James D’Albora on Why Renewables Need Better Internet Service

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James: [00:00:00] We're running on an infrastructure and we don't see it. Look, if YouTube went offline today, nobody would die. But if your power went offline, people will die. So how dare you?
James: It's different. How dare you. I know. . I'm People need to realize that when you're dealing. Infrastructure at this level. It's society. ,
Greg: Welcome to the World Changing podcast. Was that too much? Yeah, that was probably too much, but let's keep it, we'll keep it anyway. How about this? If we do the podcast and the world doesn't change, Then we can take that out. Welcome to the World Changing podcast, where we deconstruct the projects and products that are moving us towards a decentralized and carbon-free future.
Greg: We'll talk to the skeptics, supporters, and innovators in the fields that depend on electricity to run their industries, which is changing every single day. I'm your [00:01:00] host, Greg Robinson, co-founder of Aston Labs, a decentralized infrastructure company, and on the other side of the camera here, we. Flo Lumsden our producer, and she will make sure that the train stays on the tracks while we do this.
Greg: This conversation is with James Delora. He's the CEO and founder, of Verify Energy an Energy Monitoring Controls company. James, a lifelong entrepreneur, inventor, and recipient of two D OE technology grants. So he's focused on this interesting part of the energy industry that was long overlooked - hooking energy systems up to the internet.
Greg: This is one of the most critical pieces of the energy transition puzzle cuz the smaller and more distributed our power plants become, the more important it is to have people like James building companies like verify energy. So in this conversation we get into entrepreneurship risk, working with utilities [00:02:00] and James inspiration for why he got into the energy space.
Greg: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with James as much as I did.
Flo: Great intro, Greg. After I listened to this episode, I decided to drop in throughout and define some of the acronyms and terms you guys use so that everybody can follow along.

Greg: thanks for joining us to do this today. I can't promise that, this won't be a video, by the way, . So I just, just, uh,
James: everyone knows I got a nice little scrappy beard. I'm a work from home guy. What are you gonna do? That's right. Lucky I'm not in my pajamas. I mean, yeah,
Greg: I know. I do think the last, I think I recorded one of these in like shorts and a button up shirt.
Greg: I'm pretty sure. I don't remember. Nobody knows. Till now. But yeah, I, so I guess, uh, I guess we'll kind of jump [00:03:00] into this
Greg: I, I think that entrepreneurship in general has become romanticized.
Greg: It's now a college. Class, which is like anyone who started their first small business is like, it probably was such a shit show that it was like how they actually teach this and they teach what you have to do in college. So I always have to ask that question of was there some kind of moment or some kind of environment when you were growing up that led you to starting your own
James: Yeah. Okay. That's fun. My mom always tells this story of when my uncle came over to our house in his big, brand new motor home, and I was like six or seven or something. And I was just like, wow, what, he has a motor home? What is this? And I was like, how did he do that?
James: Why does he have a motor home? You know? And my mom was like, oh, he he's runs his own company. He. And I was like, mom, when I grow [00:04:00] up, I want to be the boss. And she's like, you know, and so, I'm not like, I'm not type A, I'm not like win at all costs type of entrepreneur.
James: But I, there was something in that. And then I saw an ad in the Sacramento Bee, grew up in Sacramento, and it showed a kid, next to his bike watching his own television because he had a paper route. And I was like, oh, what I can do this little thing and like, make money. Yeah, when I was like 10, I started my first paper route and I would call that entrepreneurship in a way,
James: so I did that. That was really hard work, by the way. Um, and always was just fascinated by business and making things new, making new things, starting new [00:05:00] adventures. I mean, always an adventurous spirit. Love to travel. And then, yeah, and then really actually started, I.
James: I'm trying to do my own landscaping, uh, construction business in my early twenties. That was super fun. I mean, I, I just loved the feeling of, landing these deals. And then putting all these pieces together, you know, okay, I gotta call this company and order rocks, and then I gotta go to that place and order pipes and, like this process of building was, was really fun and rewarding and enjoyable.
James: And then seeing it all come together was really fun. So I think those are the underlying themes of like, I want to do something new. I wanna do something exciting. And I love creating new things and making things happen.
Greg: even At the beginning of this, you coaching us through the the audio engineering [00:06:00] segment of our podcast, of starting this podcast. How did you go from the landscape world and landscape construction world to audio, theater, production, all of that?
Greg: I'm really curious to hear like was there something also that reaches back into your childhood for that or, oh
James: yeah. How did you Oh, definitely. I did theater as a kid. We used to make movies with my buddy. He had a v h s camera. So I was always involved in making little movies and doing plays and stuff and then in college did a bunch of theater and made side movies on the side.
James: Little like Star Wars spinoffs, and with friends, yeah, we were totally doing it. Just endless creativity, I would say. That's my life creativity and starting new things. I was always kind of part of that even when I was doing landscaping.
