Updated: Jul 7
Welcome to another episode of The Solar Podcast. Today, David is talking to Bill Nussey, author of the book, Freeing Energy, and host of a podcast by the same name. We talk about how small scale systems will totally disrupt large grid systems, how solar will be totally integrated in our lives in 10 years, and how getting solar panels is the best thing you can do to fight climate change. Let's get right into it on The Solar Podcast.
Dave Anderson (00:29):
Well, we'd like to welcome Bill Nussey to The Solar Podcast today, I'm Dave Anderson, the host of The Solar Podcast. We're thrilled to have Bill Nussey on the podcast. He's a longtime writer, author, runs his own podcast. He's written several books. He's well published. He's also delivered a Ted talk, it's always great to have anyone that's done a Ted talk. Also a serial entrepreneur, it seems as though, when you look through his resume. We're thrilled for his experience as an executive. We're thrilled for his insights and takes that he's going to have, both from a technical perspective. One of the things that I love about the podcast is that everyone that comes on the podcast, we're all energy users as well. And so, we get to have that unique perspective on top of whatever expertise that we might also bring to the podcast as well. So Bill, thanks so much for coming on. And we're thrilled to have you on today.
Bill Nussey (01:19):
Well, Dave, I appreciate it. I'm excited to chat with you about my absolute favorite topic, which is solar and solar and batteries.
Dave Anderson (01:25):
Yeah. So, we'll certainly get into this a little bit, but you most recently published a book, and you can see it over your shoulder there, Freeing Energy. So I'm curious, you said solar's your favorite topic, but the title of the book is Freeing Energy. So how do you make the distinction between energy and solar? And does the book then dive into broader topics outside of just solar?
Bill Nussey (01:49):
I'm cursed with having gotten a EE degree when I was very young. And so, terms like power and energy have very specific meanings to me. And so, when solar creates kilowatt hours, it is energy. That's definitionally energy. And what I mean by energy in this context of freeing it, is that the energy, primarily electric energy, is trapped in this crazy, century old monopoly business model. There's only three regulated monopolies in the United States that I know of, alcohol, gambling and electricity. So why are we managing our electric grid and the best single path forward to a clean energy, climate healthy future with a business model that's a hundred years old and hasn't changed one iota? So my book is about how do we free the electricity industry from this business model and let innovation just take off and do the same thing that it's done in other technology industries.
Dave Anderson (02:46):
And that, along with other things, are an example of some of the things we're going to jump into today. But Bill, I think it would be fantastic for our listeners if you could just give a quick overview of who you are and some of the things that you have worked on, and some of the things that you're excited about for the future, and then we can dive into each of those topics.
Bill Nussey (03:03):
Yeah. Great to start. I've been a tech nerd since I was in high school. Had my first software company when I was 14 years old, back when it was a fairly rare thing. And I just kept building and exiting software companies. And I took one of my companies public. We grew it to 3,000 people and $500 million, got to press the button at NASDAQ. And then I started or joined another company, which was in the software-as-a-service cloud business for marketing. And we grew that to be one of the top cloud marketing platforms in the world. And we sold that to IBM.
Bill Nussey (03:37):
And I wrote the CEO of IBM a letter and I said, "Listen, look what you could be. I've been here for a little while. You could do these great things." And she said, "Well, why don't you come run strategy for us?" And so I ended up running strategy for IBM. And that's where I stumbled into the clean energy industry. And a friend of mine said, "If you want to learn it, write a book." So I started writing a book a couple of years ago. It was supposed to take two, it took four. But I traveled all over the world, met the most inspiring people and got excited about it. So it's kind of a mixture of, help the world, help people and do super cool techy stuff that's going to create a lot of value for startups and investors.
Dave Anderson (04:16):
That's incredible. So going backwards just for one second. So founded, built a company that you ultimately were able to take public. What was the name of that company?
Bill Nussey (04:27):
That was called IXL. And not a lot of people have been around long enough, but the internet was quite a thing once upon a time, and nobody was on it. And so IXL was arguably the largest company in the world if you were some of our clients like Home Depot and General Electric and others, and you said, "Gosh, this internet thing seems pretty cool. Can we put up a website? Can we sell things over the internet?" And IXL was really one of the first companies in the planet that you could go to. And people would pay a lot of money, millions, tens of millions of dollars to have us internet-ify their companies. We had 3,000 people in 25 locations around the world, and companies of all stripe sizes came to IXL to get them on. We were the on ramp for the internet.
Dave Anderson (05:09):
Yeah. That's incredible. So IXL grows and ultimately you're able to take it public through the NASDAQ, which, as an entrepreneur, that's kind of the ultimate, right? Most people think, I want to build a company, grow it, take it public. If you were to try to roadmap out what most entrepreneurs think success looks like, and you'd accomplish that. And then you take that and parlay that into your next opportunity. So what is it exactly that drives you as an entrepreneur? If you've reached the pinnacle of what most entrepreneurs are chasing, why then go do it again?
