I enjoyed a group of refreshing high-energy people in presentations, lunches, dinners, and solar power plant tours for a few days last week*. It lifted my energy in a number of ways. I liked learning about the nuts and bolts of advanced solar power systems — that was part of it. The positive, engaging conversations with smart and oh so lively solar engineers set my standards for dinner companions up a notch. Maybe I like hearing people mention algorithms quite often. I plan to follow this piece with a few more technological posts, but this first one is about solar engineers, the people behind the technology.
People often support and appreciate solar panels and energy from the sun even if they don’t work for a company that writes about solar or that produces solar technology. Solar has a firm, albeit light footprint in our world. However, we don’t often think about the minds and energy of those people who brought that wealth of clean energy to our attention. I think it is time to do just that. The change to clean energy came from those who saw the vision, had the idea, and willed it pragmatically into manifestation. Positive change occurs when a gentler, smarter, better idea is brought into the future by thoughtful and persevering planetary citizens.
Ron Corio is one of those people. He is known in the industry as the “Godfather of Solar.” Ron has been working for improvement in energy technology and growth in clean energy via this new technologies since before the time some of us knew what solar power was. He started engineering-focused Array Technologies in 1989.
His innovations and inventions have proven themselves and are improving the industry. The demeanor one finds when meeting Ron is one of high standards, a proclivity toward innovation, and kindness. I enjoyed the discussion, his presentation, and his strategic thinking — it was the full package that explains why he is leading a successful engineering company such as Array Technologies.
Ron patented the first solar tracking system in 1993. As Array technology explains, “His groundbreaking inventions have helped pioneer the development of large-scale solar power plants.” These power plants span the world, and Ron has been approached by people from certain desert-heavy countries that wanted to acquire his technology and entire business.
I was fortunate to sit by Ron at lunch one day and heard first hand his story of the stop-and-start beginning of his business. He persisted. He had a vision, he conceptualized and implemented his idea, yet he had to get people to take his product and understand for the first time its worth. It took time, but solar and solar trackers have more than arrived by now, with his conviction and perseverance rewarding him with a solid spot in the market. Nonetheless, Ron, with his wealth of experience and long-term view, contends that we are still at Solar 101.
Ron was also one of the earliest buyers of a Tesla Model S. After speaking to him at length, I’m not surprised that Ron bought a Tesla before many of us. He’s an innovator with that kind of leading vision, like Elon Musk himself. “Through his efforts, Array Technologies has evolved from a small startup to the leading manufacturer of solar tracking systems globally,” the company notes.
At the end of our two-day tour of Array Technologies, we listened to a bright young engineer explain a white paper on solar tracker bankability reviews. Colleen O’Brien, Principal Engineer of DNV GL, explained the importance of bankability reports and the risk of relying on subpar technology reviews.
“DNV GL advocates standardized reports, which would help alleviate unforeseen technology risk. DNV GL recognized there are no industry standards for these reviews and their content and due diligence varies widely. Engineers of Record depend on tracker technical reviews to assess PV plant projects, and when bankability assessments are insufficient, it can result in stakeholders underestimating the risks and cost associated with the system. This white paper is a must-read for owners, lenders, insurers, developers, operators, design engineers, construction contractors, and other stakeholders.”
I listened to Colleen’s intricate explanation of data collection, analysis, and evaluation (algorithms galore). As with all the engineers I learned from this week, I found her bright, creative approach and the communication of her comprehensive work to be quite refreshing, even enlightening.
When asked if there is a technological next step for Array Technologies, Ron mentioned energy storage. I suggested that energy storage is where solar was 10 or so years ago. He said 6 years ago. I am sure he’s right.
*Array Technologies covered the cost of travel and accommodation for this trip. However, there was no requirement to write anything. We are only covering topics we found interesting and potentially useful for readers.
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