika emphasizes the need for efficiency measures during the transition phase to wind energy in order to maintain sustainability and avoid mistakes that lead to the “Jevons paradox” of offsetting efficiency gains with technical development.
Accelerate Wind is a company that aims to transform rooftop wind energy in the commercial and industrial sectors by dramatically cutting the cost of small wind turbine technologies. Erika Boeing is a systems engineer and entrepreneur. She is constantly looking for the bigger picture implications and connections underlying everything she does. Erika formerly worked as a systems engineer at DRS Technologies, where she oversaw the design and development of cutting-edge new energy, water, and waste technologies, such as a containerized waste-to-energy system for isolated locations and a 100-mile-long fluid transportation system, which awarded her a patent.
If you want to discover more about Transforming Wind, check the key takeaways of this episode or the transcript below.
- 12:55 – 13:41 – The business model method of Accelerate Wind – Accelerated Wind turbines are specifically developed for commercial and industrial building. This is due to the fact that solar can’t produce the entire energy demand of most buildings. Hence, is the need for the installation of wind turbines alongside solar panels.
- 33:34 – 33:49 – The goals for net-zero energy generation – Zero-energy buildings combine energy efficiency and renewable energy generation to consume only as much energy as can be produced onsite using renewable resources over a certain length of time. Zero-energy is a lofty but increasingly attainable aim that is gaining traction across geographic regions and economies.
- 21:34 – 22:24 – Where are the best places to position Accelerate Wind turbines for adequate effectiveness? – Accelerate Wind turbine makes use of contemporary airfoil technology to capture naturally faster wind speeds at the edge of the roof, as well as an energy-storage-based powertrain to reduce power electronics costs.
- 14:00 – 15:06 – The collaboration of Accelerate Wind and solar installers – Accelerate Wind’s rooftop wind turbine is designed to be installed by existing solar installers together with solar installations, minimizing costs for permitting, installation, and client acquisition.
Dylan Garrett: Hardware to Save a Planet, explores the technical innovations that are giving us hope in the fight against climate change. Each episode focuses on a specific climate challenge and explores an emerging physical technology solution with the person bringing it into reality. I’m your host, Dylan Garrett. Hello, and welcome to a very exciting episode of Hardware to Save a Planet. I feel really lucky to be sitting down with Erika Boeing today. Erika is the CEO and founder of Accelerate Wind, where she and her team are developing a really innovative hardware solution to generate wind energy with rooftop turbines.
They’re making wind a more affordable and effective energy source and helping building owners and operators get to net zero. Welcome, Erika. Really happy to have you. Thank you for joining.
Erika Boeing: Thanks. Excited to be here.
Dylan: Thanks. Before we get into what Accelerate Wind is doing and the technology you’re currently developing, I’d love to hear more about your background, your path to climate change, and your inspirations along the way, that kind of thing.
Erika: That sounds good. I guess my journey started when I went to Olin College, which I know you also went to, to get a mechanical engineering degree. I approached it, not knowing if I wanted to be an engineer, but realizing that technology made a huge impact on the planet. I had a lot of different sides of my personality and figured this was something that I could do to have a say on the trajectory of how things developed. I was like, “Okay, Olin is a school that’s trying to make a difference and use technology to affect the world in positive ways. I want to go see what that looks like.”
I went to college trying to figure out how to really focus on purpose, I guess. That naturally led me to sustainability, had a few professors who terrified me about the state of the environment and gave me a few obsessive years at the end of college, talking about and researching every energy technology I could and trying to figure out where I could step in and make a difference.
Then I graduated, ended up working for a defense contractor, developing energy, water, and waste technologies and leading a lot of early-stage projects there, which was a really good learning experience and helped me figure out how to develop new technologies. My baby, while I was there, was a waste of energy technology to convert the military’s trash to electricity. I got to see a lot of these projects go from the ground up and realized that I had built up a lot of confidence in my engineering capabilities, but I still had a lot of sustainability questions.
Decided that it was time to take a step back and think about sustainability. I applied for a Fulbright scholarship in the Netherlands to study a field called Society, Science and Technology. Studying how technology affects society and how society determines what technologies get accepted. It was super philosophical. It was a year thinking about sustainability and technology and unintended consequences.
