FREEING ENERGY

Podcast 073: Bill and Melinda Nussey: Write a book about clean energy? Some thought he was nuts but she said let’s go for it!

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Bill and Melinda Nussey on the Freeing Energy podcast

Listen in as author and entrepreneur Bill Nussey and his wife, Melinda, reveal the arc of the journey that is Freeing Energy.  This is the story behind what Kirkus reviews calls, “an unfailingly realistic and doggedly clear-eyed blueprint for the billion dollar opportunities that will reshape how we generate, store, and consume clean local renewable electricity.” Written for innovators, entrepreneurs, and advocates for clean energy, Freeing Energy, the book, is now available.

Here are some of the highlights from their discussion…

“I have to tell you the initial response from my old friends in venture capital was like: Are you nuts? Don’t, you know, this isn’t working, this is not a place for venture capital. Well, venture capital is once again in love with clean energy so I think I called it correctly. And hopefully some other elements that I’m even more ambitious about will prove to be correct over time as well.”


“…And there have been points in the last couple of years in writing this book where I got close to despondent because I didn’t see how to get around some of those hurdles [like policy hurtles]. And ultimately I did find angles that allowed me to think that entrepreneurs can flex their super powers in this industry.”


“As I waded through the industry, I was increasingly shocked and surprised at the lack of simple data-driven insights. It wasn’t just the small entrepreneurial stuff that I had started with and ended with, but it was the entire industry.”


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Transcript

Sam Easterby:
Listen in as author and entrepreneur, Bill Nussey and his wife, Melinda reveal the arc of the journey that is Freeing Energy. This is the story behind what Kirkus Reviews calls an unfailing realistic and doggedly clear-eyed blueprint for the billion dollar opportunities that will reshape how we generate, store and consume clean, local, renewable energy. Written for innovators, entrepreneurs and advocates for clean energy, Freeing Energy, the book is available now.

Hello, and welcome to the Freeing Energy Podcast. My name is Sam Easterby, and I’ll be your host today. And today, I have two very, very special guests, the founder and CEO of the Freeing Energy Project, Bill Nussey, and the other CEO of the Freeing Energy Project, Melinda Nussey. And Bill and Melinda today are joining me to talk about the launch of Bill’s new book, Freeing Energy. And the subtitle for the book is, How Innovators are Using Local Scale Solar and Batteries to Disrupt the Global Energy Industry from the Outside In. So, before we dive into the book itself, I want to spend a little bit of time getting to know the two of you.

Bill Nussey:
Thank you, Sam. I’m excited. It’s a big day to get the book out there, and really excited to… Well, actually am a little nervous, what you might ask us about our story, but nonetheless, flattered and looking forward to it.

Melinda Nussey:
I’m thrilled to be here, Sam. I get to tell my side of the story now, that we’ll see how it flies with Bill’s version of the story.

Sam Easterby:
So, let’s talk a little bit about the two of you and how you met. And I understand you both went to NC State in Raleigh, North Carolina. Melinda, I understand that you have a degree, a master’s degree in computer science from NC State, and Bill was an electrical engineer there.

Melinda Nussey:
I actually went to NC State to get my master’s. And it was during that time that I was approached by someone in one of my classes, they needed a programmer at the small company he worked for, and it just happened to be Da Vinci Systems, where Bill had started with his close friends. And I guess, there were probably five or six people working there at that time. And so, I went into talk with them, and really fell in love with the whole environment.

Sam Easterby:
Oh, well, the environment. Okay. Now, we’re going to dig into that a little bit because this guy was already elbows deep in starting and running a business, but clearly there was something there that caught your attention. So, what was Bill like in those days?

Melinda Nussey:
Well, to be quite honest, Sam, they were all… Bill has heard me tell this, they’re all a little weird when I first met them. I was 21. I was the oldest person in the group. I was the only female. And I was the only one that had been formally trained in computer programming, but they could program circles around me.

Melinda Nussey:
So, it wasn’t so much my interest in Bill that started off. We actually became really good friends over the course of a couple years. And I just loved the people that I was working with. They were very different from anything I’d grown up with. They were very introspective. They asked questions. They looked at the world differently. What we were doing was writing custom software for businesses, but then we got into the electronic mail business. So, then we had to look at how that affected the world and where we sell the products. It was just, they had endless number of questions. So, over time, bill did catch my eye. And he just had a magic about him.

Sam Easterby:
Bill, how did you get to this point with your businesses and with the work that you’ve done so far?

Bill Nussey:
Somebody once said a nice thing about me, which I like to ruminate on, which they said, my superpowers, that I’m really curious. And I think my whole professional career has been driven by going where I can learn the most about the stuff that matters. And so, if I go back to the early days, just understanding how local networks and then the internet, and how the websites were going to change, the way business was done, the way society interacted. And I loved it was drawn towards these organizations that helped in a small way affect those transitions.

Bill Nussey:
But the problem with some of them was, and it started with a company called Silverpop, which I had joined after iXL. And we had just come on board. And it was selling digital marketing rules. And I knew very little about marketing. And we were trying to figure out how as an organization, we could really come up to speed. And somebody suggested that the best way to learn a topic is to write a book about it. Now, this was 15 or so years ago, and writing books was fairly unique. And so, the project actually was incredibly success, because I could call people up.

Bill Nussey:
I called up the senators, who were writing laws on spam. And I called up CMOs of Fortune 50 companies and was able to interview them, and ultimately become friends with them, because people didn’t call those days and say, “I’m writing a blog or a book, or whatever.” It was very rare. And they got on the phone with me and I met a few of them. And a book called The Quiet Revolution came out of that. And it really was my first book based effort to look at the state of the industry and use the transitions and impacts of technology to take a shot at where it all might go.