James: So then I moved to LA cuz I had some friends in [00:07:00] LA that were doing some entertainment . Stuff. A friend called me and said, Hey, from college, said, Hey, I'm doing a, I'm gonna do a play in la. And I was like, ah, bored with acting, i, so I was like, yeah, I don't know. I want to, just, I had done it so much. I'm like, wait, they're all gonna do this play. They have no idea what they're doing. They need a producer. I'll be the producer. And I call him back. I said, Hey, I'm not gonna be in the play, but I'll be the producer.
James: And he goes, oh, that's a great idea.
James: So it was like business and entertainment. It was the, yeah, it it was a great, perfect role for me. I loved it. I went down there, I raised money. I. Secured all the theater locations and, all the rehearsal spaces.
James: And I just dealt with the entire business side of this sh show and mm-hmm. never had done it before. Just figured it out as I went along. Got a writeup in the LA Weekly and, [00:08:00] did all the promotion and all the stuff. So my day job was still landscaping, so that's the transition
James: of Spending my days in muddy holes and my nights in dark theaters in West Hollywood. so while I was doing these shows, I also got into DJing because I just loved entertainment and live stuff. And I got my first set of turntables when I was in LA too. So yeah. So that really got me into audio even more Mm-hmm. started nerding out on the electronics and the sound that led to the starting a record label eventually, cuz I was putting on shows. Met this band. Yeah. They were awesome. I was like, okay. You need a producer, you need a, a label. Let me be the label. Never done it before. Of course. So that's, that's my mo is do things that I've never done cuz they sound fun.
James: Yeah. And totally interesting. Yeah. So that's a big part of it.
Greg: What's a good [00:09:00] point, like is it is it the person
Greg: to me it's like you have to be a certain type of person and depending on if you're like a hardcore researcher or if you're a just a total activator, where they say ready, shoot, aim, for some people it's like, I don't even know what I'm gonna do.
Greg: I'm just gonna start this thing and then it'll coalesce.
James: There's just a drive and a willingness. Yeah. It's either you're a risk taker, you're super curious, creative you have to have an innate risk profile. You really do. There's, I know so many of my friends would never dream of starting their own business, cuz it's oh my God, that sounds horrible.
Greg: What would you say if you were speaking to an entrepreneurship course and you always get that question what advice would you give somebody who's coming out of college and they're like, I'm gonna dedicate my life to entrepreneurship.
Greg: Just I feel like going through your mind is like, don't do it. No, yeah. I know. I
James: know. It's good luck. Good luck. Yeah. Yeah. You just, you have to be a, I [00:10:00] think you have to be, I don't know.
James: I would say the earlier you pick an industry that you're gonna be an entrepreneurship in is probably better. I bounced around through different industries, which is good for me because it informs me in so many ways. I have this depth right.
James: Of Yeah. Across different areas which is helpful for me, but I don't think that's necessarily the way to do it. Yeah, I would say
Greg: Yeah. Sort of like, I don't know, go find some problems and then we can talk about what advice I like.
Greg: My perspective on entrepreneurship is what you said. It's taking the leap first. But what I want everybody's on picture to be is just like an absolute obsession with a problem or several problems. Yeah. Or something that's impossible.
James: Totally.
Greg: yeah.
James: But
Greg: what would you say Flo?
Flo: Oh, um, so a general question I have for you, James,
Flo: how the [00:11:00] different passions in your life connect and knowing you a little bit personally, I feel like you're a great communicator and storyteller and connector of people.
Flo: So I guess when I hear about all this sort of utility manual labor building things, I, I'm like, I wonder what part of him is in, in that area because I see more of the extrovert, storyteller and you, uh,
James:yes. I, I really think I'm, I'm a builder and always, so I love building things physically. I love
building community and building networks with people. And you know, what I really love is working on exciting
James: and new
projects with a group of people and helping lead that group of people, [00:12:00] uh, and
bringing out the best in people.
Flo: So yeah, more of the producer than like the lead in the show, so to speak. Yeah, yeah.
James: There is something to that. There's like, I'm gonna find everyone's special talent and bring it out the most, um, and we're all gonna create something together. Hey, yeah, let's do this crazy thing. Don't worry. I'll step off the chasm first. You know? Mm-hmm. I'm, you know, you can go, it's not that scary. It's that type of leadership like, Hey, let's go over here.
James: My dad was a builder. He loved to build stuff. Mean, we remodeled our, you know, house in cabin in so many ways. I just, I just love making things. And so
James: that's, that's kind of.
James: I guess, I hope that's maybe yeah, that, that actually, yeah, that, yep. That is a
Greg: very good answer. Thank you. Yeah. I'm interested in like, cuz you had said, people have to have this [00:13:00] risk, this tolerance for risk and be a risk taker. But it sounds like you sort of, yeah, you'll jump, but it sounds like as a builder you're sort of trying to mitigate those risks and make sure that everyone doesn't have to experience risk and failure. It's like, I mean, you've, oh God, yeah. So pretty aggressive about trying to get rid of risk rather than being somebody who's like, oh, I love this, I love this risk.