Bill Nussey (05:43):
Particularly, I've done a few more since then, and I'm lining up to do a bunch more now. And people think I'm kind of crazy because, at my point in life, why aren't you retiring? Or just, why work so hard? And I'll tell you, man, I learned a couple things when I was younger. I learned that I'm really only happy when I'm learning. And so I got to learn, I got to be building my brain and seeing things, a new perspective. I love meeting people that are doing inspiring work. I love building teams. And it's hard work. And honestly, as you get older, it's maybe a bit harder. And you know some of the techniques, and you know some of the dumb things to avoid. But also, it's harder. People's expectations are different.
Bill Nussey (06:26):
But when we sold the company to IBM, my wife had this notion that we should give away the biggest chunk of the money so that I couldn't retire. And so we have had so much fun. We've been funding electrification projects from Puerto Rico to Africa, schools and healthcare centers where they were off grid, or they couldn't afford electricity, and giving them solar micro grids. Been so fun. I talk about a few of them in the book. And I wanted to be in a position where I felt a fire to go do something that really mattered, to make a dent in the universe.
Bill Nussey (06:59):
And that's really been the north star for me. Where am I going to learn? And how can I make a difference to pay it forward? And I raised my kids, who are both young adults now, with a singular notion in life, which is, how do you make the world a better place? That's the question you have to ask yourself every day. And it could be that you're just helping someone across the street who's in a walker. It could be that you're donating $10 billion to charity. Whatever you do, at the end of each month, if you don't feel you've made the world a better place, then I think you might find a greater degree of happiness and reward if you asked that question more rigorously.
Dave Anderson (07:37):
So is it then safe to say that, for you, the reason that you start businesses and the reason that you've found yourself being this serial entrepreneur is, in fact, because you're trying to make a broader or bigger impact outside of the business, actually, just a worldwide impact? You call that your north star.
Bill Nussey (07:56):
I think now, at this point in my career, that is absolutely 100% my target. I think earlier, for everybody who's in their 20s and 30s, that part of your career is where you're trying to build your resume. Many people, I did, have families at those points. So you try to balance that with building your opportunity to demonstrate your business acumen, make more money.
Bill Nussey (08:20):
So I think I chose well, and I always chose by where I was going to learn the most, as opposed to what would make me the most money. And so, I probably made less money than others, but I learned a hell of a lot. And now I'm in this great position, going to be spinning up some ventures in the next year, all around energy and solar. And I think it's a great place to be. And the path may not be for everybody, but for me, I'm happy, I'm excited. I get up every day on fire. What can I do? Who can I work with? Who am I going to meet? How am I going to meet Dave Anderson today, someone who's doing great work, getting a message out there? And I'm loving it.
Dave Anderson (08:53):
So segueing a little bit into, and you've already teased us with some of the information that's in the book, Freeing Energy. But you challenged that perhaps we're not actually running, or we're not electrifying our world the way that we would if we were to do it over again. And so, maybe you can kind of talk a little bit about some of the conclusions that you drew through the research and through the time that you've spent either as a podcast expert or through the examples that you've had being a serial entrepreneur, or just in the research that you did for the book. Maybe you can kind of help us and our listeners understand some of the conclusions that you were able to ultimately arrive at as it relates to our energy, as we see it today, and what we maybe should be considering or doing differently.
Bill Nussey (09:36):
Boy, I could spend another few hours answering that question. But let me give you a couple of stories. I dream of having a time machine, and I would go back in time. And a couple of my heroes are Orville and Wilbur Wright, and I would go back to 1920 and I would bring them forward to 2020, 2022. And I would show them a 747 and an F18 and say, "Look at this simple idea you created, and how it has grown over the century. And it's absolutely transformational to everything in our society." They'd be like, "Yeah, man, look what we did. That's big." Then I'd go back in time to 1920 and I'd get Alexander Graham Bell and I'd bring him forward and I'd whip out my iPhone, right? And I'd say, "Sir, this thing that you created, now has grown over a hundred years. And from this device in my hand, I can dial 10 digits and reach 7 Billion human beings on the planet Earth instantaneously, and access the sum total of all human knowledge within seconds. This is what you started." And Alexander Graham Bell should hopefully feel very proud.
Bill Nussey (10:35):
But you know what, if I went back to 1920 and brought Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla forward, and I brought them to any part of the electric grid that they invented, they would look at it and say, "This is identical in architecture, in technology, you have changed virtually nothing in a hundred years. Why is it that those guys have had utterly transformational changes on the world, and electricity has remained 120 volts, AC transmission and distribution lines, giant centralized coal power plants? What were you doing for the last a hundred years?" And that realization is what just ignited me to write a book because people, we are so stuck like the frogs in the boiling water that we don't realize that this system that served us so well, that electrified the country and the world, created economic development like no other technology, it was transformational a hundred years ago, and it's completely out of date today. And very few people realize it.
Bill Nussey (11:34):
And so, this book is not just a discussion about how broken the grid that we have today is, despite all the good that it does, but we're going to see rolling blackouts this summer across the US and the world. And it's just so old and antiquated. But it's really a call to arms for entrepreneurs and innovators to say, there's something about to change fundamentally that allows you, for the first time in a hundred years, to break through those monopolies that have controlled this and kept innovation tamped down. And there's a chance for you as innovators and entrepreneurs, or just as everyday citizens, to make a difference in the acceleration towards a climate healthy future. And that is these small scale systems.