Bill Nussey:
And in the process, I met the smartest people in the digital marketing world. I learned that space. And I think it was one of the reasons that Silverpop was able to go on and be successful as one of the predominant digital marketing providers of its era.

Sam Easterby:
So, this curiosity, Melinda you’ve alluded to it, it was an aspect of Bill and Bill’s personality that attracted you to him. We saw that through the work that he did as he moved into Silverpop and the digital marketing world. Melinda, what was your reaction when Bill said, not too long ago, what? Five years ago or so, “I think I’m going to take a year off and write another book.” How did you respond to that?

Melinda Nussey:
I do remember that it made sense. Bill for many, many, many years, he keeps up on every technology. He is just like a sponge. And he had always had this love for batteries and where they were going, and how much better they were going to be, and what we could do with improved batteries. So, when he started talking about clean energy, I figured we were heading down the path of something with batteries and how that played into it. And of course, that is a large part of what he’s doing, but I was very supportive. He’s always had a vision of where he wants to go. And my only agreement was that eventually he had to get a job down the road, or one of us did. But no, I very supportive and I knew good things would come out of it, particularly as he redefined what his intentions were and why he wanted to do it. It just became very clear that the world needed this book.

Sam Easterby:
Now, Bill, as I understand it, though you had written not only one book previously, but two books, that it was actually when you sold your company, Silverpop to IBM that at the press conference around that, you actually stepped out of the room, stepped into a conference room to have a moment by yourself. And that led to some pretty profound decisions. Tell us about that moment.

Bill Nussey:
I’ll never forget a couple of the big moments in my career. I remember when we were at NASDAQ taking iXL public and press the button. And I remember being in the conference room with the IBM executives, announcing to the world and taking press call after press call about this acquisition that was going to help accelerate IBM into the marketing tech space. And I was so overwhelmed. I wanted to take a mental, maybe an emotional snapshot, just remember what it felt like. And so, I walked out of the room to take it all in. And as I sat there for the first couple of seconds, I was like, “This is so cool. We made up enough money. I can probably retire and do something, or maybe I’ll be a venture capitalist.” And all these ideas that were supposed to go through one’s head in those rare, privileged moments that I was experiencing.

Bill Nussey:
Within a few seconds, it was completely overshadowed by a more powerful thought, which was, given that I had some financial flexibility and I had had a career and a network that could open doors, there were so many people around the world that were sacrificing so much to make a difference, whether it was for poverty or for pollution, or for anything, and how given all these tremendous assets that I was enjoying that day, could I do anything less? And it was in some ways it was kind of a downer, because I might have just made the decision to follow the path so many to do, which is to enjoy the fruits of the good fortune I had come into. And I am doing that, but doing it in a way that’s really unique.

Bill Nussey:
And I decided to find something that could allow me to pay it forward. But with the caveat, it’d be something I was really excited about, something that would rip me out of bed in the morning to make a difference. And that began the journey of exploring a lot of different industries and a lot of, not even business, just a variety of things that I could do that would allow me to pay it forward and use some of the wonderful, good fortune I had to make an outsized difference for others.

Sam Easterby:
So, and part of that, the steps that you’ve taken since then, of course, is the research and the work that you’ve done in producing this new book, Freeing Energy. But you’ve also, you and Melinda have done some other things along the ways too. And maybe share a little bit about the Bill and Melinda Nussey Foundation.

Melinda Nussey:
When our good fortune hit, we realized that we had an opportunity to give back. And we looked at opportunities, as Bill got more into the clean energy and electrification, what we might do to help individuals increase or improve their circumstances in life, by having stability, something they could count on, helping communities. And we looked at the opportunities to provide solar to various organizations.

Melinda Nussey:
And we had the opportunity to reach out to a school in Puerto Rico. And I just learned so much through that opportunity, because we take for granted with our electricity, but the fact that you can’t go to… You first think, “Oh, well, you can go to school.” If the sun is out, you can see what to read your books, but you don’t think about the toilets need to run. The students need to be fed. You need to maintain a refrigerator for medicines. And so, you really start to understand that people do need electricity. And there’s so many people that don’t have that stability. And what could we do to be a part of bringing that to them? So, we’ve looked at those opportunities. Bill, you can probably clarify that a little bit.

Bill Nussey:
When we decided to give away a big chunk of that money, we were looking not just to help people and improve their lives, which was the first and most important goal, but also to do it in a way that showed a pattern or a pathway that was perhaps risky, but prove that it could work, so that others who might be more conservative with their funding, even all the way to commercial banks and such, could say, “Wait a minute, this is a new idea, but funding this project can actually work and pay back.”

Bill Nussey:
So, we did help the Rocky Mountain Institute, now called RMI, put together a series of schools in the mountainous areas of Puerto Rico. We’ve helped do a really exciting financial support for a project that is a breakthrough way of financing another solar battery school, which happens to be here in Georgia. And the insights of how to put together the so-called capital stack were really new. And I hope it will raise awareness that there are more ways to do this at it, make more sense, more people than is currently being used to fund these kind of projects.

Bill Nussey:
And we are looking at more. We’ll have some more to announce next year. But every time we do these, we’re looking to show that there’s a new approach with solar and batteries, a new approach with local energy that people might have said, “Yeah, I guess you could do that maybe, but how would you do it? What are the details?” We would like to be a part of enabling those projects to get finished, to work, to be real, and for them to be a laboratory or a proof case for others to say, “Wait a minute, that really worked. Let’s do a lot more of that.”