James: Oh God, yeah. Yeah. No, I may start blind, but I quickly dive into learning as much as I can.
James: I mean, I read constantly. Mm-hmm. I, I absorb information on a topic as needed. I'm, I'm, I have all
James: these avenues of, pretty proficient, specialty knowledge in Yeah. In, you know, producing theater. Now, I, I, you know, I got really good at it cuz I talked to as many other producers as I could.
James: You know, I just went and interviewed people. Um, yeah, I read [00:14:00] books on it. I, you know, read blogs. I mean, I, I don't just do it and hope for the best. I mean, I study it like endlessly. Yeah. So, yeah.
Greg: So you're running these companies, production company theater, and then you totally went the opposite.
Greg: You went into the energy efficiency space, is that right?
Greg: Yeah. Yes.
James: And you're right about solving problems. You've brought that up several times. And That's huge. Yeah. You gotta find a problem that really blows your mind.
James: You're like, why is the world this way? This can't keep going, and just, you re you reminded me. Of course, when, for me it was when the US invaded Iraq in 2002 for oil, which everyone I knew it was for oil. I was like, oh my God, we're gonna go bomb this country. That didn't attack us for energy.
James: And [00:15:00] that really was the problem for me. It was like, okay, this is, this could start World War iii. This is a huge problem. So that sparked the problem that you're talking about for me. Yeah.
Greg: Like when you, so that transition, so you see this problem and that's a pretty existential problem. It's hard to put in a pitch deck, like I'm starting this energy efficiency business, because geopolitical oil. Mongering or whatever it is,

Greg: What was the impetus there to get into the energy efficiency space, and what did you do? What was your first step into
James: that, so yeah, I, of course noodled on that, the huge existential problem for many years.
James: Didn't know what to do, but started learning about solar, reading about solar energy. I read a book that definitely changed my, my life natural capitalism by Emory Levins and have you heard of this?
Greg: I don't know the book, but I know Emory Levins, just the, yeah.
Greg: The Rocky Mountain
James: Institute yes. Yeah. [00:16:00] So this book is incredible. And it. It finally says, Hey, we don't need to just ditch capitalism. In order to save the environment, let's put a value on the natural resources that we use every day and get benefit from. And it just crystallized in my mind that business done well can actually enhance the environment and make it better because the value is assessed in the economy.
James: It instead, right now we have externalities, right? So when we pollute the air, no one actually pays for it, except life gets worse. So it was just like, oh my God, there's all these solutions to these problems. They just need to be worked into the economy. And they create jobs. They create.
James: Businesses, like it's not one or the other. And it was just really brilliant. [00:17:00] That got me super excited and eventually I wanted to become more of an expert at this. And so I went to grad school and studied environmental studies. At San Jose State University. It was an awesome program.
James: And I met a guy there shout out to Vais uh, Voss, and he told me about this job he had where he was in inspecting solar installations. And I'm like, oh my God, I want that job. Can I, can you get me a job there? This sounds amazing because I'm in school now. I'm broke, now I'm like school nothing.
James: And he goes, yeah, let me talk to them. And. And that was it. He, I just went to grad school, met this great guy and he found me a part-time job at MCO Energy Services. And they had a contract with pg and e to do inspections on solar installations
for those of you on the East coast.
Pg and e is Pacific Gas and Electric, which is a power company in [00:18:00] the California area and the west coast.
James: This is 2008 Solar's just blowing up because the new CSI rebate program just launched.
James: That's great. And this is like the beginning of Solar City and all that stuff. So I got this job and that was incredible. So mco, so not only was I inspecting solar systems and just like loving it because I wanted to get into solar, and then I was quickly put on other projects which were energy efficiency related.
James: The business was filled with engineers. There were like 30 people and 20 of 'em were PEs,
James: you

flow dropping in here. A PE is a professional engineer or an engineer that is licensed to provide critical engineering information for projects.
James: it was like such a brilliant group of people.
James: And so I just started digging . In and basically becoming a a mechanical engineer in the field with no, no degree. Yeah, but totally [00:19:00] dug it. I just loved it.
James: I was nerding out. I could learn a ton.
Greg: They're like, do you know how a boiler works? You're like, no. But I also never knew how a record label worked either. Yeah. Yeah. And I know that now. That's amazing. Yeah. Did you feel like when you were getting into the energy business did you just feel like you were uncovering this thing that you've depended on for your whole entire life and now you're like, what?
Greg: This is how we get power. This is how we get totally heat.
James: Yeah. No, it was fascinating to see how circuits work in a building. I was reviewing single line diagrams and I was like, oh, okay.