It wrapped my brain into a bunch of twists where I didn’t know how to make a difference and what that meant and made me question everything for a minute but I got really inspired by it while I was there by some local initiatives to generate renewable energy and energy efficiency measures locally. There were a few really innovative projects where people were converting houses on mass to run on solar, retrofit everything with energy efficiency and do it in a really systemic way that everything hit itself back within a couple years.
It made me just realize that when people are generating their energy locally, they’re much more likely to think about their overall energy picture. I wanted to be involved with helping that happen. I had a day that I was at a festival drinking a beer and sitting on a terrace and I was just staring at buildings and I had this stuff pop into my head of, “Hey, I wonder if wind actually increases at the edges of roofs, just because of the way that wind is forced to flow over the edge of building. If it does, is that something that we could actually harness and produce meaningful energy from?”
I went back and did the math and realized that actually there’s a lot of power right at the edges of roofs and that it seemed it was something we could use to generate significant affordable wind power. I was at a good break point in my career and had thought about starting a company for a while and decided that the numbers looked good enough that it was worth it to give it a go. I applied for some grants four years ago and now Accelerate Wind is real. We’re building paid pilots and still on our turbines, out in the world.
Dylan: Congrats for that. I’m excited to talk more about that. You said a couple things that piqued my interest. One, converting military waste to energy is that I, so I was looking at this space recently and there were a bunch. I feel there was a lot of this trash to electricity companies a decade ago or something. You don’t hear about it?
Erika: That’s about when I was working on it.
Dylan: You don’t hear about it much anymore. Does it work? Is it economically feasible?
Erika: What we designed was for small base stamps. Things that were needed to set up out of nowhere, or they had very little infrastructure needed, something that would be super reliable. What we actually ended up doing was developing a clean gas or clean combustion system basically, but it was gasification with a few other steps in there to be able to cleanly combust the waste and then doing heat to electricity conversion on the back end. It was really more clean combustion combined with heat to electricity in a way that was designed to be really robust. We got a patent on it. Corporate world in military budgets. It didn’t go any further than that. It was great. It was a great learning experience for me.
Erika: I think I dropped off. I know there’s a few companies that are still out there today that are doing some of this, but I’ve dropped off of that technology over the past five years or so.
Dylan: The other thing you said, this is how energy technologies interact with society. Actually, when I was looking into your background, I saw that I hadn’t heard of this term before, but the energy rebound effect, and I had this moment reading about it where I was like, “Oh God.” Because it’s going to ruin everything. Can you explain what that is a little bit, and how you wrap your head around it?
Erika: It is the most depressing concept for any engineer trying to work on sustainability projects, which is essentially the concept that energy efficiency measures won’t always lead to a reduction in energy generation. Overall. Some other people know it as Jevons paradox because it was developed by a guy. His name was William Stanley Jevons, sometime Jevons, during the cold boom.
He had this hypothesis that making our coal engines more efficient would actually lead to a shortage of coal because people would start using more and more and more. That it would cause problems. That didn’t happen because we discovered oil, but it’s also really relevant for energy efficiency measures. One example is you put in LED light bulbs and you save some money and then you spend it on a plane flight for vacation, probably not reducing our carbon emission zone overall, increasing our quality of life, which is good, but not deterministically, meaning that we reduce our carbon emissions.
There’s a bunch of different ways that this can happen too, another crazy example is refrigerated storage that wasn’t the thing in the past. Now that refrigerators got way cheaper and we were able to freeze our food and trip it across the country. That takes a lot more energy than we would’ve used in the past. I spent a lot of time looking at the different ways that different economists had looked at this energy rebound effect to try to figure out, is there a way that I could know if a technology I developed was going to rebound or not? I think the real answer is that anything economic is hard to predict and determine passion.
I spent a lot of time thinking about that and that’s probably why I’m working on the source now working on renewable energy. I think since then, I’ve evolved a little bit to realize we do need energy efficiency measures and those quality of life increases are still good things. If we’re going to transition, that has to be a part of the story rather than just an abrupt transition. Not anti-energy efficiency, but it definitely caused a couple years of my career where I was questioning everything from it.