Sam Easterby:
It’s an incredible story, and the way you tell it in the book. And I’ve had a chance to read a pre-release version of the book, and it just, I’m really moved by the stories and the way you tell those stories. And I know that readers will enjoy them as well.

Sam Easterby:
Now, I want to step back just one tiny little half step here. Here’s a guy that started way back in high school, building businesses, had a successful career as a venture capitalist, ran large global organizations, built up an incredible digital marketing company, sold it to IBM, walked away from that. And now, Melinda, this is for you, but reportedly, a relative thought, Bill was actually nuts for making this leap away from something as successful as he had been through so far. So, were you there for that?

Melinda Nussey:
I remember him getting off the phone and telling me about the conversation he’d had with his uncle, but see, I had the benefit of living with Bill.

Sam Easterby:
The benefit.

Melinda Nussey:
The benefit. Yes, because you learn a lot as you go through your ideas. You hash out ideas and think through different angles of the news that you’re absorbing. So, you had explained to me already about the different companies that had failed, because my first thing was like, “Is this going to work? Is solar going to become a thing?” And even before you started writing about it. And you’re just so good at pulling all the pieces together. So, I knew already that he was not correct, that he saw way past what had happened, and what was it? 2008, around that timeframe with so many solar companies going under. And that’s what I love is, and I’m always pushing Bill to… He’ll explain a particular thing going on in the news or in technology, and I’m like, “You need to write a letter and tell people your perspective because they don’t see it that way. In the end, they need to know that it’s different than what they’re extrapolating from the news media.”

Melinda Nussey:
And he is not one to get involved in conflict. It can get nasty. We see that today when people don’t agree with you, or don’t want to hear what you might have to say about something they believe differently in.

Melinda Nussey:
So, that’s why I was excited about the book. And that’s where we had probably the most conversations was, how do you deal with a topic that could be deemed confrontational? And a lot of people don’t believe in global warming and climate change. But it came down to the fact that he can present the data and people can make their own decision. And I’m like, the bottom line is that you believe this is going to be cheaper and you’re showing that it’s cheaper. And in the end, that’s what matters. We don’t need to solve for all the problems, but this is a cheaper path for people. So, probably way more than what you wanted to hear about.

Sam Easterby:
Well, it’s a terrific story to think that someone as close as that actually, coached you a little bit and said, “You’re really kind of crazy to do that.” And Bill, you had similar, but perhaps not quite as candid, but you had similar input from others as you started down this path. The couple of cases with a fellow named, Jim Rogers, who was the former CEO of Duke Energy. And then another Gentleman, Amory Lovins, who in some circles is considered to be the godfather of clean energy. What were those conversations like and how you get to that point with them?

Bill Nussey:
Those were both in the earliest parts of the journey of writing the book and both were among the most powerful conversations I’ve had in my life. Jim has passed away, but both of these gentlemen were iconic in the industry and frankly in the world. And the chance to sit down with them was a true privilege. And I managed to do it through mutual friends, people that were excited about the mission I was on and thought that these folks could help fuel my mission and pay it forward by helping me tell their stories and amplify their points of view, which I think is what I’ve tried to do. The world will decide whether I’ve done it well or not. But Amory Lovins, particularly, when I saw him at the Ted Conference, 10, 12 years ago, I had never seen anyone with a mind like his present something in a such a compelling way. And I became a follower of his.

Bill Nussey:
And when the opportunity to meet at him came up and sit down with him for three hours, and pick his brain on the ideas behind the book, and get his feedback, it was remarkable. And there’s something he left me with that, he basically said, “You kind of get it.” Which was hearing from him was as powerful and endorsement as I could have hoped for. I fully expected that he was going to say, “You’re really missing all these points. And there’s some other things.” Because he is the kind of guy that’ll tell you where you stand with him on his ideas.

Bill Nussey:
He pointed out some areas I missed like efficiency and he did it in a clever, funny, engaging way, which I subsequently covered in the book, and thank him for pointing it out. But he also said that there are so many people with so many ambitions to get into clean energy, because it feels like an enormous opportunity. He said the problem is that very few entrepreneurs and people that want to innovate have backgrounds in an industry that is so regulated and more so has such heavy asset requirements. And he said, “I tip my hat to you because you’re going to write a book first and you’ll likely avoid the stumbles. So, for so many others that think they can apply lessons from other industries directly into this one.”

Bill Nussey:
And there have been points in the last couple of years in writing this book where I got close to despondent, because I didn’t see how to get around some of those hurdles. And ultimately, I did find angles that allowed me to think that entrepreneurs can flex their superpowers in this industry. But I got to tell you, Sam, and Melinda remembers clearly, there was two or three times where I was like, “What am I doing? This is not going to work. There is no entrepreneurial story in this industry.”

Bill Nussey:
And as you look back now and when I started this, there was only a handful of venture capitalists would even admit they were putting money into clean energy, and now they’re piling in and everyone’s grandfather and next door neighbor is writing giant checks for clean energy technology. And it certainly feels vindicated that I wasn’t crazy. But I got to tell you, the early response from my old friends in venture capital are like, “Are you nuts? Don’t you know this isn’t working. This is not a place for venture capital.” Well, I think I called it correctly and hopefully, some other elements that I’m even more ambitious about will prove to be correct over time as well.

Sam Easterby:
There’s one more story that I’d like for the two of you to talk about a little bit, because it seems to have shaped some of the thinking that went into the book, and it certainly is an adventure and was an adventure of a lifetime for you and your family. And that story is the story of your trip with your family, Bill to Africa. Tell us how that shaped some of your thinking in the book.

