July 18, 2023


The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Ryan Dings Discusses the Future of Climate Tech

On the latest installment of The Curious Capitalist podcast, Ryan Dings joins host Claire Edwards and Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Chair Gavin Watson to discuss the future of climate tech and solutions that will drive our society forward.  

From the electrification of major industry sectors to the diverse possibilities for implementing de-risked technologies equitably and inclusively and Ryan's aspirations for ClimateHaven, gain insider insights from the excerpts  below and listen to his entire conversation with Claire and Gavin here.

These quotes have been edited for clarity.

On rethinking how we construct and consume energy

Buildings in the United States have been built the same way for a long time. Drive around your neighborhood, and new homes under construction still use balloon framing systems from the early 1800s, a methodology that’s 200 years old. I became very interested in alternative ways to build, from prefabricated to modular methodologies that are more efficient and much greener.

Another aspect that fascinated me was the way buildings consume energy. We generate electricity often hundreds of miles away from where it’s consumed and send it through what’s essentially strings held up by toothpicks to deliver it to the source of consumption. That always struck me as odd because if you can generate energy on-site, why would you not try to generate as much energy on-site as possible before turning to an external source or a grid for the power you still need? There are so many ways we could not only reimagine how buildings are built but how residential and commercial buildings consume electricity.

On transitioning our energy infrastructure

We’re going to need all of the above to make this transition. First, we need to demonstrate that distributed energy resources (DERs) can make a meaningful impact on the grid by reducing consumer demand. We need to electrify our transportation sector, buildings, and other heavy industries; however, to do that, we have to apply an insane amount of pressure on our grid. Therefore, we’ll need to build more transmission lines, distribution lines, and transformers to accommodate the increased demand resulting from electrification and integrate other variable resources like solar and wind power.

We need to build and build and address energy demands at a local level and apply every possible technology we can. If we do that, we have a good chance of making this energy transition happen.

On energy distribution and automation

As individuals and consumers, we can impact our collective energy consumption. Coordination among all of us and automation can alleviate the burden of daily decision-making regarding energy usage, such as when to run appliances like the washer, dryer, or dishwasher or when to charge electric vehicles.

You can apply this technology in two ways. First, we can create distributed smart resources. Solar power, for instance, is now a widely accepted, de-risked technology. We can apply rooftop solar systems across the United States. Energy storage is also becoming more accessible and commoditized, allowing individuals to have on-site energy storage systems. Level two chargers for electric vehicles are likely to become propagated garages and driveways. Other power-consuming home appliances are becoming smarter, equipped with internal controls or integrated with breaker boxes or other individual control and management mechanisms.

Now layer in software to manage our energy consumption and reduce the grid demand that can work individually inside your home but also in tandem with utility companies. For example, we can optimize electric vehicle charging in a neighborhood waiting when the grid load is minimal rather than charging them all simultaneously at 5 o’clock when everyone rolls home.

There’s an opportunity to capitalize on these relatively de-risked and commoditized technologies by creating virtual power plants within residential and commercial buildings. These virtual power plants, combined with the coordinating software, enable us to collectively manage and dramatically decrease the demand on the grid as a result of electrification.

On equitable deployments and adoptions of climate tech

After leaving the private practice, I joined Sun Wealth, which primarily focuses on clean energy investments. Our specific area of focus was commercial solar applications, and we found great developers who were involved in constructing solar projects for commercial and, in some cases, residential purposes. We connected them with financing to allow those projects to move forward.

There were so many places where you could deploy solar, but surprisingly many of these sites were being overlooked due to the misconception that renewable or distributed energy resources were unsuitable for specific communities, so we launched a fund called the Solar Impact Fund.

We made a deliberate decision to build solar projects in underserved communities where you don’t see Teslas parked in driveways and solar panels on rooftops. Instead, we would install solar projects on the roof of nonprofit organizations, schools, churches, low to moderate-income housing, and industrial facilities.

These projects performed admirably, and guess what? Everyone paid their power bills. This experience showcased the tremendous power and impact of delivering clean, renewable, and cost-effective electricity to these consumers that were fundamentally being overlooked by a capitalist system that just wants to find the best credit available and service that market.

My work at Sun Wealth demonstrated the massive opportunity to make this energy transition inclusive and beneficial for everyone. It also showed me the enormity of the existing financial opportunity, the technical potential associated with deploying increasingly commoditized technologies such as solar and energy storage, and the importance of advancing other climate and clean technologies.

On accelerating the use of de-risked technologies

Considering the financing and underwriting of utility-scale solar projects, financial innovations will be as equally important as the technology innovations we make. Community Solar is a great example. These projects involve utility-scale solar installations placed on abandoned farmland or in locations farther away from urban centers. It allows renters, low to moderate-income households, and businesses in populated areas to participate and purchase power.

Solar technology is fundamentally commoditized and de-risked. Knock on wood, but I’m pretty sure the sun will come up tomorrow and shine. If it doesn’t, we have much bigger problems. Our focus shifts to leveraging financial and social innovations to further enhance solar penetration.

But what other technologies are going to follow? I’d put wind, energy storage, and electric vehicles in that category of de-risk technology. Electric vehicle adoption, specifically, is steadily increasing. We’re getting close to that holy cow moment where its adoption is expected to soar in the latter half of this decade. Seeing the Tesla in the leafy suburb is nice, but how do we get these electric vehicles everywhere? We have to develop infrastructures to charge these vehicles and essentially unseat the existing service infrastructure that’s in place for internal combustion engines.

On his hopes for the future of ClimateHaven

Let’s fast forward a year or two. My vision for ClimateHaven is to have 20 to 25 remarkable climate tech startup companies. Some of these companies may be spin-offs from Yale University, while others might have relocated to ClimateHaven from cities like New York, Boston, or elsewhere in New England. These companies may be seeking a new home or require more space at a better price, along with access to more talent resources.

When I think about ClimateHaven, my goal is to take a big-tent approach to climate tech. Carbon is this pesky, fungible thing, so we have to decarbonize every sector of the economy to solve it. We must decarbonize agriculture, buildings, heavy industry, energy, and transportation. Additionally, we must some of our past sins by developing adaptive technologies that enhance resilience and mitigate the damage we have already caused. While complete decarbonization may only be achievable in some sectors, it is crucial that our carbon-focused technologies specifically target and reduce the carbon we do emit.

This creates an exciting cross-section of entrepreneurs working on different but equally tricky things. When you put these companies in the room together, they rely on and lean on each other because they’re not direct competitors. They’re collaborators or co-conspirators on this mission to decarbonize our economy. We also hope the surrounding community sees ClimateHaven as a place where folks can talk about different climate ideas and solutions and hold events known not only in New Haven but more regionally throughout the northeast. We want to be known as the place to meet and discuss climate.

At the end of the day, we want to GSD, get stuff done. My hope is we see technologies that are scaling, succeeding, and departing ClimateHaven and making an impact in the real world.

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