James: Yeah. The energy goes from here to there through this switch. Yeah. Through that and powers this motor and Yeah. Yeah. It was totally fascinating.
Greg: Yeah. I think we're so abstracted from how it all works that like that eureka moment that I've gone through, you probably went through when you really saw how it worked
Greg: at the grid level or at the building level . And it [00:20:00] sounds like we've been in the industry for about the same amount of time. And I still am doing that, like today, before this call we had met the guy from ABB and he's talking about things about like how the power markets run from like a hardware standpoint.
Greg: Oh yeah. And so you're working at that level you're learn like drinking out of the fire hose, so to speak on this.
Greg: Yep. At this level and learning about the energy efficiency, is that where you saw the, or at least got the seed of the idea for what you're working on today? Did that epiphany not come just yet?
James: It's funny I did because we were doing, we were running so many models and calculations on energy usage.
James: At that time, IOT was still nant,
Okay, so when they say I o t. They are referring to the internet of things, which describes the network of physical objects or things that are embedded with sensors and software and other technologies for the purpose of exchanging data with other devices [00:21:00] and systems over the internet. So this is like a smart refrigerator or a smart car, or, items that typically did not have connectivity, but now do.
James: there wasn't cellular networking, so we, it was hard to measure what was happening. In these buildings. and I was always like, man, we're just doing all these calculations, but we just want, if you could just measure this circuit, you would just know, how much energy it's saving.
James: But that was really expensive at the time. So I think there was a seed of how I really wanted to measure these circuits and not just calculate the savings. But then, okay, so then of course, being me, my buddy from that company, he spends off and starts his own energy efficiency company.
James: He's like, Hey, I'm gonna build this app for l e d cuz LEDs were just about to come out. And I'm like, oh yeah, no, that sounds way more [00:22:00] exciting. I'll join you. And so I, of course, I, leave the steady, stable thing go into a. Total bootstrap startup. Not as the founder, but as this is the second guy.
James: We built this little, app and we did tons of energy efficiency. I was doing audits now, on my own, doing whole building energy modeling and energy efficiency, upgrade calculations for companies and businesses.
James: \ It was really fun. We had a blast, but, then I had to go, that didn't last forever. Yeah. And then I gotta you're,
Greg: yeah. Sorry to interrupt. I just wanna make sure I touched on this. So when you're working in that and you're going into these buildings, You have this app, are you also having to do like all of the iot integration, for actually monitoring the building?
Greg: If you're doing these retrofits and calculating energy efficiency, were you having to do those installs with the hardware No, as well?
James: No. We were consultants. Oh, got it. So we were the energy efficiency consulting team that went in and did the analysis and said, Hey, we [00:23:00] recommend X, Y, Z, you need LEDs here.
James: I helped them, sometimes get rebates for the work and, try to get the work done, but we didn't do any of the work.
Greg: So, But was there a moment in that energy efficiency world where you were like, some kind of epiphany we were all supposed to have when we invented the thing that we were on now.
Greg: So was there that moment when you were seeing that this monitoring thing has an issue?
James: Oh, okay. No, that moment came at my next job when I worked for, then I went into solar development. Got it. All right. And so then I went into back, it was all the then. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah C and i solar development.
James: So I worked for an E P C. I was yeah, when I got laid off from the startup I quickly found a job at an E P C. And what is an E P C, sorry? Engineering. Procurement Construction company. So a lot of solar contractors are called EPCs, cuz there's more to it. They usually have to do their own engineering.
James: So we were developing and building. [00:24:00] And that's when the monitoring thing really hit me because we would go out, do a site, install hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
James: And then at the very end of the project as an afterthought, it was like, oh, we need to monitor this. Does the inverter have monitoring? No. Okay. We need to buy something. Okay. James we're always having monitoring problems. Can you go figure this out? And I'm like, oh yeah, I love problems. Right? So, Yeah. So I start looking around and we had a vendor that was doing it for us before I got there, and they stopped doing that. They got out of that business. So I had my first big project that was just getting turned on. And I'm like, oh my God, how are we gonna monitor this?
James: And I'm talking to my good colleague, friend, rich, and he's like, James, just figure it out. Just do it yourself and figure it out. I'll send you an electrician to help, do whatever, but just do it. I'm like, okay. [00:25:00] And I just needed someone to just tell me, I guess at that point just to do it.
James: Yeah. Cuz it wasn't my company. Right. But I felt like I had permission all of a sudden and and I'll never forget it. So I, I was like, okay, what's monitoring, what's Modbus? What's ip what's, how do you make a Cat five cable? And boom, I did what I always do. I just started learning and I read all about it and taught myself everything.
James: And I went out and I wired up this whole system. I was up on ladders, on roofs with a laptop in the rain, literally going with tech support. Do you see it? Are we connected, to the monitoring manufacturer? And we were running radios across, hundreds of yards. It was all just, yeah, just wild.