Dylan: You won’t see that rebound effect though, I see your point about you’re focusing on the source. If you’re generating energy, people aren’t going to use more energy because they have wind turbines on their buildings.
Erika: Not as direct, there’s no silver bullet. There’s still going to be material shortages. The more that we create things that generate energy and everything. It’s at least a step in the right direction. I think with the goals that people are setting for net-zero energy generation, that helps a lot with aiming society in the right direction so that we can keep everything bound in a way that’s healthy for the planet. It seems more direct, at least nothing’s perfect.
Dylan: In your studies of how society and this technology interact, did that help you decide that local generation is important? It sounds like there’s some link between people seeing the generation happening and their behavior changing.
Erika: That was part of my hypothesis. I wouldn’t say that it’s always that way, the world is really complex, but at the time it seemed, there was this mantra, especially with the energy rebound effect of like, “Oh cool. I got my Tesla, now I did my green thing,” and I can go like, I don’t know, spend money on a plane flight or whatever. When people started to think about the energy generation source and everything and seeing wind or solar closer to them than they believe that’s actually something that’s possible and start to think about other energy efficiency measures that they could make at the same time.
That was at least the hypothesis. I don’t think it always works that way, but it’s a step towards normalizing it for people at least.
Dylan: Last question about your background. I saw when I was snooping on LinkedIn that you also worked on the Project Drawdown team.
Erika: Oh, that was fun. That was a lot of fun.
Dylan: Which really caught my eye just because that study has been an inspiration for me and I’m sure a lot of people in this space. Can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Erika: That was a great project. That was actually right at first coming out of my Fulbright. Think about what I wanted to do next. I think I had just barely started Accelerate Wind but was doing it on the side. They brought me on as a research fellow for Project Drawdown. I was one of 100 different fellows all across the world that was researching these 80 solutions to reverse global warming and the impact that they could have. I was assigned a few solutions.
Actually, waste energy was one of them because my experience on that before the landfill method was captured. I did the climate modeling and the economic modeling to look at what if we scale these solutions in a way that’s– the term they used was optimistic and plausible. What is still possible within how these solutions are scaling with society today? How much would that reduce our carbon emissions and what would the net economic savings be? That was a really cool project. It was so much fun. It was the most passionate team that I’ve ever worked on.
I think the really cool thing about Drawdown was just the positive message. I think after a couple years of philosophical, I don’t know, dwelling, it was really nice to be involved in a project that was really thinking about positive, what are the tangible solutions that we can do and giving hope to people if there’s a way for everybody to pitch in on climate solutions. I could feel that on the team. It was really cool.
Dylan: Through that process, did you come out of it feeling more optimistic? You’ve got a plan on what you can do this kind of thing?
Erika: I think so. More optimistic, it was cool to see Drawdown talks about 80 different solutions for reversing global warming. It was cool to see the breadth of things that were considered and think about things a little bit more holistically. It was really cool to see as well how other people were able to be inspired by the book and seeing it catch on to a societal movement and everything too. I think it encouraged me that maybe hope is a good approach.
I think I’ve moved that way, especially since being an entrepreneur, optimism is required to be an entrepreneur, and if you want to have a shot of getting things done. Maybe that was my step in moving towards optimism, maybe even just in a practical way because that’s how we get things done, but it was a useful mindset at least.
Dylan: Nice. Accelerate Wind, the idea you were at a festival drinking a beer and had this idea, which is great. Had the background and ability to go model it out and excel and prove it out. I’d love to talk more about it. Maybe we can start with what’s the business model? You have rooftop wind turbines. Who do you sell to, wondered who are some of those key stakeholders you have to convince in that process?
Erika: Sure. Our turbines are designed specifically for commercial buildings. Think retail, factories, warehouses, these long big box tilt-up construction commercial buildings that have a large roof space. As I mentioned before, they’re specifically designed to go on the edge of roofs where the wind increases naturally. One of the things that I was inspired by early on too was just the fact that solar was finally taking off around the time that I started Accelerate Wind. That made me believe that it would be possible to scale things at some amount of speed and I thought maybe we can do this with wind. Our direct customers are actually solar installers.
