In this episode of CleanTech Talk, I spoke with serial successful entrepreneur Bill Nussey. He just published a book, Freeing Energy: How Innovators Are Using Local-Scale Solar and Batteries to Disrupt the Global Energy Industry from the Outside In. The focus of the book is local solar and storage behind the meter. He’s also CEO and founder of Solar Inventions, which has a key technology that makes solar panels more efficient. He has a podcast too, also called Freeing Energy, just to rub in how much more energy and organizational drive he has than most mere mortals.
We connected late in 2021 to talk about his book and the insights he gained while researching it.
As Nussey tells it, he was a nerd as a kid who couldn’t hit a ball, and as a result got into tech early. He also couldn’t keep a job, so in self-defense he started creating companies. His first firm was a graphics company when that was much harder than it is today, then he moved on to building LAN software for early local area network technologies. After that he spent time at a Baby Bell during the major telecommunications shakeup. That led to a firm called IXL, which brought the internet to Fortune 2000 companies. The final part of the prelude to Freeing Energy was Silverpop, a digital marketing company so successful that IBM bought it.
He ended up as the VP of Corporate Strategy, helping the executive team figure out where to take IBM next, which is where he made a few realizations about clean energy. The first was that it was a largely undigitized industry, so there was a lot of room for IBM to do interesting things there. But the second was that solar was going to be cheaper than anything else, and its characteristics meant it was going to be deeply disruptive.
A friend at the time told him, you have to quit IBM and write a book about this. 36 hours later, his resignation was in, and three months later he was starting the journey of writing a book.
This was not his first rodeo in terms of book writing. Previously he’d published a book on digital marketing, and he, his family, and all of his friends had agreed after that harrowing process that he’d never repeat it. Despite that, optimism prevailed, and he managed to sell his personal circle on it being a necessary and good thing. He also thought it would only take a year.
Close to 4 years later, with 360 or 370 sets of interview notes from discussions with over 320 people, the book is available now, and well worth reading.
There are some big messages in the book, but the biggest is that small-scale energy systems have been set aside for decades, haven’t received the same attention as bigger systems, and that going to change. Nussey has lived, started companies, and thrived through several disruptive technological changes, and he recognizes the signs. It’s time for local energy to shine.
He’s clear that microgrids won’t replace the large scale grid, but will be interdependent with it, but in his opinion, more and more of the spotlight will be on local energy. He points to the lower amount of regulation leading to real competition, something utility monopolies tend to inhibit. He thinks that if Edison and Tesla were around today, they’d be surprised and dismayed at what had been done with their technologies and …….