Bill Nussey (12:20):
You think the rooftop solar and micro grids are this little idea that sits on the side. The book makes the case, the podcast makes the case, the guests we have, people I interviewed, make the case, I think compellingly, that these small systems are going to completely rewrite the rules of electricity and the way we power the world. They're going to allow us to have electric cars and electric heating and electric industrial systems. And they are not just an afterthought, they're going to become a central part of the story.
Bill Nussey (12:46):
The book makes the case, and I have 400 citations and hundreds of spreadsheets, and I talk to the top experts in the world. And skeptics read this book and then come back and say, "Well, I've changed my mind. Holy cow, this is going to be a big thing." And for people like me that have spent a career, first in small computers, then the internet, then in digital marketing, watching massive disruptions take place, shaking up the incumbents and bringing in a bunch of garage shop, long haired startup people. This is the same thing that's going to happen here. It's going to be so fun.
Bill Nussey (13:17):
And by the way, as a consequence, 770 million people today have no electricity at all. They have nothing. And this tsunami is going to sweep by and provide them the beginnings of the economic ladder that we, in Europe and America, have enjoyed so much, has worked so well for us. It's going to get people in Africa and India on that same transformation in their wellbeing and their livelihoods that we in the US have had for a hundred years.
Dave Anderson (13:46):
Yeah. So many things we can try to unpack there. Thinking about the example of Alexander Graham Bell, no way he could have foreseen, in a hundred years, what the telephone ultimately has become for us. It would've been impossible. In some ways, I think it's impossible for us to really understand what the energy system and energy transformation is going to look like. But I would imagine, and you've already mentioned or alluded to a few of them, that you've drawn some of your own conclusions about, some of the innovation opportunities that might exist. And so, I'd love to hear your take on what you think some of those might look like. You mentioned micro grids and a handful of other things, but what are some examples that might be controversial or might actually be things that people hadn't even thought of, are some conclusions that you were drawing as you were doing the research for the book?
Bill Nussey (14:33):
The last couple of chapters of the book, I've got 50 examples of business segments that will emerge, each of which will be multiple billions of revenue a year. And some of my favorites from that, and these are all under the rubric of freeing energy, these are all things that will happen because the small scale systems will disrupt the large scale grid, central power plants, et cetera. By the way, won't replace utilities, won't replace the big central power plants, but will play a far larger role than anyone sees. A couple of examples, when you think about your house, you've got a rooftop solar.
Bill Nussey (15:13):
But I think in 10 years, those large squares with wires behind them are going to be an antiquated idea. Maybe it takes a little longer, but you're going to see virtually every surface, particularly roofs, where they're called BIPV, Building Integrated Photovoltaics. So rather than a separate device that goes on top of a roof that you've already built. The roof is solar, the shingles are solar. So you only have to cover the roof once. And this doesn't sound like a really giant breakthrough. But if you look at the economics, you look at the adoption that'll happen from that. This is going to be transformative. Imagine if someone told you 20 years ago, well, we're going to use our telephones by touchscreens. We're not going to have buttons. You're going to be like, okay, so doesn't seem that big of a deal. But we look at what happens with an iPhone and how Apple changed the way we interact. I mean, it was transformative and opened the floodgates for smartphones to take off.
Bill Nussey (16:07):
And this building integrated photovoltaics are going to completely change the way we think about electricity generation within our local house and community. It might be your driveway. It could be your windows, your walls. They can all be photo electric generating. And if you have all these surfaces generating electricity from the sun, almost a very large number of houses in the United States will have more than enough surface area to do everything that house needs for electricity, including electric vehicle charging.
Bill Nussey (16:39):
I think the second one, it's difficult to explain because it seems obvious. But electric vehicles are going to be far more disruptive to the grid than most people are seeing. So let me give you an example. Right now EVs are taking off, especially with gas prices being so crazy high, but they're still just a direct replacement for the gas powered cars that we've been using for a century. So in that regard, they're an improvement, but they're a marginal improvement, or maybe a big improvement, but they're still the same solution. But really what that electric vehicle is, it's a gigantic mobile battery. The battery in the average Tesla, for example, could power the average American home for three or four full days. The amount of energy stored in a car is so large. Now, imagine if you plug that car into the grid or to your house, all of a sudden you've got the biggest backup battery that makes your diesel generator look silly.
Bill Nussey (17:37):
And Ford's new Lightning, the Ford 150 Lightning, which is their incredibly exciting electric vehicle offering, this thing can charge your house like a backup generator. And you multiply that by millions and tens of millions. And all of a sudden, you've got this completely new paradigm for your home and for your local community. And some people want to go off grid. They find that a romantic notion, I don't want to be connected to the grid. I don't want to be paying the man. Utilities, there's a reason they have the lowest consumer net promoter scores of most businesses, because they're monopolies. They don't have to work that hard.
Bill Nussey (18:16):
But the problem is, maybe in your off grid home, it's going to rain for four or five days straight, and your solar panels don't produce much power, and your batteries are drained. What are you going to do? Well, it turns out, just pull your neighbor's car up to your house and charge it from your neighbor's car. And so, every day in my neighborhood, there's an Amazon truck going by. There's a pizza delivery truck. Well imagine if those cars, those trucks all had slightly larger electric vehicle batteries in them. And I go on my app and I type in, an Amazon vehicle shows up in my driveway, but this case not to deliver a package, but to just top off my residential batteries so I can be entirely off grid. This is at least a $50 billion market that's going to emerge.