On most commercial buildings, solar can’t produce the entire energy demand of most buildings. We have designed our turbines to be installed alongside solar at the edge of the roof where solar can’t go and to be installed by solar installers because they’re already out there. They have networks for customer acquisition, installation, permitting, financing. All the things that we don’t have expertise on our team that often are really local depending on which area of the country you’re in, they already have those skills.
We’ve spent a lot of time working with solar installers to figure out how we can make this useful to them, how we can make it easy for them to install alongside solar with labor that they already have out there in the field and how we can fit into existing permitting processes just like everything that goes into those soft class trend and design specifically around that. We sell the solar installers and for them, especially medium-sized solar installers who are trying to grow are pretty interested because they can send their same force out, install solar and wind, and increase their average deal size by about 25%. Then depending on the area of the country, sometimes you can even double the deal size.
A lot of these medium-size installers are looking to figure out how to grow and become one of the big guys in an industry that’s consolidating. They get really excited about that opportunity.
Dylan: The panels use up all the space for the panels, but you can use roof real estate that isn’t usable by panels.
Erika: Yes, that’s right.
Dylan: There are no corner solar panels.
Erika: Yes. The edge of the roof isn’t used. One of the reasons is that it’s too windy at the edge of the roof. That works well for us.
Dylan: There you go. Perfect. That seems like a pretty brilliant business plan. Was that the plan from the beginning or have you evolved to figure out that that’s your go-to-market?
Erika: It actually was. I was really inspired by solar early on. We started with residential buildings. We thought we were going to capture wind at the edge of residential roofs and then after talking to people, we realized that one, a lot of times, solar can’t provide the entire demand of a residential building, and two, the wind is so complicated around residential buildings. You have different roof shapes, you have different neighborhood configurations, and blockage from trees. Commercial buildings are just a lot more straightforward because you tend to have a big parking lot out front. The buildings usually can’t produce the energy demand of the solar. You make a bigger sale.
That was probably our big I think we always figured we would work with solar installers. Didn’t see a way to do it otherwise just because other small wind companies have had just such high installation costs that until you really get to scale, you can’t get rid of that unless you’re using somebody that’s already out there.
Dylan: Nice. It sounds like the reception has been positive.
Erika: Yes, definitely. Definitely.
Dylan: That’s awesome. I’m trying to think what the main driver of the purchase would be, but I guess thinking about it from a payback period standpoint, is it similar to solar?
Erika: Yes. Everything we’ve done is to design our turbines so that we can hit a similar payback to solar because that’s what customers are expecting. That’s the soft cost considerations that I’ve already mentioned, but also from a hardware standpoint, really optimizing the turbine to use off the shelf components to be able to accelerate the wind as it goes over the edge of the roof and make use of that so that it can produce more power with the smaller area. It’s really been a big optimization problem to try to get the cost down to where they need to be because it is an industry that’s driven very, very much by cost and ROI and everything.
Some of the earlier markets, there are people that are looking for how to get to net-zero and don’t have ways to do that without tearing apart their building and retrofitting it with energy efficiency measures. For those earlier markets, before we’re at scale, there’s people who are willing to pay more. It’s more about the actual end goal that they’re trying to meet. That’s our stepping stone from getting between the early phases of scale, but at scale, ROIs, everything.
Dylan: I know for solar, there’s all kinds of software to help figure out if you’re building eligible or how much will you produce? Based on the orientation of the building and structures around it, and all this kind of stuff, do you have a similar challenge to tackle to understand whether the wind is appropriate?
Erika: Yes. That’s a big question for us actually. Right now, we put sensors up on every building just to confirm before we go out and install, but that’s not the long-term plan. We’re working on getting a software system that can do similar to what solar does. Right now, we have a couple collaborations with the National Renewable Energy Lab and they’ve developed software to take utility-scale, wind data, and incorporate terrain and predict wind at the local level. They have a piece of software that can do that. We’re just about to hopefully start working with them to integrate our turbines into that model and ensure that we can do something similar.
