Making Solar Technology Easy, Reliable, and Cost-Effective

Industry insights · Oct 17, 2023

In the latest episode of Friends of Build Magazine, host Ted Bainbridge welcomes Vincent Ambrose, Chief Commercial Officer at FranklinWH, to discuss the intricacies of luxury home construction and the renewable energy sector. Vincent, with over 25 years of experience in the solar industry, shares insights into the geographical factors influencing solar efficiency and dispels myths about its limitations.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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Customer Education

The conversation starts with Vincent's journey from California to leading North American operations in the renewable energy sector.

In a thought-provoking exchange, Vincent underscores the paramount importance of customer education and adoption in the renewable energy landscape. Emphasizing the industry's position on the technology adoption curve, he notes the low single-digit adoption in many parts of the country, excluding key markets like California and Hawaii.

Vincent passionately advocates for solar plus storage, portraying it as not only achievable and stable but economically sensible. As Ted probes the integration of renewable energy with fossil fuels, Vincent laments the politicization of the industry and stresses the need for a nuanced understanding. He acknowledges the tremendous contribution of traditional utilities in driving electrification but foresees a shift toward new-school technologies such as solar, wind, and batteries. Vincent's insights unveil a transformative journey toward mass adoption driven by the promise of being cheaper, faster, and better.

Solar wind and renewable energy

The Evolution of the Solar Industry

In a succinct exchange, Ted questions Vincent on the feasibility of solar grids meeting our energy needs. Vincent asserts with confidence that solar is a critical component in renewable energy being absolutely capable of fulfilling our energy requirements, foreseeing its dominance due to its cost-effectiveness compared to incumbents such as natural gas.

Acknowledging the prowess of existing industries, Vincent emphasizes the necessity of an energy transition, citing the aging grid that requires smart solutions. He parallels the petroleum industry, recognizing its historical significance but signaling a shift towards newer, more efficient technologies.

When Ted enquires about commercial airplanes running on electricity, Vincent envisions a transition, proposing green hydrogen and other similar solutions for energy-intensive industries such as aviation and manufacturing, showcasing the adaptability of renewable energy in various sectors.

In a fascinating discussion, Ted draws a parallel between the historical innovation in agriculture and the evolving efficiency of solar technology. Vincent shares his 18-year experience in the industry, highlighting the transformative increase in solar panel efficiency from 165 to 420 watts. The conversation unfolds into the challenges of consumer education, emphasizing the diverse benefits of energy independence.

solar industry

Journey of a “Solar Coaster”

Vincent's personal journey into renewable energy stems from his passion, leaving a corporate job at Disney in pursuit of a field he loves. Ted acknowledges Vincent's resilience through the industry's "Solar coaster" of ups and downs, emphasizing the dynamic nature of the renewable energy sector and its need for constant adaptation. This engaging exchange encapsulates the dual themes of the American dream and encourages people to embrace innovation and resilience.

In another segment, Ted probes Vincent on the delicate balance of managing both governmental policies and running a business in the renewable energy sector. Vincent navigates the challenges by describing them as both a pat on the back and a slap in the face. He acknowledges the impact of federal tax incentives and emphasizes the need to adapt to trade, tariff, and supply chain policies.

The conversation shifts to the difficulty of motivating the government, especially in the early days of the industry. Vincent credits the kickstart of the solar industry to California's Solar Initiative, highlighting the role of government policy and economies of scale in driving down solar costs. They explore the resistance to change, discussing the politicization of the renewable energy transition. Vincent underscores the gradual and necessary nature of this transition, estimating at least another two decades for a significant shift, fueled by stable, long-term incentives. This insightful dialogue captures the intricate dance between policy dynamics and the operational challenges of driving renewable energy adoption.

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Should Homeowners Consider Solar Plus Storage?

In this segment, Ted switches to discuss his own home construction in Scottsdale, AZ. He shares his decision not to install solar based on a perceived long payback period relayed by his builder. Vincent challenges this notion, expressing hope that the builder conducted a thorough analysis, citing common misunderstandings in calculating return on investment for solar.

The discussion shifts to battery efficiency and considerations for homeowners, with a focus on Arizona's abundant sunlight. Vincent underscores potential financial benefits, particularly in locations such as Hawaii and California, where high electricity rates make solar and storage economically compelling from day one. He draws an analogy to prepaying for gasoline, emphasizing the value of insulating oneself from electricity rate inflation. This exchange provides an exploration of the financial merits and misconceptions surrounding residential solar and storage adoption.

In another segment, Ted asks about available programs and utility rates, expressing a belief that his local utility, APS, charges 8 cents per kWh. Vincent advises him to check his bill, hinting at potential additional costs due to tax adders.