Bill Nussey (18:54):
And actually, ironically, as monopoly protected as the grid is, there are loopholes. And this one flies right through it. So basically, electric vehicles are going to, in a funny, strange way, replace the grid for people that choose to do it that way. Those are just two examples out of dozens. But there's some really big ideas for entrepreneurs and innovators to get involved and build companies that'll be worth the next 10 Teslas.
Dave Anderson (19:23):
Yeah. I think I could probably make some assumptions as to why. But I think it would be great to just talk about, how did you arrive at the title of Freeing Energy as a title for both your book as well as for the podcast?
Bill Nussey (19:39):
Well, I spent a lot of my career in marketing and marketing tech. So I'm a believer in focus groups and surveys. And so, I had a whole bunch of different ideas and I ran all of them through focus groups. And Freeing Energy came up as the top. And it has two qualities I like about it. One, is that it's an action phrase. You're Freeing Energy, you're releasing it, you're unleashing it. Most titles are passive or nouns and an adjective. So this is an active title.
Bill Nussey (20:13):
And second is that, probably more than half the people read it as free energy, and that's not by accident. So while what I'm proposing isn't free, it's way, way cheaper than the grid electricity. And so, in some sense, compared to the price of buying electricity over the grid, it will be free. And so it has that double entendre that I think captures people's immediate attention. And there was nothing else I had that was even close in terms of the title appealing to the broad audiences I was targeting.
Dave Anderson (20:46):
Yeah. Well, I hope I'm not being so bold as to perhaps offer a third example. So one of the things that many of the guests that have come on this podcast and many people that I've had conversations with have talked about how liberating it is to go solar as well. And you talked about flying through loopholes. I mean, there's something really freeing and liberating about going solar. I've talked about this, not only, obviously, do I work in the solar industry, but I've had solar on my home for well over 10 years. And there's something, you almost feel like you're cheating a little bit when you realize that your home is powered by the sun.
Bill Nussey (21:18):
I love it. I mean, this right now, I have Powerwall batteries in my house and solar on my roof. And my side of this conversation is a hundred percent powered by renewable energy, zero carbon emissions. And I suspect yours is as well. And you know if we're using common Amazon servers or common Google servers here with our platform, this is a carbon free conversation.
Dave Anderson (21:42):
Yeah. That's fantastic actually, and something that's never actually been pointed out on the podcast before, but absolutely true. Also, if I might just go back a little bit, so you talked about all this new technology that's eminently coming and these new innovations that are coming, largely made possible because of the innovations of being able to take, instead of large central generation stations, being able to power your home with solar panels that are on your home, built in PV or BIPV, all of these types of new innovations. So I might ask you what your take is on this. And I get a lot of people that ask me whether or not solar panels generally, or the way that we're installing solar panels, is there a concern of obsolescence that homeowners should have if they're considering solar or other renewables right now, even electric cars? What's your take on that, Bill?
Bill Nussey (22:35):
You know, if you wait 10 years, your solar panels that you buy then will be more efficient, the car will drive further and last longer. But for anybody that's interested in making a difference, not only can they start reducing the pollution and carbon that comes from our existing energy systems immediately, the beauty of solar and batteries does not apply to wind or geothermal, which are great, but the beauty of solar and batteries is that unlike any other energy generation source in the history of humanity, these are technologies not fuels. They're not machines. They have the same economic model of mass manufacturing that your iPhone does, that your flat screen television does.
Bill Nussey (23:16):
And so, when you buy a car or you buy solar panels, in a small way, you're helping contribute to the manufacturing scale. And so, the people down the year, if everyone took the attitude that let's do it a bit sooner, start saving money today, rather than waiting 10 years to save money, you're also helping it become cheaper, just a little bit for the next people that come after you. So this is, in the business world, they call it a network externality. The more people that join in, the better it gets for everybody. And so you could wait, but then you're going to give up all the savings that you could have made in the interim. And I think if you do a spreadsheet, it's probably cheaper to jump into it now and start saving money immediately versus waiting and paying higher prices, irrespective of the fact that you're still keeping a less than optimal environmental footprint if you keep using the grid and keep using a gas car. But you'll also end up saving money over the duration of the time you might delay. So I think it's a win, win, win.
Bill Nussey (24:11):
There are some issues. Solar can be troublesome in some areas, from a policy point of view. If you drive 400 miles a day, electric vehicle may not be the car for you. But I think what's happening, particularly with electric vehicles is that people are realizing, wait a minute, there's really not much downside at all to this. My neighbor was thinking about getting an electric vehicle. I have a Tesla, and he's watched me for years with this. And he's like, "I don't know. I don't know. I go to the beach sometimes, what am I going to do? Where are the chargers near my house?" And I said, "You're never going to go to a charger. You're always going to charge it in your garage."
Bill Nussey (24:46):
And so I asked him the other day and I said, "So how often do you use the charger in your garage?" He goes, "Never." I said, "Really?" He goes, "Yeah, I just plug it in at work. And they charge it for free and I never charge it." Except once, sometimes they go to the beach and there are tons of chargers along the way, just stop and get a coffee and go on my way. But it took him years and years to get comfortable that this isn't going to be a disaster. And he had friends of his telling him, "Hey, I don't think you should do this. It's too new." And now he's paying nothing for gas and he's feeling really smart right now, with gas at $5. So there's really not a lot of reason to wait. Do you know the number one thing that drives new solar installations in a community? Number one by far is the existence of the first one. And as soon as any.