Ultimately, the vision is to get to our solar is, but we’re probably a couple years from that at least.
Dylan: You’re a mechanical engineer, right?
Dylan: I am as well. At least I play one on a podcast these days. I’d love to talk about the tech itself and the physicality of it. I think you sent me an awesome picture. We’ll put that up in the show notes-
Erika: Oh, awesome.
Dylan: -so people can see it, but can you describe what your turbines look like, what the installations look like, and what these things are physically?
Erika: Yes. You gotta look on the website because it’s not intuitive at all or not what you would expect, but if you look at a building, what our system actually looks like to people from the ground is an awning that hangs over the edge and we call it our spoiler system that accelerates wind as it goes over the edge and lets us capture that faster wind speed. Our core IP, if I want to get technical for a second, is focused around preventing flow separation at the edge of the roof.
The reason that nobody else has been able to do this before is because, as wind hits a building, you get massive separation. It speeds up as it goes over the edge, but at the very edge, it’s a mix of fast and slow wind speeds, and then far above the roof, you actually get the high wind speeds. We have this airfoil spoiler shape that hangs over the edge of the roof and prevents that flow separation from happening, so you get the wind to be drawn down towards the edge of the roof. That is able to let us guide it towards the turbine that sits right at the edge.
We’ve got this giant spoiler hanging over the edge of the roof and it looks cool. People get really, really excited when they see it just because the way it architecturally affects the building. It guides the wind towards us. We have a 5-kilowatt cross flow turbine. It’s a vertical access turbine, but flipped 90 degrees, so it’s spinning on a horizontal axis.
Dylan: Got it.
Erika: The academic term would be crossflow turbine and the system is designed, yes.
Dylan: Would that be the same as a water, like a hydro? Is that a hydroelectric turbine?
Erika: They are sometimes used for hydro. Yes. There’s lift driven versions and drag-driven versions, we’re using the lift-driven type.
Dylan: I shouldn’t have even asked, I’m out of my depth here.
Erika: It is, yes. There’s a lot of similar types of hydro. It’s designed just like solar to be installed in modules alongside the edge of the roof. I mentioned it’s a 5-kilowatt module, but then that module’s 4 meters long, and then depending on how long your roof is, you can install any number of turbines based on how much power you want to produce, how much space you have on the roof. What else is relevant?
Dylan: Was there research already done on the behavior of wind at the corner of buildings, so that you knew going into this, we’re going to have to redirect that faster wind lower down on the building so we can capture with the turbine? Was that already done or did you have to figure all that out?
Erika: We figured it out pretty soon. It took us a minute. There was research out there but when we first looked at the models, we thought we’d be able to just capture it at the edge. As we really got into that, we started with computational fluid dynamics modeling and it didn’t take long to figure out that we had to do something different. We did a huge design sprint testing. We didn’t know what was going to work with the flow separation and so we tested trial and error-ish, educated trial and error, 200, 300 shapes to see what seemed to work best for reducing flow separation.
Then we were able to narrow it down to a set of parameters that matter to let us actually guide that wind over the edge of the roof and that became our core thing.
Dylan: Do you mean actually prototyping and testing or were you doing simulations?
Erika: This was all on computational fluid dynamics It was all simulation for those 300, 400 runs and then the best one we’ve built. We’ve had a prototype that’s been on the roof at Argonne National Lab in Chicago for the past couple years. That was able to let us actually validate the CFD that the wind was doing, but we said it was going to do.
Dylan: Nice. Maybe you’ve just covered it, but I was going to ask you what has been one of the biggest physical technology challenges you’ve faced? Was it this fluid dynamics problem or has it been challenging figuring out how to manufacture these things? What are some of the biggest things?
Erika: All of it.
Erika: I was thinking about this earlier when we were talking. I think one of the biggest challenges with wind is just how much of a system-level problem it is. You’ve got the aerodynamic side, then you’ve also got the drivetrain piece of things. How do you find? How do we find commercial office shelf components that will work at an affordable price that is also efficient enough to produce power that we need? How do we design this so it can be installed by a labor that’s out in the field? Definitely manufacturing challenges as well. It’s a big system.
