FREEING ENERGY

ABOUT THE BOOK

FREEING ENERGY

How innovators are using local-scale solar and batteries to disrupt the global energy industry from the outside in.

By Bill Nussey

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Shipping December 7, 2021

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EARLY PRAISE

“A passionate, valuable, and detailed blueprint for remaking the shape of everyday energy production… The author is passionate in advocating for change, but he’s also unfailingly realistic. Skeptics wary of overly idealistic daydreaming on the subject of clean energy will find Nussey a doggedly clear-eyed guide to what he rightly calls “the treacherous divide between wild-goose-chases and billion-dollar opportunities.” He tackles the implementation of these alternatives on every level of manufacture and production, and his emphasis on individual options will deeply engage readers who feel trapped on the treadmill of big energy.”

 — Kirkus Reviews

Micheal Liebreich, Founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

“Bill has grasped a fundamental truth about the transition to a zero-carbon economy: energy is no longer about capturing and exploiting resources, it’s about technology, speed, innovation and agility.”

Bill Gross, lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Idealab and cleantech companies Heliogen, Energy Vault, and Carbon Capture:

“The clean energy transition is the single biggest economic opportunity in history—bigger than the industrial revolution and bigger than the computing revolution.  Nussey’s broad coverage of systems large and small, as well as different geographies around the world, brings the whole situation into perfect perspective to drive both optimism and action.”

Scott MurphyChief Investment Officer at Advantage Capital, and former US Congressman

“Freeing Energy is one of the most encouraging and inspiring books I’ve read in years.  Nussey is comprehensive and convincing in his portrayal of the relentless technological innovation driving down costs for small-scale solar and battery solutions, and the ability of these systems to improve energy and social equity in the US and around the world.”

Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO and Founder of Acumen, and author of Manifesto for a Moral Revolution

“Freeing Energy, an inspiring and practical guide for enacting an energy revolution is a must read for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone that wants to understand how technologies and innovators are upending systems to improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Georges Sassine, VP Large Renewables at New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)

The future of energy in the US will inevitably be a mix of traditional, large scale utility infrastructure and millions of smaller-scale solar and battery systems. Freeing Energy lays out an engaging and insightful path forward that allows every scale of energy system to co-exist and thrive. 

OVERVIEW

The transition to clean energy is moving far too slowly. Trapped by a century of fossil fuel investments and politicians that struggle to plan beyond the next election, the “Big Grid” that powers our modern world is outdated and in dire need of an upgrade.

Freeing Energy offers a new and faster path towards a clean energy future—one that is more reliable, more equitable, and cheaper. Just like personal computers eclipsed mainframes, millions of solar rooftops and small battery systems are challenging every assumption about our century-old, centralized electric grid. These small-scale “local energy” systems are deeply disruptive because they are based on technologies, not fuels. Driven by a new generation of innovators and genuinely competitive markets, smaller systems are faster to build, easier to finance, cleaner to operate, and they create far more jobs than large-scale projects.

Author Bill Nussey, a career tech CEO, takes readers to mud huts in Africa, an off-grid farm in California, and a rural school in the mountains of Puerto Rico to uncover the underlying patterns of technology and the business model innovations of the local energy revolution. He shares stories and insights from some of the industry’s brightest visionaries and from leaders of the most cutting-edge startups, bringing it all together into an actionable framework to help accelerate this transition.

Freeing Energy is a deeply researched, actionable guide for anyone that cares about the future of energy—from startups, policymakers, investors, and utility leaders to the families and communities that want cleaner, cheaper energy today.

IMAGES & FIGURES FROM THE BOOK

FULL SUMMARY

Freeing Energy is a book about clean energy and the coming changes to the $2 trillion a year monopoly electricity business. But unlike other books, it is not premised on the urgency of climate change nor does it call for sweeping government policies. Instead, Freeing Energy looks at the community empowerment and business opportunities that will be created as millions of small scale solar and battery systems provide a cheaper, faster, and cleaner alternative to our outdated grid.

The immense benefits of these small systems are often overlooked as clean energy advocates put all their focus on big top-down policy changes that promote enormous solar, wind, and nuclear power plants. But, by themselves, these plants effectively lock in the same outdated industry monopoly that created the expensive and dirty power system we are struggling with today. Big systems and big policies deepen our dependence on regulation and the broken political process. Big systems ensure that most, or even all, of the cost savings and benefits of clean energy remain with giant corporations, Wall Street financiers, and the lobbying machines they fund.

Freeing Energy breaks from the conventional top-down view of energy and shows how individuals and communities are the fastest and lowest cost path to a clean energy future. The rapid growth of these “local energy” systems will upend the world’s most entrenched industry from the outside in. Similar to the way scores of connected personal computers disrupted mainframes, a new “energy internet” is being created by innovators, entrepreneurs, and millions of individuals and their communities.

Respected journalist Kara Swisher predicted that the world’s first trillionaire will be a green-tech entrepreneur. I will make the case that the biggest opportunity for this entrepreneur and countless others won’t be the giant systems of the past era but, instead vast numbers of smaller, “consumer-scale” electricity solutions. How can one of the most regulated and monopoly-constrained markets give rise to an opportunity so large? Freeing Energy explains how a handful of existing technologies are creating a Trojan Horse that will reinvent the industry in ways that few people foresee. Here’s why that will happen:

For over a century, every aspect of our grid was built on the economic laws of scale: bigger is better and cheaper. Solar and batteries are the first sources of energy that break free from this narrow economic rule. Instead, they operate affordably at any scale—from giant utility projects down to a handheld LED lantern. This is due to one of the book’s most fundamental insights: solar and batteries are technologies, not fuels. And, as technologies, their costs are declining at a rate never before seen in any facet of the energy industry. Rooftop solar is already cheaper than utility power in most places. But it is a deep look at the disruptive impact of solar and batteries together that makes this book’s content unique.