Dave Anderson (25:28):
The existence of the first one?
Bill Nussey (25:29):
Yeah. As soon as anybody in a neighborhood, I can give you papers and science papers on this. But as soon as somebody puts a solar panel up where others see it, they just fall like bowling pins after that.
Dave Anderson (25:41):
Yeah. Well, there's certainly a lot of interest by even people that don't have solar in solar. But unfortunately, there's just as many misconceptions about how solar might work for them or how electric cars might work for them. And yeah, there are the corner cases where if you're going to drive a thousand miles a day or something like that, that electric car might not be, at least yet-
Bill Nussey (26:05):
Right. Give it a few years.
Dave Anderson (26:05):
Might not be a perfect fit. But those sorts of problems are trying to be solved as well.
Bill Nussey (26:09):
Well, Dave, imagine the largest industry in the planet Earth, in the largest industry in history, oil and gas, electric utilities, together those two industries generate $6 trillion of revenue a year. Electric utilities are the largest lobbyists of any industry, larger than pharma, larger than healthcare, larger than insurance in the United States. And they really like being wildly profitable, either monopolies or oligopolies. It's a great place to be. Some of the wealthiest people and most powerful people in the world are the ones that built these industries. So, I don't think this is some sort of secret cobble where they're out there sort of writhing their hands and they want to screw. But it's just a great job. Why would you want to let it go?
Bill Nussey (26:53):
And so, there's a lot of reasons for them to hem and haw. And there's an entire industry that puts out crazy, baloney, confusing information. And I've been around long enough, I don't think there's ever been more appetite by people to listen to things that don't make any sense, that don't have a hint of actual reality behind them. But the sort of anti renewables, anti solar, anti EV crowd is having a field day right now because you just tell somebody, "Well, there's a public commission, which is a public utilities commission group I've heard about, that is just delaying their solar because they heard that maybe that when these solar panels retire in 30 years, they're just going to completely overflow the state's landfills. I mean, they're just going to be backed up for miles, and everyone's going to have solar panels in their front yards piled up because there's no place to put all this garbage.
Bill Nussey (27:43):
They didn't spend 30 seconds doing the math. So how much do solar panels weigh? How big are they? What if we took all the solar panels imaginable, we threw them in a pile. How big would that pile be? I did the math. It's in my book. I have a whole chapter dispelling some of this baloney. And the pile would be about 1/20th, the size of the pile that already exists from smartphones and TVs and laptops. And by the way, 95% of solar panels are completely recyclable. I'm talking about, if you throw them all away, you don't even try to recycle them. So there's just so much misinformation there. And I saw something today. I was like some just baloney. And so, that's one of the reasons I put the book out. And I did so much research. It's hard to find facts and numbers that you can actually trace back yourself to sources that are irrefutable in their veracity. And it's all there.
Dave Anderson (28:35):
Earlier when we were talking, you had mentioned that Freeing Energy, the book, was targeted specifically for entrepreneurs. But why do you think that it speaks specifically to entrepreneurs?
Bill Nussey (28:47):
I'd say half the book is for anybody that wants to make a difference, wants to play a role in getting to clean energy faster, and addressing climate in a personal way. There's a lot of examples, very specific things they can do as individuals, whether you're a fireman or a school teacher or a stay-at-home mom, or a stay-at-home dad, whatever, or podcaster professionally. I mean, there's stuff you can do that not everyone has realized. But the reason that I talk about entrepreneurs is that there are some things in there that I think are generally interesting, but they're in there because entrepreneurs can act on them.
Bill Nussey (29:23):
So for example, something I hear from a lot of entrepreneurs who've read the book, there's something I call the five orders. I've been a professional strategist for several points in my life. And so I took the lessons learned and created a model for thinking about, when you're evaluating, buying or funding or running an energy related company, how do you think about the funding required? How do you think about the growth model it's going to use? How's it going to make money? What are its risks? And the five order model gives you a very simple way to break it down and get some really straightforward answers, rather than kind of feeling around in the dark. And so, I think my neighbor's wife read it. She said, "That was super interesting." She's not an energy entrepreneur, but I think it's particularly helpful for entrepreneurs. That's an example.
Dave Anderson (30:09):
Yeah. I'm glad you also brought up, talking about teachers and lawyers and anyone else that isn't necessarily in the energy sector, but wants to figure out what sorts of things they can do that are going to be impactful. I think that most of us would like to make the biggest impact that we can, most positive impact. To minimize our negative impact would be another way of saying that. But I also think that, we hear about these different causes, whether it's through Facebook or a meme or some other random place where we might figure out what the most impactful thing is. Does the book kind of talk about that at all?
Bill Nussey (30:45):
Dave Anderson (30:45):
Or do you, Bill, have some opinions about what sorts of things are the most impactful things that individual homeowners and individuals should be and can be doing right now?