These are, relatively speaking not compared to other wind turbines, the spoiler itself is 4 meters long and 3 meters wide and 3 meters high. That’s pushing the boundaries for a lot of manufacturers is what they could make. We started with sheet metal and now, we’re probably moving towards a composite manufacturing technology.
Dylan: Is it the same people who build turbines, wind turbines or–
Erika: No. Sometimes. Actually, yes. Pultrusion is what we’re using, so it’s got to be a constant profile. Some of the complex–
Dylan: Right. No draft on it.
Erika: Figuring out how to deal with big things, both from a manufacturing and a shipping and installation process was something that our team had to learn and that we hadn’t dealt with before. Probably we’ll continue to learn as we get some of our new pilots off the ground and everything.
Dylan: I hadn’t thought about installation. I guess you’re working in a pretty precarious position at the corner of pretty tall buildings.
Erika: Yes. Requires a crane operator basically.
Dylan: Cool. You mentioned Argonne National Lab, can you say a little bit about what the partnership with them is?
Erika: Yes. One of our earliest funding sources was through the Department of Energy program. They have these programs called the Lab Embedded Entrepreneurship Programs, where they embed cleantech startups in national labs for a two-year fellowship. The purpose is to take really early-stage cleantech startups, give them access to lab resources that will help accelerate their technology. We had funding for a fellowship for me to do the research work and then for us to work with scientists as well and get some of their time to help us develop the technology.
Actually, in our office, we still have some space that we’re using there. We’ve been embedded in the lab for the last three years or so, working with different experts in wind prediction or drive trains or other aerodynamic aspects as well to develop the tech, which has been really nice to augment our team, especially when we’re working with something that’s such a system-level problem. I’m a generalist and I like being a generalist, but it’s nice to have lots of people to pick their brains who are experts and integrate that into what we’re doing and everything.
Dylan: You have a system installed at their facility too?
Erika: Yes. It worked out that the best building in the lab, from a shape perspective to accelerate the wind, was the one that we were in. We were able to build it there and install it on-site, have easy access for monitoring and testing, and everything worked out pretty well. We were able to compare the data to a weather station that they had at the lab on-site that had been measuring wind speeds for the last 20 years, or maybe even longer than that. It was a really good setup for the first test.
Dylan: Nice. What have you learned from that test? Because it’s been, what’d you say, a couple years?
Erika: Yes. It’s been a couple years. It’s been a couple years. Yes, a lot. At that point, our core IP was still the same, so we had just tested the lower part of our system which is what’s really critical for accelerating wind, as it goes over the edge of the roof, but we didn’t know what type of turbine we were going to use. We hadn’t actually settled on using that crossflow turbine architecture yet.
Erika: Yes. The reason we do that is because it can stretch along the edge of the roof and we can have a larger system. Larger generators, invertors, are a lot cheaper than if we had to have, if it was a normal typical horizontal access wind turbine, we’d have to, unless we wanted to look ridiculous and have giant things stretching over the top of the building, then we’d have to have 1-kilowatt generators which are really expensive per kilowatt.
We evolved, we’ve done a lot more CFD refinements since then, and actually developed. We’ve changed the shape and we’ve also simplified it. It was going to have to be more of a 3D structure, now we’re able to make it out of, like I said it was shape metal, but we’re able to make it out of just bullet sheet rather than something 3D, and then we added an upper part of the spoiler that further concentrates the wind.
It’s been a lot of design refinement, testing, finding the right partners, design for manufacture. This summer we’re going to be building our next version of the technology and testing it at a more formal website. The pandemic turned into a redesign phase, and now we’re going out of that and moving into the next test.
Dylan: Got you. It sounds like you’ve retired a lot of the technical risk. Is that accurate?
Erika: I think that’s accurate. Yes. I think the next phase of technical risk is, one, how do we integrate into a lot of different types of buildings? We’ve designed it for some of the more typical types of commercial buildings, but there’s a lot of different buildings out there, and so just figuring out how to interacts with buildings that are designed for different loads or might have different parapet heights or just different particularities, slightly different shapes, trying to make sure that it’s robust across building types is the next phase. I think it’s further optimization from what we’ve done.