James: And then, and when it worked, I was like, oh my God, yes. This is amazing. It's working. And then after that excitement, I was, Oh my God. What a pain in the ass. This was so complicated. This [00:26:00] was insane. Like that. So fun. No one else. No, it was so complicated. Yeah. I was like, no one else in our company could have done this.
James: We had amazing electricians, they could do stuff that I could never do. They could run beautiful pipe and conduit and wire up inverters and solar panels like you wouldn't believe, right? That would make my head spin. But when it came to these tiny little 26 gauge, wires and Modbus and IP addresses and cellular networks and sim cards and all this it stuff, were like, oh man, I don't know about that. I've been, pulling wire for 20 years. This is what I know. And breakers and switches, and. So I was like, wow, there's no skillset here for this, and yet everyone is expected to do it. And it's so hard. And the equipment
James: we were, there was some equipment where, we were putting a Windows computer in a box and that was the monitoring and it was just like, oh my God what happened to i o t? Don't these people know about? Like raspberry pies and all this stuff. [00:27:00] So I just thought, wow, this is a huge headache for EPCs.
James: Yeah, I love gear and I love stuff and I think I can figure this out. So yeah, I installed a bunch of 'em, bef, while I was noodling on the concept, I kept installing and I got better and better at all this networking and communication stuff. And eventually yeah I was like, I think I could do this.
James: I think there's something here. There's a market here. That's when I figured that out.
Greg: And that was the birth of the Powerf fly.
James: Yeah. I was like, I need something small and simple and plug and play. It's a a fly on the wall. It's just there, it's just checking things out.
James: It's not a pain, it's not a headache anymore. It's light. It's easy. That was the
Greg: that's concept. It's so interesting. So many industries have so many entrepreneurs attacking these gaps like cloud computing. You just go to Seattle, it's like you could, there's, it should be like its own town.
Greg: The number of people who have oh, it's what do you do? I work [00:28:00] at this company. Yeah. We focus on this like one type of database that runs like exclusively on Azure. I'm like that's a company. And then you look in the energy space and it's yeah, like that i o t thing was gonna be the dream of the smart grid.
Greg: But we can't get like basic plug and play connectivity. I pop my iPhone out of the box and I'm just like, on, totally just plug in my thing. And it's there was always the dream, unless you can get the kind of margins that an iPhone gets, it's like, it doesn't really, people don't attack that.
Greg: The other thing that is Yeah we talked a little bit about which is like a lot of times this whole decarbonization and like the amount of people who need to be involved in this process is mind boggling. Like the amount of solutions that we still need and these problems are like sometimes you need like a 10 year career to even find the problem to your, to your point, this story, that was, yeah.
Greg: When we were gonna talk about this today, I thought I'm really. I'm curious about your whole process, cuz I think people sometimes [00:29:00] cut that part out of this whole story. Like whenever we talk about, again, maybe it's just like the romanticizing of entrepreneurship, but the length of time it takes for people to actually find the problem underlying the problem.
Greg: Like every new startup's pitch deck says like we're we're on a mission to decarbonize planet earth and then there's 9,000 companies that are, it's okay, what are you doing? It's we're and you have to dive really deep and it's like a lot of times, unless you've had that 10 year career in this business, uncover, peel back all the layers and be like, oh, what actually is this fundamental problem that people have when they plug in these systems?
Greg: Cuz the thing you totally skipped over as a developer in, or like in the, that world of CNI solar is like, The structured financing that had to get put together. All of the studies that had to get done, they had to move the desert tortoises. They had to, it's all this stuff had to happen.
Greg: And then finally way at the end of the line is like our energy systems have to [00:30:00] be able to be monitored.

Greg: I'm going to share this with you cuz you know,

Greg: I don't know cuz I get to do that, I guess on this show. I'm gonna spend your time saying this to you and I'm curious to hear your thoughts.
Greg: I've thought a lot about people in the energy business will say, about how, why was it that solar panels have been around for a really long time? Why was it just this era that they grew? There were solar panels for a long, we understood the photo electric effect like Oh yeah.
Greg: A long time ago. We understood. Silicon, silicon processing and things like that a long time ago. Why did it wait this long for us to get there? And some people say, wow, that's because the government came up with these programs. You always hear that innovation follows policy in the energy business, which is as an entrepreneur, I'm like, Ugh, that hurts.
Greg: Don't say that. Somebody had to come even the person who changed the policy had to be like an innovative person in some way. So it's but I have this, I've had this theory, and I hope somebody calls me out on it, is like the rise of the internet and [00:31:00] the ubiquitous computing was what allowed us to have all these randomly occurring renewable systems out there.
Greg: And if you look it back all the way to like hydro's random, but it's a little less random. Like you can stop the turbines and you can have people on site and the dams are large enough to have people and the rise of that it, Was earlier, we could have those big giant Siemens systems, those big, like the big giant industrial controls or SCADA systems that were onsite and they were all wired in.