Bill Nussey (30:55):
I do. And I wanted to learn that for my own life. I wanted to see what could I do that could reduce my carbon impact, and also, what can I do within the scope of my budget and convenience? I would be lying to tell you I don't appreciate the conveniences of modern life. And so, I don't want to go out and do crazy hard things if I don't have to. And so, I looked at several scientific studies to see what an individual could do to reduce their carbon footprint specifically. And I cite a couple of them in the book. And the summary of them is that if you're fortunate enough to live in a standalone suburban home, like I do, which not everyone can or does, the number one thing that you can do is to put solar on your roof. That's substantially greater carbon impact, carbon reduction, than eating vegan, recycling plastics. It's even a greater impact than switching to an EV, even if you have a long commute.
Bill Nussey (31:57):
The number one thing you can do in the United States on average is to never use a car, never take public transportation, but to ride a bicycle everywhere. That is the number one thing you can do. The number two thing you can do is to get solar panels on your roof. And then number three is to get an electric vehicle. And then the food, not eating beef. Things like that can also have an impact, but not nearly as large, for the average American.
Dave Anderson (32:24):
Yeah. I think that's a surprise to a lot of people. I don't want to minimize any good thing that people do. For example, in California.
Bill Nussey (32:34):
Yeah. And they're not mutually exclusive.
Dave Anderson (32:35):
Yeah. Yeah, of course. But as an example, in California, there was a pretty strong push toward moving away from plastic straws. And in and of itself, I'm not going to opine on how big of an impact that does or doesn't make. But many people got behind that cause, and it really got a lot of legs.
Bill Nussey (32:53):
It's funny you mention that.
Dave Anderson (32:54):
And so now-
Bill Nussey (32:55):
People make fun of me. You're the anti-plastic straw guy.
Dave Anderson (32:59):
Bill Nussey (33:00):
Totally. Use the paper straws, no problem. But don't mistake that for making a really big dent in the climate, in the environment. It's a great thing to do. It's pretty easy to do, but there are way bigger things you can do to help the environment than use non-plastic straws. So it's funny you mentioned that.
Dave Anderson (33:17):
And it's also interesting too. My life is more negatively impacted by a paper straw versus a plastic straw than actually powering my home by solar. I mean, powering my home by solar actually saves me money and doesn't change my life in any way. And it's the most impactful thing, as you've already stated, that I can individually do to reduce my carbon footprint. And so again, I'm not trying to minimize any good thing that anyone, well intentioned, might do. But I think there is a lot of misinformation that exists out there. And so, how big of an impact does going solar make, relative to other things, I think is an important conversation.
Bill Nussey (33:55):
I do have that data in the book. And one other cool thing is, for the majority of Americans that don't have a single family, a detached home like I do, in 20 states, and quickly growing, is something called community solar. And if you live in a 10 story apartment with a roof that couldn't possibly power the apartment, and you certainly can't put your own panels on it, you can pay for something called community solar, which is essentially rent or buy panels that are located in a large solar facility nearby within 10 or 20 miles. You can, in many cases, go see them and you can point, take your daughter out there. "Hey, Jenny, look, those are the panels that we own." And they're directly powering your house.
Bill Nussey (34:35):
And so that's available to more people. And this is one of the few areas where I think the US government is moving as aggressively, the federal government, as I'd like it to, and they're pushing very hard to get community solar available in every state in the United States. And I'd love to see that. That's the great equalizer. Because, like what you and I have, it lowers our bills. But you don't have to have a roof. It's a win, win, win.
Dave Anderson (34:59):
Yeah. You know, Bill, I'm always appreciative. And I like meeting people that practice what they preach, entrepreneurs that are trying to build businesses that are good for people. I'm also very appreciative of people like you that are doing philanthropic things like trying to provide light and energy to parts of the world that would be without it were it not for solar or other things like it. But you're also an entrepreneur at your heart, and so you're growing businesses, and you're using some of the gains, at least in part, from those businesses for the betterment of the world and for other people. But it's probably worth talking about some of the businesses that you're currently involved in. So we talked a little bit about Solar Inventions, a business that you're currently associated with. I'd love to get a little bit of a synopsis or an overview of what the company does and why you're excited about it right now.
Bill Nussey (35:47):
So 95% of all the solar in the world is Silicon based. There's thin film in a few others. There's some new ones coming out, they may or may not be successful, like perovskites. But generally, nearly all the solar cells, solar panels you've ever seen anywhere are made of crystals, crystal Silicon. And more and more modern crystal, and super pure 99.99999% pure Silicon. And it's hard to make that. And 70% of it's made in China, which, if you read the headlines, is a huge dispute, the President Bidens, there are tariffs, and Trump did tariffs, and Biden did tariffs. And it's just a mess. You just want to grab these people and say, "Sit down and have a logical conversation and make some logical decisions." But they don't listen to me, that I can tell. So in the meanwhile, we just suffer through this.
Bill Nussey (36:30):
But one of the really cool things about solar, get your head around this part. One of the cool things, why has solar come down in price 400 times since they were putting it on satellites in the '70s? It's because we make massive quantities, right? There's 440 total nuclear plants in the world. There's maybe 2,500 coal plants, 5,000 natural gas plants across the planet Earth. So those prices haven't dropped a lot. But wind, now we've made a lot of wind turbines, and wind has come down a lot. So there's been about 500,000 wind turbines built. But nothing has come down like solar because, as of last year, since the beginning of the solar industry, we've built about 120 billion solar cells.