Also, design for certification. That’s another big thing that we’re working with NREL on right now is, how do we make sure that our turbine can get through the small wind certification process, which was traditionally designed for three-bladed horizontal access wind turbines, or not three-bladed, but for horizontal access wind turbines. What we’re doing is pretty different. In terms of measuring and predicting loads and power output and everything, there’s a lot of work to be done to develop a system that lets us do that and get through the certification process. We’re doing that now. Oh, we have some grants from the DOE to help us through that process, but I think that’s the next hurdle, I think.
Dylan: What about on the commercial side, do you see any hurdles on the horizon?
Erika: It’s tricky that the political landscape is always changing. In terms of figuring out, right now, our plan for the next couple years is to install 5 or 10 pilots, get data from those pilots. Then certify scale of. By the time we get to the scale of which market is going to be the best one for us to enter first, it may very well change because it’s really driven by local incentives, electricity prices, all kinds of things. We think there’s some places now where it would make sense for us to install a long side electric vehicle tragic stations because we can charge things at night when they have the highest demand in certain places.
There’s some peak demand incentives that make a lot of sense. Those incentives may completely change two years from now. That’s just something that we have to continuously track as we go along and be a little bit flexible as long as we can be about which market we’re going to enter first. That’s something we’re trying to figure out, is how do we be the most strategic about that so that we can make good decisions that aren’t likely to be affected too much by the shifting landscape. I think we’re working through that right now.
Dylan: Would that dictate which solar installers you partner with initially or are you looking at ones that are national and they’re unrelated?
Erika: Some of both. It probably would have some effect because a lot of solar installers go after a certain type of customer. That’s where financing models make the most sense. There’s a few national ones we’re talking about that could probably work in a book in most places, but that’s probably 20%.
Dylan: You actually just mentioned something I was curious about: that wind is different from solar and that it could potentially generate power around the clock. Is that seen as a major selling point of this in addition to solar panels? Does that play into the purchase decision at all?
Erika: Yes, definitely, two things. One, almost everywhere, winds are more powerful in the winter than the summer. That is naturally offset from solar. Then nighttime generation, I mean, you’re starting to get places where solar is the duck curve, and is overloading the grid. Being able to try something at night, especially in factories and places where their peak demand is actually at night. They’re getting these really high peak demand charges and don’t have a way to offset that with solar.
Wind is an option for that. We’re hoping that the wind or the solar and solar storage movement is only going to accelerate where we can have wind, solar and storage all in the same place and optimize the system for allocation and everything.
Dylan: Maybe this is a stupid question. My solar panels at my house, I’m just sending power back to the grid. Then I’m on net metering with the utility company. I imagine utilities, is that how it works with the commercial buildings?
Erika: Oh, a lot of times it does.
Dylan: Okay. The utilities are probably pretty happy to have to even out that generation curve.
Erika: We just went through the Techstars energy tech program. It’s sponsored by Alabama Power. They’re one of our funders because they’re excited about what we’re doing. Good for utilities. Then, also good for building owners because a lot of times, the way that utilities are dealing with that is they charge higher rates at those times a day. Sometimes it can work out economically.
Dylan: Right. Where do you hope Accelerate Wind will be in 10 years?
Erika: That’s a great question. I think the simple answer is our goal is to be on as many commercial buildings as possible, ideally everywhere where there’s solar. You’ll see a wind turbine. Then we also estimate that probably about 30% of the market is just wind, so places with wind will make more sense than solar. Then scaling globally, I could also see a world where we have products in the market, where we start to think more about just net-zero energy as a whole. Are there other solutions that we can get involved in with commercial buildings to add to energy resilience or net-zero energy goals and extend from there?
Whether Accelerate Wind, it goes off and is successful. Then we do that outside of Accelerate Wind or as part of Accelerate Wind, I don’t know. That would be the ultimate vision.
Dylan: Waste to electricity or what are we talking about?
Dylan: Full circle.