Bill Nussey:
It’s one of the great privileges and gifts of our life that we had the opportunity to take a trip like that to Africa. And many people don’t. And I am grateful that we did. And as we were planning it, and I should say, as Melinda was planning it because she’s been a travel agent and it’s certainly one of her many superpowers to plan phenomenal trips. And we went with several other families, who had basically grew up with. And she knew that the trips shouldn’t be just the tourist stuff. She knew that we needed to get outside of places where tourists go and meet people, the people in Africa where they live. And we did several different excursions, entirely prompted by Melinda, who set them up and found the places. We visited an orphanage. And we did several other trips that were not the typical tourist travel.

Bill Nussey:
And the one that really affected me, and I think all of us that went on it, was we went way, way, way off grid, hours and hours of driving with no roads to a Samburu village, which was basically a collection of mud huts and cows. And the Samburu are migrant. They live all over the planes. They travel throughout the year. And learning about how they lived and through a translator who was with us, and seeing how some small changes, additions in particular, solar battery systems could fundamentally allow them to live the life they want to live, but more healthy and able to do a few things that were difficult with the only tools that they had available at the time, which were basically burning kerosene or burning wood. But to live the way they wanted, from what I was hearing, these small tools would allow them to do that better. And that was an eyeopener of what a small set of electronics could do.

Bill Nussey:
And I later went back to Africa with Jacqueline Novogratz and a few people from Acumen and KawiSafi, and saw firsthand what those kinds of systems were doing in different part of Africa, all in East Africa though, how those systems were transforming people’s lives. And that was a full circle on how simple systems, things that we wouldn’t even think twice about can make such a profound difference and helping these people live the lives they want.

Melinda Nussey:
It was a tremendous opportunity for us to go to Africa. And so, besides seeing the animals in safari, it’s just, the people are incredible and you really get a new perspective on living more modestly or with less. But at the same time, you understand how people are being held back a little bit because they don’t have access to electricity. And it was just phenomenal to see, even as the places that we would stay, we would stay in these tent camps, and you didn’t have electricity all night long. You had to use the batteries, went off at night. And so, understanding that people live differently around the world is just incredible. And it was a great opportunity. And you could see just, like Bill said, small changes totally changed the direction of their lives.

Sam Easterby:
So, speaking of Africa and the trip that you guys made there and the subsequent trip that Bill took, I have somebody here who wanted to share a thought or two with Melinda and Bill about this book.

Amar Inamdar:
Hello, Bill. This is Amar Inamdar here from KawiSafi Ventures in Nairobi, Kenya. Many, many congratulations on publishing, Freeing Energy, delighted to have it out in the world. From that very first moment we met on that dusty road trip across Kenya, Rwanda, looking at off grid energy solutions, looking at the incredible potential for those solutions to end energy poverty, catalyze universal energy access across Africa, I found your warmth, your personal commitment and your curiosity just wonderfully infectious. You are an entrepreneur at heart. And you bring a depth of experience that is just so rare in our world. It means you ask some great questions. You look at every problem with a clear and incredibly practical and down to earth mind. And that means you come up with great solutions too. You don’t just ask the tough, but you get in there and you roll up your sleeves.

Amar Inamdar:
Every one of us has a whole lot to learn from this book and from you. So, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your insights, your experience, your thoughts with us all. You’ve been a deep inspiration to me personally, and to so many people in this amazing world of energy. Keep up your great work. And I can’t wait till we get to do our next adventure together. Bye now.

Melinda Nussey:
He described you perfectly, Bill.

Bill Nussey:
It was very kind.

Melinda Nussey:
It was very kind. He is a wonderful individual himself. But not to take away from you, you do ask a lot of good questions and put all the pieces together like a finished puzzle. You can’t always tell what the picture is going to be, but in the end, that was probably the most frustrating part during the book process was as I’m very, let’s set a plan, check things off our checklist and move along. But anyone who’s creative probably knows better than I, that you have to work through the solutions. And so, what went from being a book about how entrepreneurs can get into clean energy, moved to a book on solar power and batteries. And then we had a third revision where it became about just wider local energy. And then it came back to entrepreneurs.

Melinda Nussey:
And every time Bill knew, and I’m constantly saying, but you just wrote the outline, but he’s like, “Yes, but it’s just not quite right.” And we eventually got there now. And I can say the book is well structured. It accomplishes many of the goals that he set out for. It’s a tool for not only business people, but people that are more interested in the civic side of how we bring clean energy, about it’s just well done and very thoughtful, but it was very painful.

Sam Easterby:
Well, in the original timeline as I recall, because I think that Bill, you and I started talking about some aspects of this back in 2017 or ’16. And your goal was really, you were going to be able to do this in a year.

Bill Nussey:
That was the goal. That was the goal. And I had to get my writing muscles in shape. I finished a book I had written for my boys, and ended up publishing it. And it came out in early 2017. It was called Your Mountain is Waiting. And it’s a collection of stories about mostly my friends that have life lesson values that my boys enjoyed. And several people said I should publish, so I did. So, I thought I had a good sense of what it took to go the entire arc of a book. I was really wrong. And there were several parts about writing Freeing Energy that were different than anything I’d done before that caused it to get longer and longer. I think, if the book had finished the way I wanted it to, it’d be 1500 pages, instead of the 400, 380, that it is now.

Bill Nussey:
As I waited through the industry, I was increasingly shocked and surprised at the lack of simple data driven insights. It wasn’t just the small entrepreneurial stuff that I had started with and ended with, but it was the industry entirely, the decision making, the analysis, the conclusions being reached, all of the government agencies that predicted the with of solar, for example, every single year, they were off by a factor of two or three for the next year. And they were predicting that solar would take years and years to hit a gigawatt. And it did it in two years. And so, the thinking was wanting. And I got pulled into the broader conversations about the bigger grid and met many people who helped me understand it really well. And the book started to take on those stories.