Greg: And so that worked out fine cuz they could random randomly react. Wind and solar didn't really pick up until we started having the internet. And my this is totally a theory, maybe there's some information out there, but we could finally remotely monitor these systems in a reliable way. You didn't need people sitting there like turning off windmills and turning 'em on.
Greg: And I feel like from that in the nineties to where you are now with the Powerf fly, it's like the more we can have that simple plug and play [00:32:00] application at the grid edge, the more randomly occurring systems we can put on the grid because we'll have more insight into what's going on out there.
Greg: And I didn't even ask you this before, but I'm assuming that like you can handle. Controlling systems out at the grid edge too, through your system. Yes. So that idea of being able to reach out to these tiny little places where somebody could be an expert at controlling power. They don't have to be an expert at 5G networking or any of that.
Greg: And that's what I love about these platform. They like these tools that somebody might look at and it's what are you doing in the decarbonize for the decarbonization efforts? And it's, oh, you always hear the same thing. It's oh, I'm starting a marketplace online to aggregate like buyers and sellers.
Greg: Or I'm starting this big globally scalable thing that I can attract venture capital money with. I'm guilty as being one of those people. By the way, I did start a marketplace to match buyers and sellers [00:33:00] renewables. But but then you look at like these applications. Aren't that have massive value for the scale of this.
Greg: But you don't actually have to like humor me with a response to what I said, but I just wanted to throw that out there of this this idea that internet connectivity, ubiquitous internet connectivity and control at the grid edge is ultimately what has the ability to scale this faster. Yeah.
Greg: Do you feel that way as well? Do you share that Absolutely. The sentiment?
James: Yeah, absolutely. There's a utility R F P, not an R F P, but you know, Hawaii's been at the forefront of needing to control DERs cuz they're such a small grid, distributed
Greg: energy, resear resources, sorry, distributed energy
James: resources.
James: And if you read their website, they're looking for A, vendor neutral, two-way communications capabilities at distributed energy resources. So yeah, from the utility standpoint I always read this[00:34:00] and I'd love to talk to more experts on it, but they're like, yeah, we have no idea what, what's going on with these DERs throughout the day.
James: Yeah, we get the meter data and that can help, but we don't know and we can't control them. It's so if we could add a standard level of control to these devices and communication that went to the utility, platform beyond just the meter data. Which is just the net back and forth, but the actual production data.
James: Cuz all they're getting is the meter. So they don't know how much of that solar is going to serve the load or, is being produced.

the electrical load it is basically the electricity use or the power consumed by a circuit
James: They just know the load is X and that's a mix of [00:35:00] solar plus the building load. But without the actual next level, they don't know how much solar power is actually being produced at that moment.
James: Yeah. So yeah, I would love to get involved with the utility pilot program. That could use something like the Powerf fly or that could use the Powerf fly. Yeah. Not even something like to try that out. I don't know. Yeah. Just use it. Not like it D one
Greg: our use the, yeah, just use the one we already met.
Greg: You can build your own. I That would use
James: super. Yeah. Yeah. So that is awesome.
James: That's
Greg: actually a good segue into this thing that I've been really curious to talk to you about the challenges that maybe that's one of the challenges to scaling renewables for sure is just like the orchestration of randomly occurring systems.
Greg: And always at some point somebody says batteries, it's okay, what do you do after two to four hours when the battery is all drained and you still need some more electricity? And but one of the things we
james-dalbora-convo_EDITEDverside: the
Greg: first time we met that we talked about was this idea of This idealistic view [00:36:00] that we can all just leave the grid and make our own power and all good.
Greg: We'll call it like the antit utility mindset.
Greg: Do you think that's a challenge for this decarbonization initiative that we have, that people are shouting at these utilities and saying they need to go away if they just go away? Yes, we'd have all of we'd decarbonize immediately. Yeah. Oh. Yeah. What are your thoughts on that?
James: There is a lot of I just, there's a fantasy, there's a fantasy out there. That says, oh yeah, the grid's so messed up. Let's just, everyone has solar panels and batteries, and we'll share energy between houses and it'll just be like so amazing. And it's I can't even I, there's so many layers why that won't work.
James: But look, we used to have distributed energy, okay? It was called everyone in a hut with a fireplace in the boat. Okay. That was the true distributed energy resource Yeah. For a hundred thousand years. Okay. Yeah. And so yeah, so everyone could have their own little fireplace and their own battery and their power system, and when it broke, they would have [00:37:00] no power and they'd have to.
James: Jack into their neighbor's house and then their neighbor would have to say, wait, but I need the power cuz I'm gonna watch, the voice tonight. But someone else wants to watch, their show. And they're like, but it's, I saved my battery still working. What are we gonna do?