Erika: That would be interesting. I haven’t thought about wasting energy in a while, but it could come back.
Dylan: Are there other specific things you have in mind or–
Erika: We’ve thrown around a lot of ideas, but probably nothing super specific because our focus right now is really just on how we get this product out there.
Dylan: That’ll keep you busy enough.
Erika: Definitely have had to learn to narrow my focus a little bit as someone who’s a generalist, just to get this on the ground.
Dylan: A few last questions on a scale of, oh my God, we’re all going to die too. It’s cool, we’re all good. What’s your perspective on the future of our planet? We talked a little bit about optimism, plausible optimism.
Erika: Optimistically plausible scenarios so they’re modeling in Drawdown. That’s a great question. I think I change over time. Part of it leads into what I just said where I have almost stopped focusing on it and focused on, “Okay, what can I do?” From a practical standpoint, I guess the bigger picture to some extent is a little bit irrelevant to my day-to-day, but how fast can we scale Accelerate Wind? What can I actually influence as one person? I think my focus stays there and I’ve moved into more of an optimistic mindset. It might be a practically optimistic mindset, but I don’t know.
I think I’m definitely excited that the world was finally talking about climate change. Five, six years ago, when we were starting to think about this stuff, I know it was never a topic even in elections that I couldn’t believe that that was the case and now it’s the topic. I’m optimistic that people are finally talking about it, that young people are paying attention. That even investors are paying attention. The startup world, when we started cleantech, was really at a trough. There had been a ton of big investments in 2008, 2009 that didn’t go well so it just crashed. Then the past couple of years, it’s come way out of that.
My friends and people I know who are in the stock market are all focusing on renewable energy technologies because they see it as the future. I think that’s really encouraging. It seems like we might actually have a trajectory before we’re working together on this now. That’s good, it needs to be faster, but that’s my moderate answer, I guess.
Dylan: Well said. Who’s one other person or company doing something to address climate change right now that’s really inspiring you?
Erika: That’s a really great question. I think the cheesy answer is I feel like I am very much in my own little world right now, developing my startup heads down, trying to get things done. As a founder, I’ve been really influenced by being in an environment with a lot of other cleantech founders over time. To some extent it’s like my friends that I’ve been able to develop, and learn from. They all go through this process of trying to affect things through that lab embedded entrepreneurship program that I mentioned. I’ve been able to work with 20 different cleantech startups and a ton of other programs. That’s what keeps me going and realizing that what I’m doing isn’t necessarily crazy.
That’s what I think some of my friends have been able to do because their technologies are scaling really quickly and I’m super proud of them.
Dylan: I think it’s really inspiring too. I’ve been shocked at how many people I know that are moving into space from other industries and just how much energy there is in climate tech generally, now. It’s really cool.
Erika: Definitely. We might actually solve some problems.
Dylan: What advice do you have for someone not working in climate tech? Speaking of not working in climate tech today, who wants to do something to help?
Erika: I think one piece of advice that I always give people that I probably needed earlier is just, I think a lot of people try to think about what they can do to affect sustainability and get really overwhelmed by either the magnitude of the problem or more likely the complexity of the problem. I talked earlier about unintended consequences that tripped me up for a while with the energy rebound effects. I think it’s important for us to think about those things, but not to the point that paralyzes us from taking action.
I think I’ve learned a lot more going through the process of developing Accelerate Wind and saying, how do I make a difference that I did probably thinking about all of the unintended things that could happen. There’s a lot that you don’t know until you get into it. Things may often be two steps forward, one step back, but that’s still forward in the end. I would just recommend that people dive in. I think a lot of people who care about sustainability are really carefully considered people. They like to think deeply about things and that’s awesome. Sometimes that can get out of the way and we have to make changes quickly.
Dylan: Nice. Well, that’s an inspiring note to end on. Erika, it’s been really fun to talk to you. I have a sense that one of our greatest ways to address climate change would be to clone you. Sounds like you have a lot of energy and passion, and ideas about the space generally. It’s been really fun to talk to you. Thank you for your time.
Erika: Oh, well thank you. This has been a lot of fun.
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