Bill Nussey (37:14):
And so people, I talked to a scientist once, who told me that scientists know more about silicon as a material than anything we've ever manufactured because it's used in microchips and used in solar cells. And so what my startup is one of the scientists who's one of the world's experts on silicon, and he came up with a way to slightly modify the manufacturing process of these 120 billion cells that have been made and improve it a little bit. But because we're making tens of billions of these every year, a little change can make a profound impact on the profits and the efficiency of cells.
Bill Nussey (37:49):
So we spent the first couple of years getting this ready for commercial, and testing in the lab and small installations. I've got some of the cells on my roof here. And then we spent some more time getting it patented. I'm not a huge fan of patents, but if you've got a scientific breakthrough, that's about your best option. And now we're taking it across the world. And next time I talk to you, hopefully it'll be built in and shipping with commercial solar products from some of your favorite solar manufacturers. It's just really cool. It's super science, geeky stuff, but it works. And it's a better way to make sales.
Bill Nussey (38:24):
And by the way, it works with 100% of all the existing manufacturing. That's its superpower. You don't have to buy any new equipment. You don't have to make any big, risky changes. As they say in the industry, it's bankable. But it is not something we would make ourselves. People say, 'Well, why don't you take this invention and make your own solar panels yourself?" I'm like, "Well, it's like, if we have a better tire tread and you're asking us, we should go make cars. The best place for a tire tread innovation should be for the people that make cars." And so, that's who we're talking to, and hopefully soon, have people licensing it around the planet.
Dave Anderson (38:57):
Yeah. So I don't actually think even people that work within the solar industry fully understand or appreciate how a solar cell works. I mean, you essentially have a fairly unstable, negatively charged substrate with a fairly unstable, positively charged. And you have a PN junction or N junction where those cells are trying to cross each other. And that creates an electrical current that ultimately powers our homes and vehicles and creates energy.
Bill Nussey (39:25):
Those pesky photons come down and sort of take advantage of, as you call it, that lack of stability, and they push the electrons from one end to the other. And that's current. It's kind of magic.
Dave Anderson (39:36):
It is magic. And because of that, it's not like a fuel source or an energy like with oil or gas or coal, that you burn it and it's gone and you used up that energy. You've essentially taken the potential energy that existed in the coal, and you've created a current or created energy with it. Cells, they say that the useful life is maybe 25 or 30 years. You quoted 30.
Bill Nussey (39:59):
33 for the average one. And all the new discussion is 50 years, just to put it out there.
Dave Anderson (40:07):
Yeah. Which is actually what I was going to even comment on. So, we're not really looking to wad up and throw away all of our solar panels in 30 years anyway, but the useful life is much longer. So you also hear about this percentage that gets thrown around about solar cells as well, or solar modules themselves, which is the percent efficiency. And typical modules presently are around 20% efficient. Solar cells may be a little bit more efficient than that.
Dave Anderson (40:36):
So to the lay person, that might sound like, oh, these panels are going to get five times more efficient. What they're really talking about is the percentage of the energy that's coming from the sun being converted into usable electricity. And I hear different numbers from people that are smarter than I am, that are very sciencey and very techy, that say maybe in a lab, you could get to 30s, somewhere in the 30s percent efficient. I don't get in that argument, but we really are pushing the cusp of how efficient solar modules can get. It sounds like this innovation with solar inventions is one of those step function improvements that really could help the entirety of the industry if it's deployed correctly.
Bill Nussey (41:19):
It's a small improvement. It's like a 22% to 23% improvement. So it goes from a 22% panel to a 22 point something panel. But it's the cheapest, lowest risk way to make that small improvement. The reason your iPhone gets better with each new generation, and your battery lasts longer with each new generation is there are dozens of little companies or scientific breakthroughs that are put together into the new recipe, the new product. And then the net effect is something that, in aggregate, is much better, much bigger. And that's where a part of that evolution in solar, there's probably 20 other scientific breakthroughs that are going to make your solar panels go from 22% to 25% in the next five or six years.
Bill Nussey (41:59):
But a couple of quick thoughts for you on that. Those numbers just don't matter. If you look at the cost of a solar cell, it's maybe 20%, 25% of a solar installation. Say you and I go out and buy a bunch of panels and some inverters. You buy them in Australia, and I buy them in the US, exact same product, same SKU numbers. And we both hire a team to put them on our roof. In the US, I'm going to pay about $3 a watt for that installation. In Australia, you're going to pay a $1.10 US, for that same. It's the same parts. Those parts, they're not the cost. In the US, all the cost is this ridiculous bureaucracy, red tape, county and city governments that just don't know what to do. And they just drag it out and it takes something they could take.
Bill Nussey (42:48):
If you order solar in Australia, you can have it installed and running the next day. In the US, if your experience is anything like mine, it took me two months to get it up and running. Multiple visits from the utility, multiple visits from the county, it's all new. And the federal government's focused on how we're going to build more transmission. And if they would just, even for a moment, look at how they streamline getting solar on the roof, it would be a tsunami.