James: How would you possibly create the energy blockchain between houses? People are trying to do this and that's cool. Yeah. I don't mean to dissuade awesome innovation in energy, but energy. It's not something to be taken lightly. It's not like you just disrupt it, like you disrupt dating, yeah. You can have a dating app or you can go to the bar, but people are still gonna date. If you break energy it, you're gonna mess it up. You're gonna mess up society. Yeah. Anyway. Yeah, the grid. I just, I love to think of it as the largest machine ever built by humankind. It's [00:38:00] it's unbelievably complex and brilliant. The people that can manage this thing that sends lightning bolts across the country into our houses and not kill us. It's unbelievable. And we need some type, we need some type of central, it's, we're social creatures. We need to share certain resources.
James: There's 80 million homes, right? So you're gonna have 80 million batteries. There's not enough lithium on two planets for that money batteries and all the solar panel, the waste would just be unbelievable. If we were still all burning our own woodfired stoves, there wouldn't be a tree left in the world.
James: So I think there's a
Greg: reason that, that's interesting.

Greg: speaks to the reason that we don't all have servers in our houses. That is the dream of the tour networks and blockchain is that you would, everyone would have their own computers and maybe that will happen someday.
Greg: But at some point it's you wanna pay for a reliable service so that you can live your life. Like everything goes through this. It's like you push the [00:39:00] service to people. And then eventually your network has to be able to also accept service back from the people who used to buy it, which we're going through that now in power.
Greg: We've gone through that with computers, right? What? YouTube came out and it's oh, we're gonna let our users generate the content and push that back in to the internet. So that had its own challenges. And then it was like, and now we're heading towards like the theory of web three, is that and where people wanna head is that there is no YouTube, there is no intermediaries, just like we all just push to each other.
Greg: And then it's all just shared and there's no centralized, and I guess I talked a bit with my co-founder about this, but this idea that we were going through that process now with the grid where you have the big grid and their job was just to push service at us and we were all good.
Greg: I was like, thank you. And now we all have our different opinions. Like some of us want electric cars, some of us don't. Some of us really don't. Some of us hate them. [00:40:00] Some of us blog about hating them. And then other people want Bitcoin mining at their house, and then other people don't.
Greg: I guess you probably don't anymore, but like people did. And so there's just like all this like fragmentation of what it means to need power services. Like some of us want more, some of us want less. Some of us want to power these massive data centers, some of us don't. And so now you have this fragmentation of what it means to accept service.
Greg: And then we're like, oh, Anna, also by the way, we want to give some service back to the grid. And then the grid's wait whoa. We were gonna just give it to you. Like we don't wanna also take it back. And now there's this, to your point that you just made, which is like this ide idealized view, can we ever.
Greg: Go that quickly from push only to push pull to truly peer-to-peer where there's no centralized operator. And I suppose you could have a centralized operator without having Duke Energy, [00:41:00] pg and e, et cetera. So there's almost like this political construct, or at least like government or business construct layered on top of this physical machine, which is incredible.
Greg: But that's where I see what we've already talked about a few times now, but like that idea of being able to have that knowledge of the grid edge. So much information about the grid edge, the way that the internet understands what we're doing right now, like the internet and the IP network and all of that.
Greg: They get what we're doing right now, like they're cool with it. They're cool that we're in different places and we're pushing our content back into some server somewhere. And like that just hasn't been done yet. On the power grid like that, that, that information that the internet has about what we're doing right now on our own computers and different sides of the country.
Greg: The grid doesn't have that intelligence yet. It doesn't have that very granular nanosecond level understanding of what's happening at, with my light bulbs right now. In fact, they're gonna get like a little report about every 15 minutes but they're not gonna get that [00:42:00] report for a while. And then when they do get the report back, it's gonna be like this is what Reagan, Flo did during these 15 minute increments, and here's what James did during his 15 minute increments and that's it.
Greg: And then they're gonna have to like, hope that everything went well. So I really think that idealized view that you talked about, which is like this idealized view of we're somehow just gonna magically move from the biggest machine ever to Rip it out of the ground and start it over.
Greg: I think that's a, that is a polarizing view. There are people who will, I really am curious to hear somebody with a different view than that because I think people in the power industry, it's like most of us are like, we have this idealized view as entrepreneurs. Yeah. This could be possible possibly, but like, you also gotta run your business like now.
James: Yeah. And yeah, and we have to have a shared, infrastructure. That's really it. It, we [00:43:00] have to have shared infrastructure. So look, the utility, what I see is the utilities moving into a transmission and distribution business where mm-hmm. where there's so much independent power being produced by renewable energy.
James: Resources, wind, solar hydro and batteries, buffering. But we still need those power plants. We need the big ones, the big solar plants to transmit energy long distances on a transmission distribution network. And we need a really good organization managing that's really capable and really good at not burning all of us to a crisp.