As a foundation for the decision-making process for homeowners considering solar and battery systems, Vincent stresses the importance of understanding load profiles and designing solutions to meet specific requirements. He references a client in Maui and shares how Hawaii served as a testing ground for FranklinWH energy systems.

FranklinWH energy system

FranklinWH Battery Technology Explained

The discussion shifts to battery technologies, focusing on lithium-ion batteries and their proven track record in consumer electronics. Ted raises concerns about battery lifespan and potential environmental impact, referencing the disposal of rare earth minerals in batteries. Vincent reassures him, highlighting the stability and longevity of FranklinWH lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry, which comes with a twelve-year warranty. The conversation underscores the importance of sustainable battery technologies and addresses common misconceptions about their environmental impact.

Vincent responds to Ted's question about battery lifespan, emphasizing that it depends on usage, with a twelve-year warranty assuming daily usage to the fullest extent. The conversation then shifts to notable projects, but Vincent circles back to address the important issue of battery recycling. He highlights the success of recycling lead-acid batteries, assuring Ted that lithium-ion batteries, like the ones they use, are also recyclable. While there isn't a national recycling program, various state-based initiatives and companies like Redwood and Lion are emerging to address lithium-ion battery recycling, ensuring a sustainable approach to handling these batteries at the end of their lifespan.

Ted shifts to discuss the scalability of FranklinWH battery systems, asking if it's a linear equation. Vincent explains that the kW goes linearly up to the 8th battery, reaching approximately 40 kWh, and then additional batteries provide more storage capacity, forming a maximum of 204 kWh storage in total.

Ted then raises the aesthetic aspect of installations, prompting Vincent to highlight the sleek industrial design of FranklinWH energy systems and the importance of quality installations. When asked about the business model, Vincent clarifies that FranklinWH operates through authorized distributors, selling to installers who go through certification to install their products. Customers can contact both the company and local installers for inquiries or installations.

FranklinWH battery explained

Two Impactful Projects of Vincent’s Life

Returning to Ted's curiosity about impactful projects, Vincent recalls the Nanticoke Project in Ontario, converting North America's largest coal-fired power station into a solar project—a transformation he found incredibly cool.

Vincent shares a remarkable project involving the conversion of the Nanticoke coal-fired power station in Ontario into a solar farm. Vincent was involved in this utility-scale solar farm installation, witnessing the transition from the old industry to the new. Reflecting on residential solar, he highlights the sense of freedom and security it brings, especially during grid outages. He stresses the importance of PV plus storage for home builders seeking resilience.

Ted recalls a friend's experience in Fredericksburg with a natural gas generator during a two-week outage caused by extreme weather, emphasizing the value of having resilient energy solutions like FranklinWH's energy system, which acts like a microgrid on a house and intelligently manages energy inputs and outputs, even integrating a generator module for prolonged grid outages.

Vincent addresses the impact of weather on solar energy, emphasizing that even during cloudy or rainy days, solar panels still generate electricity, albeit less efficiently. He shares an intriguing anecdote about a friend in Europe experiencing issues with an inverter during bright full moon nights, demonstrating that solar systems can capture moonlight.

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Easy, Reliable, and Cost-Effective Solar Technology

Ted then explores how Vincent manages a team of experts, to which Vincent acknowledges the importance of surrounding himself with intelligent individuals. He believes in simplifying the message for consumers, ensuring the focus remains on making solar technology easy, reliable, and cost-effective.

Vincent and Ted discuss the desire for simplicity in adopting new technologies, drawing parallels to hitting an "easy button." Vincent emphasizes the need to make solar technology more user-friendly for consumers.

Ted then explores Vincent's future challenges, highlighting the importance of managing evolving technologies, integrating AI into products, addressing supply chain issues, and driving consumer adoption. Vincent expresses confidence in the inevitability of widespread adoption, driven by advancements in efficiency and cost-effectiveness. They touch on the resistance caused by the perceived forceful imposition of eco-friendly options and ponder the practicality of hybrid cars as a transitional model.

Politicization and Early Adopters

Vincent and Ted discuss the politicization of eco-friendly choices and emphasize the importance of making solar technology cheaper, faster, and better to drive consumer adoption. As an early adopter of electric cars, Vincent highlights the appeal of better products rather than a focus on saving the Earth.

They acknowledge the divide caused by opinions and social media, contrasting it with the common ground found in face-to-face conversations. Vincent notes that many early adopters seek independence, managing their power autonomously, which aligns with solar and battery solutions. The episode concludes with Vincent offering to assist Ted with exploring solar options for his house, and Ted expressing gratitude for the enlightening conversation.

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