Bill Nussey (43:12):
Do you know there's a law in the United States that makes it illegal? Homeowners associations cannot stop you from putting a satellite dish on your roof. That's a national law because the satellite dish companies got together and called their Congress people and said, "Hey, make this a law." The solar industry has not been able to do that. There are countless homeowners associations that say you can't have solar on your roof. How silly is that? There's all these easy fixes, and the book goes through a lot of them, that we could streamline local solar to a degree that would just take off. But it's going to take longer to take off than it needs to.
Dave Anderson (43:45):
Yeah, we've spent a lot of time on this podcast talking about those exact points. So in Australia, which is the example, the comparison that's most often made, the Australia versus the United States comparison. Australia maybe has as much as 30% residential penetration, whereas in the United States, we're at least in order of magnitude less, probably something like 3% penetration with our higher costs here. And what's interesting is, at the federal level, there seems to be a lot of tailwinds pushing for renewables and pushing for solar. But at the local level, you get a lot of friction points. And then the states, it's somewhere in between, depending on which states you're in. California, for example, has passed fairly favorable laws as it relates to blocking HOAs from being able to disallow homeowners from being able to add solar. So there are laws on the book in California that disallow an HOA from preventing a homeowner from adding solar.
Bill Nussey (44:39):
California, they're trying to pass laws that'll make local solar completely unaffordable, with their NEM 3.0 Project, which I've spoken about extensively and done podcasts on. But the NEM 3.0 is going to take California from the world leader to worse than Georgia, where I live, if they don't get it right.
Dave Anderson (45:00):
Yeah. You're making my point for me, which is that you seem to have this tug of war that seems to happen at the very local levels versus the federal levels, and then the state levels. And listen, there have been a lot of wars waged between countries over energy. Usually, typically think about that as oil and gas. Now there's new wars being fought at the state level. And I use the term wars fairly loosely here, obviously. But there's a lot of fighting that's happening over how and where we're going to get our energy. The utilities have a big dog in that fight. And there are obviously, as you've already pointed out, strong lobbyists as well that have had the ears of their legislators for a very long time.
Bill Nussey (45:42):
It's pretty cool to be like an industry where your profits are practically, in every situation, guaranteed. And they're guaranteed to be among some of the highest profits of any industry in the country. And you can have a really low customer satisfaction score, doesn't matter. And the more stuff you build, the more money you make. And in the case of a state like Georgia and California, there's five people, called public utility commissioners, who have the unilateral ability to decide what your future looks like. I mean, that's just a great job. It's not as good as winning the lottery or being, say, Harrison Ford in Hollywood, but it's a pretty good job. And they don't want to give it up easily.
Bill Nussey (46:21):
I've met many utility executives, and I haven't personally met any that I didn't think were great people. And they go to bed at night feeling good that they are powering the country and doing great work. But that's what their dad did, and that's what their grandfather did, and that's what their great-grandfather did, and the great-great-grandfather did. And that needs some revisioning. And there's a great quote in my book, "It's very difficult to get someone to get their head around something when it will reduce the size of their wallet." And that's the challenge.
Dave Anderson (46:51):
Yeah. I know that's true. On a recent episode of our podcast, we had a couple of members of the board, and a person that was specifically hired to work with FlaSEIA to help down in Florida, where they were having similar net energy metering challenges. And at least for the short run, it's been found the governor, Governor DeSantis, actually signed and shot down the petition that was potentially going to kill that budding industry down there. Solar was fairly new to solar, even though Florida is one of the sunniest and best states for solar, as well as residential homeowners in Florida tend to be huge consumers of energy.
Bill Nussey (47:35):
Yeah. Especially days like today.
Dave Anderson (47:37):
Yeah, we see some of the largest systems installed in Florida across the country, compared to other states.
Bill Nussey (47:42):
85% of Floridians wanted rooftop solar. And yet the majority of their legislators, who they presumably voted for, voted to pass a law that would essentially make solar uneconomic. And some local journalists sort of dove into this. And the law that was proposed and was voted into law, frankly, fortunately vetoed by the governor. But the words of the law were actually from an email from the utility. The utility said, here's what the law should look like. And in my book, I've got several other examples. Florida's really the craziest place. And some of the things that Florida utilities have done to thwart local energy are really surprising. And that's kind of ground zero for some of these fights. But in this particular battle, I think local solar, local energy came out on top. Like you said, a moment ago, this battle's far from over.
Dave Anderson (48:38):
Yeah. Well, this is not the first attempt from the utility companies to try to shoot down solar, actually. So this is the most recent attempt, but not the only attempt. And so you can kind of count on the fact that utility companies are going to continue to find ways to try to challenge how homeowners are receiving their energy. They want to be the providers of energy in perpetuity.
Bill Nussey (49:01):
It's a great job if you can get it.
Dave Anderson (49:01):
Yeah, it is a great business to be in. It's a great job if you can get it. Anyway, Bill, it's been fascinating to have you come on the podcast and talk. The wealth of knowledge that you have is fantastic. I would encourage anyone that hasn't, to go out on Amazon. I know that the book can be found on Amazon. And we'll add and link to it as well in the podcast so if anyone's looking for it, they can certainly find it.
Bill Nussey (49:24):
We have a great audio version, by the way. I looked high and low to find the great voice, not my voice.
Dave Anderson (49:30):
I was going to say, Bill, are you the one that read the book?