Greg: Do you think that could be the ISOs, like the California iso? Do you think that could be those operators doing that, or do you think we need
James: these? No, I think it should be pg and e. I think it should be PG and e and s, DG and E and smud and maybe those get broken up into regional transmission and distribution companies, but we want people managing [00:44:00] the wires and the poles and the transformers that send. Lightning bolts into our neighborhoods every day, every second of every day, and making sure it's safe, cuz and yes, I believe in the solar distributed energy future, but it has a grid on top of it. It, just like the internet has fiber everywhere, right?
James: Of course. Yeah. There's so much resiliency. It's crazy. Yeah, we have fiber optic, we have copper cables. We're running on an infrastructure and we don't see it. And I just, look, if YouTube went offline today, nobody would die. But if your power went offline, people will die. So how dare you?
James: It's different. How dare you. I know. I'm sorry. I love you too. People need to realize that when you're dealing. Infrastructure at this level. It's society. It's like it's fundamentals of having a society that works together instead of having just individual people running their own [00:45:00] little city state,
Greg: All of these things that are unknown about what that's gonna do to this a hundred year old power grid. And we've got these utilities that some people inside want things to change, but some people don't.
Greg: And it's almost I feel like entrepreneurship needs more people who are unwilling to take the risk because so much of starting something new and tackling a problem is about like de-risking, get rid of that risk. If you're afraid of it, get rid of it.
Greg: Like in your current business have you been able to attract people to your company now, who are those career people? Or do you feel like you're still having to attract more people that think like you or it's or have you been able to find, I hate to say this cuz it sounds derogatory, but like more stable people.
James: Mm-hmm. You know, I would love to have a utility expert engineer on our team who understands distribution and transmission from a, from a 25 year career experience. Yeah, that's a really good point. My, my uncle \ worked at pg e for, [00:46:00] 30 years. Brilliant guy knew tons. I mean, he knew about the nuclear power plants at Diablo Canyon, how those worked.
James: He knew about transmission distribution. I Did a lot of their r and d work. A guy, he, yeah, he would be great to be on the team. You're right. Yeah. But his risk tolerance probably, is just not as interested, whatever. I that's a good point.
James: We. We could benefit a lot from some utility people jumping over and helping say hey, just you guys, I know you got all your wild ideas of what you wanna do and disrupt, but here's the reality. Yeah. Let's do this. Smart. Let's work together. Let's, yeah. Yeah.
Greg: It's almost like instead of teaching, like that's one of the, not a fear, but one of the things I see when you're sort of entrepreneurs you're, you're teaching about this risk and then, you'll get lifelong entrepreneurs to come and explain to a class, in an [00:47:00] academic setting.
Greg: Tell us about entrepreneurship.
Greg: If you just have somebody who's willing to jump and then you have like really critical thinkers and people who don't have to have this like entrepreneur badge. It's like, it just needs somebody who like really thinks deeply about problems and is willing to solve those things.
Greg: I feel like a kindred spirit with people who have dedicated their lives to, or who have, I keep saying dedicated like we made some kind of decision or something like that to do this. It's I don't know if it's just a lack of a decision that I've made to do the opposite thing, or if it's a decision I've made to keep doing this, but yeah.
Greg: But I do think like more people. Yeah. I share in that it's, it's hard to, you sort of have to get to some level in your business where people will say, okay, I, now this looks like a career company. But at that point you've shored up so much of that risk where you really needed that 30 year pg and e engineer as like employee number four.
Greg: Yeah. Because you could have saved so much time and money and built like the right thing first. And so I don't know. I don't know if we're gonna do, I don't know if [00:48:00] we'll be able to do that, but we'll put that out to the world on this podcast and say, people who want to solve these problems, get into an earlier stage company stuff.
Greg: Yeah.
James: Yeah. Do you know Yeah. Take a sabbatical or, be an advisor at something. I would love that. I would love that. Yes. Yeah.
Greg: I love that. I, is there anything else you wanna say to the world? That was pretty, that was a pretty good, that was still, I have no further questions.
James: Okay. I am very grateful for the opportunity, I wanna say. Yeah. Thanks for coming in, that I'm I love helping people.
James: So if you wanna reach out and have questions about energy or entrepreneurship or um, Being an inventor. Being an inventor. Yeah. Totally. I love working with people and helping people I'm always available.
James: I get back to people. I do like to interact so people can hit me up if you guys share. Yeah, my info, james verify [00:49:00] energy.com. All right. And yeah that's it. I really appreciate being on Yeah. Craig and Flos. We did too. Thank you so much, James. Thank you, Absolut.
Greg: Thanks for tuning into this episode of the World Changing Podcast. Be sure to follow us wherever you get your podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, YouTube to hear the latest episodes.

Creators and Guests

Greg Robinson
Greg Robinson
Husband. Dad. Working to make basic needs not so basic..
Flo Lumsden
Flo Lumsden
Audio and Video producer. Owner of #chorusstudios
James D’Albora on Why Renewables Need Better Internet Service
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