“I started a small wind turbine company in Mexico. And then in 2010, we discovered that solar panels were just getting so cheap that small wind turbines were a hard sell. So I got into MIT, moved from Mexico to the U.S., and completed my PhD on the question, ‘If you could build the grid again, how would you build it?’
“The typical approach to managing a system is top-down. We didn’t want to do that at Heila. People are used to plugging things in the wall and then thinking that some magic happens behind the scenes, but there are a lot of different technologies that you have to integrate. Someone has to coordinate them if they are all going to work together.
“We decided to put intelligence in the devices themselves. Instead of having one central location where you control and coordinate everything, you add intelligence to those resources, and then let them interact and self coordinate directly with each other.
“Renewables bring different challenges, because we don’t have power plants that react fast enough – but microgrids can be virtual power plants. The grid can call on us and say, ‘Give me power right now.’ And with these systems, we can.
“Our first project has been completely off the grid since 2019. We can connect to the grid or disconnect, but most of the time, we keep it off the grid. It’s a living laboratory.
“We’ll see more and more installations of solar in both residential and commercial & industrial applications, and batteries are becoming much more popular for resiliency purposes. We’re going to start seeing a very big push for utilities to be able to coordinate and let people use microgrids if they want. We’ll be seeing a very different grid in the next five years.
“If we solve the energy problem and the carbon problem, there’s no limit to what humanity can do. Water or waste or food, they’re all solvable if we have very cheap carbon-free energy.”
Jorge Elizondo is President of Heila Technologies, a company acquired by Kohler in 2021. Heila produces a control and optimization solution for microgrids. Jorge has been a guest on the Freeing Energy podcast and Heila is a featured case study in Chapter 3 of Bill Nussey’s book Freeing Energy: How innovators are using local-scale solar and batteries to disrupt the global energy industry from the outside in.
Learn more about Jorge from his Freeing Energy podcast with Bill Nussey.
You can see all the heroes (so far) and their stories here.
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