What does it look to disrupt an industry? What does it take to make a career of it? And as Jim Collins suggested, WHO do you need to get on the bus?
Early in my career, I met a dynamic team in Northern California who was attempting to do just that. The folks at Zep Solar believed that residential solar racking was too complicated and could be done faster and in a more integrated (and beautiful) way. While at Trina, I had the privilege of helping them introduce that game-changing product to the market, and it was truly an HBR Case Study-worthy business I got to see take shape, sort of from the inside. One of the architects of that product (which was ultimately rolled up by Tesla!) was Daniel Flanigan, and I’ve tried for years to get him on the podcast. But recently, his name flashed across my newsfeed in concert with another well-established industry pioneer I’d come to admire & respect for his role in helping scale the Utility solar sector. Charles Pimentel spent the last decade growing the thin-film company Solar Frontier to a dominant position in the US market, first through module sales, then through full-scale utility project development. He had also successfully avoided my siren call to join me on the podcast and tell his story. So, what was it that finally convinced them both to come on SunCast, at the same time? Erthos.
Perhaps you, like me, noticed the Press buzz and Linkedin fervor in June when Erthos unveiled their innovative flat-mounted Utility-scale solar project platform (complete with robotic cleaning). Erthos eliminates most of the steal and concrete that a traditional racking system requires and mounts everything right on the ground. That’s right, the solar panels are flat on the ground. Breaking long-held ‘rules’ & beliefs about how things are supposed to be done, Erthos’ seeks to up-end the $19B global utility-scale tracker market (and more). And it is NOT without it’s critics. But let’s be honest, every “mad scientist” with a crazy idea has critics – right Elon? To pull this off, Not only must the product be perfect, the people must also be exceptional.
In today’s episode, we drill down into the back story that makes Daniel and Charles just such people, and they’re not alone. Listen in as we track Daniel’s journey from an off-grid college dorm to a career as an electrical contractor riding California’s first major wave of solar development at the turn of the Century. And while Daniel will tell you that solar “happened to him”, his counterpart Charles was hard-at-work in construction in upstate NY where he very purposefully navigated an early career in the then-nascent battery storage & hydrogen industry. After completing the construction of Plug Power’s manufacturing facility, he asked for a job in sales for the hydrogen fuel cell company. Nine years later, and ready for career growth, he moved up in his career and over to Flow Battery, eventually leaving to launch his own head-hunting firm into the hot new “green collar” job market.
Follow the story of these two innovators as we navigate the clean energy market growth in North America. Twice, these two have joined forces on innovative hardware technology, taking Zep Solar’s rail-less racking system on a road trip building demos in parking lots. and locking down strategic relationships with manufacturers likes Canadian Solar, where Charles was managing the US Sales Division. Their paths split, Zep was absorbed into Tesla where Daniel ended up occasionally having to explain hard things to Elon Musk while Charles was diving into utility-scale projects with thin-film solar and General Electric.
Hear all the details, including proud moments, humbling moments, great mentorship advice, and how they eventually came back together again, in this episode of SunCast.
Email me if you have guest suggestions, topic ideas, or just want to connect: Nico@mysuncast.com
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