We sat down with Hoss Boyd, Tera Volt Energy, and Jim Brennan, Stion Energy Services, at the San Antonio Manufacturers Association show in San Antonio to talk about alternative energy and how solar projects get done.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. We’re going to talk about energy and how companies power their business. We’ve got a very interesting segment coming up. I’m your host Matt Register, Jay Curry had to step out. We don’t really have room for him up here. We have a pile of guests here, that I think are going to bring us information. I think you’re going to enjoy. Hoss Boyd is the president and CEO of Tera Bolt Energy. And Jim Brennan, who is vice president for Stion Energy Services. Gentlemen welcome to the show.
Hoss Boyd: Thank you.
Jim Brennan: Thanks.
Hoss Boyd: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Matt Register: So, tell me a little bit about Tera Bolt Energy because you work on solar power solutions for companies, correct?
Hoss Boyd: Correct. We’re strictly commercial industrial. We’re not residential.
Matt Register: OK, so you go into a company that’s buying a tremendous amount of power, right? They’re powering equipment, they’re powering stuff and try to figure out how to most efficiently mitigate some of those electricity costs with the use of solar. Right?
Hoss Boyd: Solar energy.
Matt Register: Well and that’s not easy, it’s more complex than that, because it needs to end up being an entire, you know, eco system that ends up powering that plant. Right?
Hoss Boyd: Right, Matt. But one of the problems that a lot of companies run into, is they say “Well listen, we want to zero out our electric bill.” and that may not be the most economically feasible approach.
Matt Register: Sure.
Hoss Boyd: So, we look at the cost effective approach for putting solar and how best to serve that business. And it has to make financial sense or else it’s not going to save them money or pay for itself.
Matt Register: Well you hit a point of diminishing returns or you hit a point where the equipment to upgraded to that point is more expensive than the savings, correct? Now, Stion, Stion…
Jim Brennan: Stion.
Matt Register: Stion is the manufacturer of the solar panels. Talk to me a little bit about them.
Jim Brennan: Yeah, so Stion manufacturers a CIGS panel, which is little different than your typical silicon panel. Which is the prevalent, what, probably, people think of in their mind when they see solar. For us, we are manufacturing a panel that’s a little bit better. We’re manufacturing it here and in the U.S. In fact in Mississippi, which I’m told is a border state of Texas. I think somebody said “That every state in us is a border state of Texas.
Matt Register: That’s right.
Jim Brennan: So, we’re manufacturing Mississippi, doing a lot of projects about the US. It’s a panel that actually produces at a higher level than silicon. So, it’s a more productive, more efficient panel and made in the US.
Matt Register: All the news coming out of the solar industry is about efficiency and the things that they’re able to produce now, that they weren’t able to produce in the recent past. How has the Stion, Stion changed the way they are manufacturing or the products they’re manufacturing to keep up with that? And what kind of efficiency increases are we talking about?
Jim Brennan: So, right now, the panel that we have is somewhere in the road 15 to 16 percent efficient and that number is, it’s an interesting number for the people that are kind of technologically into that kind of stuff. The thing that’s really important is basically, how many kilowatt hours are you generating per kilowatt of the solar panel. And for us, we’re getting a 5 to 15 percent better production of energy from each kilowatt than a similar silicon panel. Which is again, the kind of standard in the industry. For us, it’s all about continuously improving our process. We have a very automated factory in Mississippi and you know, continuing to work on improving the process which continues to increase our efficiency.
Matt Register: Projects that didn’t make sense 15 years ago because of the technical ability of the solar panels itself, that are, that certainly makes sense today. How much of that are you running into? Were technology is enabling projects that weren’t feasible in the past?
Hoss Boyd: Well technology is part of it and the ability of the infrastructure of manufacturing to meet the demand, to bring the prices down. When I was buying solar panels 10 years ago, a hundred and fifty watt solar panel cost me $900. Now what’s the price of a hundred fifty watt panel now, Jim?
Jim Brennan: For us it’s about ninety dollars.
Matt Register: Got it. Got it. So the exponential decrease in cost is what’s doing it more than the actual increased efficiency of the the panel.
Hoss Boyd: That…
Jim Brennan: It is. The other thing is the overall cost. I mean, when you install solar, there’s the panel, there is a lot of other electronics, there’s people, there’s, you know, all sorts of what we call balance of systems, racking and all this stuff. And the cost of that has come down from about seven bucks, about four years ago, to about three bucks or under three bucks today, per watt installed. So, I mean, when you think of something decreasing over 50 percent in, you know, or by half in three or four years, you know, that’s a lot. And that’s really enabling the industry.
Matt Register: Well and the other thing, that, that ability to, to provide those things cheaper has been able to do… We were talking during the break. Is decrease the amount of government subsidy required to be able to make this economically feasible. Right?
Jim Brennan: Right. Right. There’s only two, you know, programs, really, now at this point, in most places across the country, that help you install solar. One is the federal investment tax credit. Which is 30 percent for solar right now but that’s going to go away in a couple of years. Or go back to 10 percent and then the other thing is what we call net energy metering. So, the ability to sell your overproduction of your system back to the utility and that, that’s a policy which is varied across all the different states. It’s a state level policy. So, in California we have a fairly good policy, where there’s retail credit provided back to the person that’s producing the solar. That’s probably going to change over the years and that’s a…
Matt Register: Yeah. But, but all the subsidy has decreased over time. Is that true?
Jim Brennan: Oh, it all has, yeah. California had a really quite lucrative incentive program five, six years ago and that ran out of money two years ago, so that’s done. And I think a lot of the states that had those programs have, you know, the funding has run out. So, solar is now having to really survive on it, you know, stand alone.
Matt Register: Hey and you know what? That’s the way it should be anyway. Right? I don’t know that I have a problem with that at all. Guys, we’re talking solar energy. We’re talking to Hoss Boyd, Tera Volt Energy. Thank you very much for joining us sir.
Hoss Boyd: Thank you sir.
Matt Register: And we’re talking to Jim Brennan, who is a V.P. for Stion Energy Services. Thank you very much for joining us.
Jim Brennan: Thank you.
Matt Register: You can reach these guys, TVNRG.com. Don’t even bother writing this down. I’m gonna have it linked from TexasBusinessRadio.com. TVNRG.com is the Web site for Tera Volt Energy or stion.com is the other web site. Guys we got to go to a break. We’ll be back right after this. Don’t go anywhere.
Sponsored in part by:
In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.