Bill Nussey:
And the other thing as I was going through the book was that there were so many patterns in history. And hopefully that comes through in the final book, but there was so, so many more. We had a whole chapter written on the entire history of the grid, from the Rural Electrification Act to the role of Nikola Tesla, to how DC ended up winning out, and the major milestones along the way. And all that is on the cutting room floor, sadly. There’s some of it on my website in terms of articles, but there’s some really a remarkable stories. The stories of batteries being developed, the stories of Africa’s and the US’s move from no rural electricity to having a much more in the US case, where everyone does. And so, all that got cut out to bring it back to focus, which is still a long book. But the history and the broader grid stuff didn’t make it to the degree I wanted to. It’s got short pieces of it now.

Bill Nussey:
The other reason it took so long, and I had to admit, there’s a tiny bit of, “Holy cow, this is really fun.” I’m talking to these brilliant people and I’m traveling all over the place, looking at these awesome things. I mean, one of the trips that didn’t make it in the book, but was so memorable, was a friend of mine, who sadly has since passed away, but he ran a large wind farm in Colorado, and he says, “Well, why don’t you come visit us?”

Bill Nussey:
And so, I went to the wind farm and I ended up climbing a ladder, 300 feet straight up, and to the top of the wind turbine and popped my head out the top of the wind turbine, like those pictures that you see on National Geographic videos. And I’m sitting there looking at this hundreds of wind turbines, as far as the horizon goes, the wind blowing by. You have to stop the turbine when you’re on the top of it. So, my turbine wasn’t turning, but it was one of the most remarkable views and experiences of my life. And there were so many others that don’t tell as well, but were equally impactful to me that really made the book process longer, more involved. And frankly, more personally, I grew more. I saw things. I changed my view more than I would’ve imagined through this process.

Bill Nussey:
So, the book really is not just a bunch of ideas that hopefully will make a difference, but it was all also a very powerful, personal journey for me as well. And hopefully, a little bit of that is captured in the pros.

Sam Easterby:
So, Melinda, coming from your perspective of this guy, spends a lot of time inside, spends a lot of time, not out on trails and things like that. What were you thinking when he’s said he’s going to climb 300 feet up a ladder?

Melinda Nussey:
Well, we have been in training for the last 30 years of our marriage, so that he was able to face that challenge, arms wide open. So, he’s a little more outdoorsy these days. So, I thought it was great. I was excited for him and a little disappointed, I didn’t get to go along, but I can’t go on all the trips. But I knew he could do it, even though I wasn’t there telling him to keep climbing.

Bill Nussey:
Oh no, that’s a long running joke in our family. When we were in Guatemala many years ago, we were climbing. It’s amazing ruins from the Mayans there. And a lot of the old temples are still intact. And to get to the top, the pictures, they look like they’re just giant stairs, but they’re actually really steep to the point that people die when they fall off of them, even though they’re just going down the stairs. And to avoid people walking up the stairs, the front of the temples, they set ladders up that were almost vertical.

Bill Nussey:
And so, we decided to climb this rickety Guatemala ladder up the side of a Mayan temple. It was 180 feet tall. And so, we’re about, I don’t know, 20 feet up and she’s ahead of me on the ladder. And I say, “Melinda, this is ridiculous. We have children back home in Atlanta.” Young children at the time. And this is really dangerous. And she said, it’s a true story. And it’s a part of our mythology in the Nussey family now. She goes, “Shut up and climb.” And so, we made it to the top. And it was remarkable view and just a tremendous experience to have gotten to the top of that and seen that all the peace of mind, civilization captured in those ruins from that amazing height. And I’ll never forget it. And I wouldn’t have done it like so many other things in my life, if it haven’t been Melinda metaphorically saying, “Get over yourself, just go forward because you know that’s where you want to go.”

Sam Easterby:
So Melinda, I’m guessing that more than once over the last four or five years, with regard to this book, you have reminded Bill of that saying.

Melinda Nussey:
In a respect, I use reverse psychology. Several times, I’ve told him, “Do you really want to finish this book? You’ve learned so much, you can go off and do something now.” And he was quite determined that the world needed this book, and has his eyes, deers came together. And I actually started reading what he was writing. He was right. I’m glad he stuck it out. And I’m glad he finished. And I think there’s a lot of valuable information to be shared. So, no, I didn’t say you can do it. I was more, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Bill Nussey:
I’m reminded of reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, which is a must read for anybody who wants to be a writer. And among the many, many things I picked up from it was that he was a prolific writer and a prolific speaker, and was the voice of America in so many ways in the mid 1800s. But his superpower was that his wife worked with him to get his stuff written. She was the first and primary editor for everything that he did. She was the brainstorming partner for all the ideas and the humor, and the hard stories he wrote and the provocative political positions that he took. And so, I think in the first part, the first two years of the book, Melinda was, I think, somewhat hands off, but in the last two years, she has played a role as my spouse in this, that Mark Twain’s wife would be proud of.

Bill Nussey:
So, there’s no one in the earth that has read this book more than Melinda Nussey. She has probably read it six or seven times. We received the audio version draft recently, and she’s going to be going through that meticulously. And hopefully, it’ll be available on the day this launches. And she’s a remarkable editor. So, if anyone is writing a book and they want a fantastic editor, I’m not sure they can convince her to do this again, but she is a world class editor, both in terms of catching typos and looking for clarity. And so, she has been more than any other person, my co-pilot on getting this book done, not just from a, how do we get through life as Bill writes a book, but how does this book itself? And as we sit here today, she’s managing most of the marketing and the execution of the storytelling to get the word of the book out there.

