Atlanta, Georgia—As electric utilities face off with solar rooftop owners in state after state, entrepreneur Bill Nussey is fostering a movement for “local energy” to make sure families and local businesses have a fair chance to generate their own electricity, and to point the business world towards dozens of emerging billion-dollar opportunities that will make it possible.
“It all starts with unleashing innovation on our outdated electric grid,” says Nussey, a career tech CEO whose companies have created billions in value, in his forthcoming book, Freeing Energy: How Innovators Are Using Local-Scale Solar and Batteries To Disrupt the Global Energy Industry From the Outside In, published Dec. 7.
Local energy keeps the lights on
The term local energy covers not just how individuals and communities can now make their own electricity, but the positive impacts that local-scale solar and batteries have — on jobs, energy equity, and keeping the lights on during extreme weather and increasingly frequent grid power outages.
“It’s about all of us finally getting genuine choices about one of the most essential parts of our lives—energy,” Nussey says. His book describes how this is now possible because the very nature of electricity generation is undergoing a tectonic shift, from an industry based on the economics of fuels to one based on technologies, such as solar, batteries, and the electronics that coordinate them.
In huge solar markets such as California and Florida, monopoly electric utilities are now lobbying to roll back the benefits of generating and storing your own electricity. But according to Nussey, utilities should not get to keep the profits from cheaper solar just to themselves. Every home and building should be able to finance and benefit from its own “roof-to-table” energy system, and the money saved should go directly to the families and local businesses that built it, he says.
“People are frustrated because our climate and political leaders are moving too slowly. We need them to make progress, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to wait,” he says.
“Climate policy has become a giant traffic jam where progress has slowed to a crawl. Local energy is the fast-moving express lane that nobody knows about. Local energy systems like rooftop solar and microgrids are much, much faster to build than giant wind and solar farms, and they are just as clean. Best of all, these small-scale systems are actually cheaper than electricity from the grid.”
Roadmap to the clean energy transition for innovators and entrepreneurs
Freeing Energy offers a strategic framework called “Five Orders” for building and funding cleantech companies. Nussey presents dozens of big ideas, each of which he believes will create multi-billion dollar markets. He explains:
- What really happened during the “Cleanpocalypse of 2011,” when VC’s lost over $10 billion in early cleantech investments
- A brief history of the grid, from Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station to Samuel Insull’s creation of the regulated monopoly that wired the country and made electricity affordable for everyone
- The five reasons our current grid is in worse shape than most people think, and why it urgently needs an upgrade
- A humorous take on what the world would look like if regulated monopolies were applied to the hamburger market
- A “Local Energy Bill of Rights” to help policymakers and consumer advocates ensure that all stakeholders benefit
Nussey tells how local energy is reshaping economic development in Africa, and explores what China’s edge in solar manufacturing means to the rest of the world. He explains how local energy will follow many of the same patterns of earlier technology-led market disruptions, such as personal computers eclipsing mainframes, the Internet reinventing publishing and movies, and mobile phones overtaking landlines.
The book reveals new, eye-opening insights, such as that small-scale solar projects create 10 times more jobs than utility-scale solar; and that an acre of solar panels in Iowa can move an electric vehicle 70 times more miles than an acre of corn grown for ethanol can move a traditional gas-powered car.
New business models for electric utilities
With low-cost local energy generation spreading worldwide, Nussey argues that utilities must reinvent their business models or risk becoming far less relevant in a future defined by small distributed energy resources (DERs).
“The power industry is slowly shedding its roots as a fuel-driven, asset heavy, top-down business into something that is increasingly defined by the economics of technology,” he writes.
“In the age of digital technology and low-cost renewables, the rationale for a grid built exclusively on economies of scale is outdated. The future of the grid will be built with a mix of technologies, owners, and business models—at every scale, from small to large.”
A quest to find the heroes of local energy
In researching his book Nussey spent several years traveling the world, from mud huts in East Africa to boardrooms of cleantech investors to the top of a wind turbine, interviewing 320 people in six countries. Their conversations uncovered powerful underlying patterns that he shares with readers to help them navigate “the treacherous divide between wild goose chases and billion-dollar opportunities.”
Among the dozens of visionaries, clean energy entrepreneurs and investors whose stories are in the book is Steph Speirs, CEO of Solstice, who tells how to deliver the promise of solar to low-income families who could not otherwise afford to finance their systems.
Mac McQuown, a retired banker, tells how he built one of the most sophisticated microgrids in the world on his farm in California. Andrew “Birchy” Birch, CEO of OpenSolar, helped pull together a broad coalition of businesses and governments to drive down one of the most expensive parts of solar installations.
Bill Gross, the famous internet entrepreneur, shifted his focus to climate tech and started three of the most exciting clean energy companies in the industry. Gross, founder of Idealab and cleantech companies Heliogen, Energy Vault, and Carbon Capture, has called the clean energy transition “the single biggest economic opportunity in history—bigger than the industrial revolution and bigger than the computing revolution.”
Gross praised Freeing Energy, saying, “Bill Nussey breaks down the myths and in plain English and with many great examples, shows why this is true. Bill covers all the innovations that have already happened, and those that are on the horizon, that make this such a big opportunity. His broad coverage of large and small, and broad geographies, brings the whole situation into perfect perspective to drive both optimism and action.”
Nussey credits Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute (now known as RMI) for inspiring his passion towards local energy. He also praises organizers at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, Solar United Neighbors (SUN), Grid Alternatives, and Solstice, among many others, for marshaling the growing movement to make local energy accessible to everyone.
Nussey’s own story includes an MBA from Harvard Business School, three tech startups with successful exits including an IPO, and multiple patents to his name. He is currently working to commercialize the invention of a better architecture for solar cells.
Freeing Energy is his third book. It has won praise from Kirkus Reviews as “a passionate, valuable, and detailed blueprint for remaking the shape of everyday energy production,” and the week before its publication, ranked No. 1 among new energy releases on Amazon.
The book is now available for order on Amazon and most places books are sold.
Photos, overviews, book excerpts, and an excerpt from the audio book are available in a media kit at https://FreeingEnergy.com/media.