The combination of solar and batteries means, for the first time in energy history, that individuals, small organizations, and local governments can break their dependence on monopoly utilities and affordably generate much of their own electricity. Genuine competition will emerge as these groups begin embracing the cheaper, cleaner, and more resilient options of “local energy.” This competition will attract waves of investors, innovators, and entrepreneurs that will rewrite the rules of electric power.

The coming explosion in new technology innovations and new businesses will be reminiscent of Silicon Valley in the 80s. I explain in everyday language how these technologies work and the new business models they are creating. I share the stories and insights of dozens of the visionaries that are bringing them to market. Taken together, these innovators and their inventions will create an internet-like wave of disruptive change.

Freeing Energy explores the most important questions arising from the accelerating adoption of local energy.

  • How long can solar and battery storage continue their stunning price declines, and how much cheaper will they become compared to grid electricity (hint: 3-4x cheaper)?
  • As millions of customers “defect” to local energy, how do utilities remain financially stable so they can continue providing affordable electricity to everyone that still wants or needs it?
  • What are the surprising new business models that emerge with the rise of electric vehicles and excess solar power available on long summer days?
  • And, perhaps most important, what can innovators, advocates, and startups do to best direct their personal energy and time to help accelerate our collective progress towards a clean energy future?

ADDITIONAL

INFORMATION

Chapter 1: In Search of Energy Freedom

            Nine Dark Months

            The Big Grid’s Glorious Beginnings

            The Biggest Business Opportunity in History

            What is Freeing Energy?

Chapter 2: Your Power is Failing

            Poisoning the Planet (#1)

            Frighteningly Fragile (#2)

            770 million People Without Electricity (#3)

            Losing Steam (#4)

            Short Circuiting Our Choices (#5)

Chapter 3: The Rise of Local Energy

            Local Energy 101

            Small Is the New Big

            Consumerization Turbocharges Local Energy

            The Local Energy Decade

Chapter 4: From Fuels to Technologies

            A Short History of Solar

            Solar Is a Technology, not a Fuel

            The Superpowers of Solar

            Battery Superpowers

            Negawatts

Chapter 5: Hidden Patterns of Innovation

            The Cleanpocalypse of 2011

            The Roots of Innovation

            Manufacturing Solar and Batteries

            China’s Edge

            Far More Than the Sum of the Parts

Chapter 6: Billion Dollar Disruptions

            New Possibilities for Power

            Choreographing Electrons

            Big Oil vs the Big Grid

            Fuels 2.0: Hydrogen

            Your EV is a Wireless Grid

            Super-Cheap Excess Electricity

            A New Grid for Africa

Chapter 7: Utilities vs. the Future

            Goliath Roars

            David Roars Back

            A Monopoly Parable

            The Local Energy Bill of Rights

            Reinventing Electric Monopolies

Chapter 8: The Battle for Public Opinion

            Myth: Solar Is Too Expensive

            Myth: Solar Takes Too Much Land

            Myth: Not Enough Raw Materials

            Myth: Retired Panels Are a Waste Nightmare

            Truth: Intermittency is Challenging, for Now

            What About Nuclear?

Chapter 9: Unlocking Our Power

            Building Energy Freedom

            Upgrading Policy

            Politicians Love Local Energy

            Really Big Opportunities

            100% for the 100%

Chapter 10: Powered by Innovators

            Built for Local

            Making the Price Irresistible

            Unleashing the Energy Internet

            Funding the Revolution

            You Can Take It From Here

A sampling of the visionaries whose stories are in the book include:

  • Andrew “Birchy” Birch, the CEO of OpenSolar, who 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, who shifted his focus to climate tech and has started two of the most exciting clean energy companies in the industry.
  • Steph Speirs, the CEO of Solstice, whose company is delivering the promise of solar to low-income families in the US that could not otherwise afford to finance their systems.
  • Mac McQuown, a retired banker, has built one of the most sophisticated microgrids in the world on his farm in California.
  • Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO of impact investing fund, Acumen, is pioneering new ways to fight poverty around the world, including helping fund some of the first small solar home system manufacturers in Africa.
  • Samir Ibrahim, the CEO of SunCulture, led his team to create the first affordable solar-powered irrigation system for small shareholder farmers in Africa.
  • The late Jim Rogers, who was the CEO of utility-giant Duke Energy, was one of earliest leaders in his industry to embrace clean energy.

The book speaks directly to the 15,000+ climate tech and cleantech startups, including all the cohorts of the 50+ cleantech incubators, the almost 100 cleantech venture firms; policymakers and utility innovation leaders; the 200+ US colleges offering degrees in renewable energy; the 50,000+ sustainability professionals in US corporations.

Bill Nussey is a career tech CEO with three successful exits, including an IPO. He has also been an investor with venture capital firm, Greylock. After IBM acquired his company, he became IBM’s VP Corporate Strategy, helping lead the company’s overall strategy. As a CEO, his companies have raised more than $400 million, created thousands of jobs and several billion in shareholder value. Most recently, he co-founded Solar Inventions, which recently won almost $1 million in prizes from the first-ever US Department of Energy startup competition for a breakthrough in solar cell architecture. He also hosts a popular podcast and website that laid the foundation for the book. He received a degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.