Bill Nussey:
So, I always wondered after we quit working together at Da Vinci, that company where we met, we haven’t really worked together professionally. And I got to say, I was a little nervous about working with my spouse, but in this particular case, in this particular project, it has been so fun and so rewarding. And the book, and hopefully, its impact will be so much more powerful and broad because of her support.

Sam Easterby:
Well, speaking of authors and speaking of producing books, there’s another person that wanted to share some thoughts with you about publishing Freeing Energy.

Peter Kelly-Detwiler:
Hi, Bill. Peter Kelly-Detwiler here. Congratulations on the release of Freeing Energy. I know that book has lived in your head a long time. And I fully appreciate what it means to finally say, “Enough is enough.” And send your creation to publication. You’ve done a brilliant job laying out the critical issues that people need to understand about the importance and promise of solar energy and the future of our energy systems. I really appreciated some of the ways in which you conceptualized and frame that conversation. And this is such a critical time for our society as we labor indeed to free our energy from carbon and other critical historical constraint. I hope this book receives the wide readership that it deserves. Indeed, readers will be richly rewarded. Thanks again, Bill for your contributions to the critical energy conversation, and best of luck with the publication.

Melinda Nussey:
That is so awesome.

Bill Nussey:
Wow, Sam, and you honor me with these interviews. Thank you so much. Seriously, I am so touched, Sam. I don’t have words actually. I’m trying not to cry.

Sam Easterby:
Peter Kelly-Detwiler, that’s a terrific comment by another author who has been down a similar path that you have, Bill. But one of the things that you’ve done differently with the book is that you’ve targeted innovators and entrepreneurs. So, what do you want those readers to take away from reading Freeing Energy?

Bill Nussey:
I’ve grown up as part of a community of people who think that things can be different and see technology as a way to help catalyze that change, that difference. Not all of it’s always good, but the intention is always incredibly positive. And we can see the changes brought by technology from the rise of computers and smartphones, and the internet, and the many good things and the few bad things, they bring along with them.

Bill Nussey:
And what’s happened in the last 30 years as technology and innovation has really reshaped the world is that we have a whole generation of people, starting a little before me and continuing all the way to people in high school today, that see the world through a different lens. They see it in a way that it can be different. They see that change is possible, that products and innovations can not only improve our lives, but can disrupt incumbent systems and companies, and political systems that need changing.

Bill Nussey:
And I got into this industry because I wanted to believe that that same spirit and the same kinds of technologies could bring about a faster path to the clean energy future that most of us feel is urgently necessary. And along the journey of writing this book, I ran across serious hurdles, problems that would prevent that from happening, and met people that inspire me as to how we could get around them, and came up with a few ideas on my own.

Bill Nussey:
And so, what I hope is that this book allows people, maybe young people, particularly, but people of all ages that want to make an impact to see their communities and their companies, and their schools, and their neighborhoods, and their states and countries take a more active role in moving into the future of clean energy. And by reading this book, they’ll maybe get some ideas and some insights by reading the stories I’ve shared of others of what’s actually possible, how technology can actually be used to unleash real innovation into an industry that has seen so little innovation in a century, and how entrepreneurs can navigate respectfully the policies that are in place for many good reasons and get through them intact to successful outcomes that make a difference for people and for investors.

Sam Easterby:
One of the things that you do in the book is that you delve into aspects of innovation and aspects of entrepreneurship that I find very, very illuminating. And one of those is a section that you have in the book, that’s devoted to what you call the five orders of innovation. And I want to talk about that a little bit because I found it very insightful and hopefully, readers will as well as they think about their journey. So, give us an overview of what those five orders are and why innovators and entrepreneurs should pay attention to them.

Bill Nussey:
At several points in my life, I’ve had really cool jobs as a strategist. I love that kind of work, but what exactly is a strategist, right? They define in business school, strategy is the ability to create sustainable competitive advantage. What that means is strategy is the ability, it’s like playing chess. It’s the ability to set your pieces on the board a little differently than your opponent, so that as the game plays out, which is tactics or execution, you have a better chance of winning.

Bill Nussey:
And in the world of business, strategy is a way of thinking through the competitive landscape, particularly in my case, how technologies will change over time and what they’ll do in terms of cost and impact, and helping paint a picture, maybe draw a roadmap of how that world will play out, so that businesses can make wise decisions and succeed where they might otherwise struggle or fail. So, I love strategy. I did it briefly for McKinsey. And then that was my job at IBM after they bought my company. And I just love that kind of work. I also like building teams and products even more. So, that’s ultimately going to be what the majority of the years of my career in my life.

Bill Nussey:
But as I began interviewing people, particularly the venture capitalists and startups, particularly before this recent wave of clean energy excitement in the last two years, I was surprised to see just how amorphous the view of the various parts of the industry were. In other words, it was viewed through much of the same lens as traditional software tech companies. But as Amory Lovins told me, this industry has dimensions that are unique, maybe even more than say healthcare, which has some of these, but it has heavy regulation. Some say it’s the most regulated industry in the country in the sense that there’s fewer means to compete and to innovate. It’s also incredibly asset heavy. The current value of the US grid is probably close to a trillion, maybe $2 trillion, if you had to build it over again. And multiply that by China and Europe, and you’ve got five, 10, $12 trillion worth of assets.

Bill Nussey:
And if you write a piece of software and it doesn’t work, you change it. And instantaneously on the internet, it’s available better than it was before. But if you build a solar plant and the panels don’t work or they’re inefficient, or the inverter breaks all the time, the cost of replacing that is extraordinary.

