Creating the Future of Renewables

In Episode 19 of Power Players by Origis®, host Michael Eyman discusses the future of renewable energy and how to build it with Dean Solon, the founder, CEO, and President of Create Energy. 

 

 

MEET THE PLAYERS

With over three decades of high-volume experience in manufacturing, including two decades dedicated to the renewable energy sector, Dean Solon stands as an esteemed figure in the industry. Serving as the founder, CEO, and President of Create Energy since its inception in 2023, Dean continues to shape the industry landscape by providing American-engineered and manufactured solutions that revolutionize renewable energy.

With twenty years of leadership and operations experience, Managing Director Michael Eyman ensures that Origis Energy Services’ rapidly growing solar and energy storage portfolio performs as projected for owners and communities.

From Shoals IPO to Create

In 2021, Shoals Technologies Group, a leading provider of Electrical Balance of Systems (EBOS) for the solar energy industry, which was founded by Solon in 1996, had a successful public offering. Solon has since exited Shoals and gone on to found Create Energy in 2023. Eyman and Solon opened their conversation discussing Create and its mission.

“The goal has been to completely rewrite solar, EV, battery energy storage. Basically, give it a clean, fresh slate,” said Solon. “And I am not under pressure for payroll. So we thought, ‘You know what, we’re just going to hang out. We’re going to mess around. We’re going to throw concepts out.’ And in about a year, we did about 20-plus patent endings for provisional patents in solar, in EV, in battery energy storage, microgrid.”

Solon believes one of the most important challenges to tackle for the solar industry is labor shortages. At least part of the solution to labor shortages can be solved through automation, but that will require redesigning solar projects to be more vertically integrated.

“I’m looking at it differently. We’ll start with the module to the tracker,” said Solon. “I want to design a module and possibly build a module that has the mechanical and electrical connections built into the wrapping or into the frame of the module somehow that robotically locks into a torque tube. Once you make that connection, you’re mechanically and electrically connected. So there’s not [a need to] bring in the tracker crew, bring in the torque tube crew, bring in the module, bring in the crew that makes all electrical connections, bring this in, bring that in, all these trade skills, which are very rare, because trade skills are, you know, far and few between.”

State of the Solar Industry – Labor

Eyman questioned why Solon would want to return to startup mode after leaving his former company. “Why now? What’s happening in the industry right now that you see this need, you are leaning into?”

Solon points to strong investment in data centers and AI as the reason now is a good time to bring forward solutions to labor issues through automation. He believes the spike in energy demand will put even more strain on an already tight labor market. Automation could relieve some of the pressure on the unskilled, but teachable labor.

“Which could be the mowing,” said Solon. “The simple servicing of broken modules on trackers, trackers that are not moving that are waiting, ground faults or connectors that have not been properly terminated. Those are easily taught skills. Still hard to find people that are good at it.”

Solon believes this kind of automation would be most applicable to start in the O&M phase of a project lifecycle.

“From my standpoint, I want to start down at the bottom and work our way up,” said Solon. “So the O&M site, the lawn mowers, the curve tracers, the string monitors, position sensors, sensors in the ground, measuring moisture content, you know, weather stations, which been around forever and kind of figure out how does all that stuff tie together and then speak into the inverter. And then kind of working our way up that food chain and see if it actually makes sense.”

State of the Solar Industry – Manufacturing

Solon has been committed to American manufacturing for decades. He and Eyman discussed the incentives in the IRA reviving American manufacturing, but agreed it will take time.

“You know, you can’t look up the phone book and say, ‘I need to find me a tool and die maker.’ They’re gone, right? Those jobs have been moved overseas,” said Solon. “And it’s going to take a generation of people learning how to do tool and die, how to do industrial design, how to lay out manufacturing plants.”

Conclusion

Eyman drilled down to one word Solon used repeatedly during the conversation: opportunity.

“It feels like you want opportunities for your employees, you want opportunity for your product lines, but you also see an opportunity in where the industry is today and you’re driving Create at that while keeping in mind you want to create opportunities for everyone else so they can take part,” said Eyman. “But I think seeing the opportunity in solar or in renewables is sometimes the challenge, right? It’s the dream we have to sell. So leave us with a little bit of what is the opportunity and why you get up every morning. Why do you care so much about this industry still to this day? What drives you?”

Solon explained, “Innovation changed the opportunity, innovation in changing how it’s all done. Rarely, do I wake up and think, ‘You know, I’m going to go and make these incremental changes.’ I think it was Jack Welch who said small change changes nothing. You’re going to have to make large change for change to occur. We want a customer who believes in the vision we’re looking at, who wants to do it completely different.”

During their conversation, Solon and Eyman discussed the future of renewable energy and how to build it.

Three key takeaways:  

  1. A labor shortage has created an opportunity for innovation in the renewable energy sector.
  2. The commitment to build back the American manufacturing sector has created an opportunity for innovation.
  3. Innovation and automation will bring more opportunities, quality and investment to the renewable energy sector.

 

We’d like to thank our Power Players, expert guest Dean Solon and host Michael Eyman, for their insightful conversation, giving context and perspective to the future of renewables.