Bill Nussey:
So, assets have a very, very different impact on strategy. And since I had the good fortune to be formally trained in strategy, I was so excited and enjoyed ringing a formal strategy view to the clean energy industry. And while I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of similar ideas out there, I haven’t found them. And so, I created my own, which a lot of people have pointed out. I call it the five orders. And we can talk about what that is, but it really allows investors, policy makers, and of course, startups and innovators to maybe think a little more critically about exactly where they’re choosing to play in the value chain and who they’re most likely to see as competitors.

Bill Nussey:
And one of the most important decisions it may help with is who’s most likely to provide funding for this. And that’s where a lot of people get confused, particularly when they think of the ways that venture capitalists are looking to make investments. They don’t understand that it’s actually a fairly narrow part of the clean energy world where venture capitalists will likely play. And understanding that means they won’t spend time chasing opportunities that aren’t likely to come to fruition.

Sam Easterby:
All right. Well, so say I have an idea and, and it seems to fit in this framework that you’ve written about. And you’ve mentioned that investors might be influenced by the idea and where it fits in those orders. So, are there other order elements that might impact my idea? Are there precedents? For example, if I want to build a solar farm, I need solar panels. And so, that’s a higher order element, the solar panels are, but are ideas influenced by the order that these elements fall into?

Bill Nussey:
Absolutely. I like to think that people, for whom the five order framework resonates, they will be able to improve their ideas and they will be able to fine tune their ideas and get them to commercial reality, maybe just a bit faster and or with fewer scrapes and bruises along the way. So, for example, if you come up with a new kind of solar cell, which you seem to read about every day or a new kind of battery, which seems to make the news, I read at least a couple times a day, you’re almost certainly going to be competing in a first order market. And that has unique aspects to it.

Bill Nussey:
For example, if you want to make batteries of any chemistry of any kind, you’re likely to want to make a lot of them in order to get the cost down. So, you’re instantly facing a situation where you’re going to have to build very large factories, hold large inventory, and in almost all cases be incredibly inventive and innovative in designing a factory that works continuously with high automation over a period of time, so you can actually pay back the factory with the profits, from the products you sell.

Bill Nussey:
On the other hand, if you’re going to create a company that’s monitoring the health of solar panels using software, you’re not going to have to create a factory. You’re not going to have to take out giant loans and get government loan guarantees and things like that. And so, it’s a very different kind of financing that you’re going to look for. And I’m always surprised I run across people, who haven’t thought that through. And hopefully, the five orders will give them a 32nd view on, “Wait a minute. Okay. This is where I fit. This how I should think about getting my company funded. And here’s the kinds of competitors and challenges I’ll be facing.”

Sam Easterby:
Well, it’s a little more than 30 seconds worth in the book, but it is a fascinating part of the book in my mind. So, have you seen some specific business ideas that are related to your framework? What are some examples of problems that you are seeing being solved? And then secondly, what are some problems you would like to see innovators address in their work as we go forward?

Bill Nussey:
Because I have the honor of knowing so many people, I see a couple business plans a week, sometimes a couple a day. And I haven’t found one that doesn’t fit somewhere in the five orders. And if it’s helpful to the entrepreneur, I step them through that model. And hopefully, in the future, I can send them a copy of the book and say, “Hey, read page X through Y to get a quick sense for how this works to help you understand where you fit into the model, which will help you understand financing challenges, competitive challenges, et cetera.”

Bill Nussey:
And I was talking to a company the other day, and they were looking at both designing a product and deploying it. And what I explain into them was that they’re trying to cover three of the orders all at the same time. And they were going to make the product, which required a factory. And then they were going to install it, which required them to have labor and onsite teams, which are full of regulations and permitting. And then they were going to own and operate it, which is a long term asset holding. And they had to have capital to do that. So, they were basically, without really thinking it through, signing themselves up for every kind of financing that you could possibly get simultaneously, managing all those finances and all those different interests.

Bill Nussey:
And by the way, if you own say a solar project over several years, that’s the kind of thing a bank wants to finance because it’s a low return, but a very high likelihood of getting paid. Venture capitals have no interest in owning a solar panel over its 20 year 30 year lifespan, because the returns are too low, and it’s very low, risky. And venture capital makes their money by taking big, risky bets. They don’t want to get 10% back a year. They want to get a hundred percent or 200% back a year, if not more.

Bill Nussey:
And so, what I pointed out to this entrepreneur was that she needed to think about which part of that she was best at. And not surprisingly, it was the initial product. She had a really great idea of how to build the product, how to make it. So, that’s what they were going to focus on and find partners who have access to the asset capital and the labor forces to get it installed in the places that ultimately will go to over the long term.

Sam Easterby:
Well, speaking of companies that you’ve experienced and been a part of and seen in operation, we actually have somebody who wanted to again, share a congratulatory message with you about the publishing of Freeing Energy.

Samir Ibrahim:
Hey, Bill. Samir from SunCulture in Kenya here. Congratulations on publishing Freeing Energy. This is huge. I know how much effort and heart, and soul, you and Melinda, and the team put into this. So, this is just a huge congratulations. I feel like when people analyze the global trends of this time, they’ll look back and see that this book played an integral role in launching an even bigger transition into local energy. I have not read a book like this. That’s so useful. And I’m just very grateful that you’re putting this out into the world. It’s an incredible service that you’re doing to humanity here.

Samir Ibrahim:
For any entrepreneurs or people who want to be entrepreneurs, or people who just want to learn about this space and who care about making the planet a better place, while also making money, I couldn’t recommend her better book to read. 10 out of 10, this is something I refer to and will continue to refer to for a long time. And Bill, this is just the beginning. So, good luck. Thanks. And a huge, huge congratulations, again. This is so special, and what an incredible service to the world. Thank you.

Melinda Nussey:
I love hearing him say that, because it really makes it all worthwhile to know that someone, even just one person feels that they will get a lot of use out of reading your book. It’s really great to hear.

Bill Nussey:
One of the despondent moments along this journey, and I realized that there was a distinct possibility that very few people would read it. And I was really questioning whether it was worth the trouble. Our son, our younger son, Ben, who had to tend to be pretty straightforward with my kids about how my life is going and how I feel about it, he goes, “You know what, dad?” He says, “I know you, and I know it’s going to be a great book, but it doesn’t matter, because the only thing this book needs to do is it needs to change one person’s mind. And if you can affect the course of one person’s career or get one person to think about doing something different, then the years that you put into this will translate into their years. And you’ll have made the world a better place by paying it forward.” And it was particularly wise words and they really gave me a great deal of comfort and pushed me forward back again to finally have gotten here.

Sam Easterby:
Well, and here we are. As a matter of fact, we are coming up on the end of our time together today and talking about the publishing, the final release of Freeing Energy, this great work and the great insights that Bill has brought to the world. But as we always do on the Freeing Energy Podcast, we’ve got our lightning round. And today, we’re going to have somebody very, very special answer these questions. Melinda, you’re up, you’re in the lightning round. So, I’m going to ask you a handful of questions here. I want you to give me quick off the top of your head answers. And tell me, are you ready?

Melinda Nussey:
I’m ready. And I have to be short, right?

Sam Easterby:
I think, five, eight is the minimum requirement. But what excites you most about being in this clean energy business?

Melinda Nussey:
Potential, seeing all the potential out there and knowing that great things are coming out of it.

Sam Easterby:
Now, if you could wave a magic wand and change just one thing on this journey to clean energy, what would it be?

Melinda Nussey:
On this journey to clean energy, that people and politics, we can all get out of our own way and really start listening to the facts.

Sam Easterby:
A perfect answer and a topic that we talk about on many of these podcasts. So, here’s your next question. What do you think will be the single most important change in how we generate, store and distribute electricity in the next five years?

Melinda Nussey:
I think the single first step will be information and education. So, it will be tools that allow people to understand more where they’re using their electricity and how they’re using their electricity. Because once people become more invested in the process, then they’re going to expect more from it, other than just turning on the light switch. And just like with your mobile phone, we didn’t care that it could do all the things it did when we first got it. We just wanted to make phone calls and send text. But as time went on, we wanted it to have longer battery life. We wanted to be able to see the screen better. So, we have to take the first steps of being in invested, and then even more great things will come down the road.

Bill Nussey:
I thought you were going to say that in five years, the biggest change will be that Bill will have to have a job.

Melinda Nussey:
No, that’s short term, a year or two.

Sam Easterby:
I have a few that Melinda is fairly focused on the practical aspects of some of these things. And so, we expected to hear about a job for Bill in the not too distant future. Melinda, when you guys are out and about what, what do you say to folks that aren’t really as deep into this as the two of you are? I mean, what do you say to them when they say, “How can I help make this transition faster?”

Melinda Nussey:
I tell them that in a few months, or now in a few days, they will be able to buy Bill’s book and they should read that, and it will help educate them on really the broad scale of what’s going on. And then they can see for themselves what might interest them in getting involved. But the biggest thing is just to start asking questions.

Sam Easterby:
So, for those of you who are listening, we will actually have a link in our show on where you can find Freeing Energy, the book, and how you can buy it and get it home and read it. Bill, Melinda, I want to thank you so much for sharing this time with me today, and sharing the story a little bit more about the backstory of Freeing Energy, the book. And we’re looking forward to seeing this on the top of the New York bestseller’s list.

Bill Nussey:
Sam, I want to thank you for putting this together. You did such an honor to me and to Melinda, today with this getting a Peter, Samir and Amar to chime in. Thank you guys so much for being part of this. And the story that we should wrap up on is about halfway through the book, maybe the first third, Sam, who’s a dear friend, has been for many years, we were talking about how do we get stories for the book? And Sam said, “Well, if we do a podcast, we can get people’s real human stories.” And we don’t just interview them on the podcast about their ideas or their expertise. We interview them as people. That was absolutely a fundamental shift in what I envisioned the book to be. And so, in the following years, it became much more about stories. And so many of the people that Sam and I have worked with on the podcast became actors in the story. They were speakers, their personal insights and their own growing up, these things were mentioned in the podcast and get pulled into the book.

Bill Nussey:
And I think, Sam, thank you for all of that and making the book far more engaging and helping me steer through this process. And of course, thank you for honoring us with this interview today, and being a great friend to this project and to our family.

Melinda Nussey:
Yes, I would totally agree. And I’m glad you brought that up, because Sam, you’ve done as much as anybody to move the Freeing Energy mission forward. And I look forward to seeing what else you come up with down the road.

Sam Easterby:
Oh boy, rub your hands together. Well, thank you, both. And we look forward to learning even more about what’s coming in the near future, besides Bill’s new job.

Bill Nussey:
Thank you, guys.

Melinda Nussey:
Thanks, Sam.

Sam Easterby:
Thank you for joining us today. You have been listening to the Freeing Energy Podcast, personal stories from the clean energy movement. To learn more about the Freeing Energy Project, visit our website, freeingenergy.com. Subscribe to the Freeing Energy Podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, and anywhere podcasts are found. Make sure more people learn about clean local energy by rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcast.

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