Providing Solar Energy for Those In Need

Providing Solar Energy for Those In Need

YouSolar, Inc.

7. Affordable and Clean Energy 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 13. Climate Action Flourish Prize Finalist - For Business as an Agent of World Benefit - Weatherhead School of Management

Overview

YouSolar Inc. is aiming to revolutionize the way that we generate power for years to come. With their innovative PowerBloc™ technology, YouSolar is changing the energy game in a concerted effort to provide affordable, clean energy to consumers while minimizing environmental harm that is perpetuated by many of its competitors in the industry.

Authors

Frank Popper

Frank Popper

Janet Ruiz-Kroll

Janet Ruiz-Kroll

Bryan Elliott

Bryan Elliott

Pedro Perez

Pedro Perez

School

St. John's University

St. John's University

Professor

Charles Wankel

Charles Wankel

Innovation

Arnold Leitner, Founder, and CEO of YouSolar, Inc., is no newbie when it comes to the concentrated solar power (CSP) industry. In fact, Leitner has been at the forefront of solar technology and green energy efforts for nearly the last 30 years. After founding two successful solar tech companies, Leitner felt that his next undertaking would be his biggest, most impactful one yet. Creating YouSolar in late 2012, the PowerBloc technology was born to deliver the possibility of power without a connection to an already established grid. But how exactly does it work?

According to Leitner and the company's website, PowerBloc is a full-integrated nano-grid that is comprised of a solar array, battery, and inverter that forms the grid for the house/business. The primary power supply for a home, PowerBloc's use of nano-grid technology allows it to use and store energy from any power source. The technology's specialty is that PowerBloc can operate as an off-grid system if there is no available grid to connect to. This allows users to go off the grid, and the smart energy management system of the PowerBloc is especially useful in these situations. Additionally, this technology allows users to use solar, small wind, or micro-hydropower as renewable energy sources to power their homes as opposed to the traditional nonrenewable, more harmful resources (though these are available at the discretion of the consumer).

Providing Solar Energy for Those In Need

A preview of two PowerBloc units in full operation

Inspiration

Fed up with the way that the CSP industry continued to operate, Leitner was poised to make his mark. He felt that solar technology was not well designed, and was not as easy to use as possible. At a crossroads, the founder and CEO felt like Steve Jobs looking at IBM's lackluster technology and wanting to go on to create the Macintosh by Apple. To clarify, Leitner didn't dismiss the quality of products that companies were making before YouSolar--he just didn't feel that there was a consistent effort in the industry to create a solution for sustainable power.

The existing technologies were highly (and most still are) reliant on a working or functional power grid to perform. If the grid wasn't working well or frequencies were unstable, these systems simply were not able to perform. Solar tech was difficult to install and was a time-consuming process, to say the least. Many of the large solar energy companies were making small efforts to cater to climate change, but nothing substantial was being accomplished. According to Leitner, "There's no point in eating another Slimfast package if you aren't losing weight." In other words, there was a lot of honorable climate activity being done by energy companies but simply wasn't making a difference. YouSolar and the PowerBloc were created specifically to fill that void and make true differences, for the better, in the lives of consumers and the changing climate around them.

Overall impact

The felt impact of PowerBloc technology was immediate. The lifeblood of YouSolar, this innovation has allowed the company to grow and stand head-and-shoulders above its local competitors. In terms of society and the environment, the impact has perhaps been much greater. The original vision for YouSolar was to examine markets that had a heavy demand growth, but lack of reliable infrastructure. From there, the PowerBloc was going to be marketed as the central source of energy for developing areas that fit the criteria (e.g. developing industrial areas of India). This was in an effort to limit the use of fossil fuels and other forms of non-renewable energies at their root and develop cultures of sustainable energy around the world. Though still deeply engrained in YouSolar's DNA and serviceable through the PowerBloc for long term infrastructure development, the PowerBloc came to serve a different purpose here in the United States when climate change continued to rear its ugly head in the form of catastrophe.

Natural disasters, specifically the California wildfires that have run rampant and consistently since 2018, served as an opportunity for the PowerBloc innovation to lead YouSolar's humanitarian efforts domestically. These new markets emerged in places like California and Florida, consistently stricken by natural disaster. Residents were losing their power and the infrastructure for such and were realizing the true environmental harms perils of a devolving climate. With that said, the PowerBloc and YouSolar have stepped in to assist individuals and organizations across these areas to re-establish themselves with power that can be mobilized and off-the-grid when things go horribly wrong. Not only is YouSolar providing clean and affordable energy through their technology, but the company is helping to take direct climate action that builds sustainable cities, communities, and the framework for a revamping of the CSP industry.

Business benefit

The innovation of PowerBloc has allowed YouSolar to delve into multiple different markets and expand their business operations beyond their previous trajectories. PowerBloc also has expanded its customer base in the markets that they already existed in. PowerBloc is described as perfect for customers who (but is not limited to):

  • Are grid-connected but experience frequent or extended power outages
  • Have no utility power or choose to live off the grid
  • Want to eliminate demand charges and arbitrage time-of-use utility power rates
  • Want solar but cannot or do not wish to net-meter
  • Need more power, but utility line upgrades are expensive
  • Experience poor power quality and need to protect sensitive electronic equipment

(source: https://yousolar.com/faqs/#componentsthatmakeup)

The expanded consumer base has grown the business across the board, specifically in the organization's ability to do R&D to develop greener technologies to reduce emissions to a near net-zero.

Social and environmental benefit

The PowerBloc has helped supply those who have been caught in the middle of catastrophe to properly prepare for and avoid a loss of power for the sake of their well-being. These populations are often wealthier individuals or organizations that Leitner made clear were necessary to serve due to their high proportionality of previous carbon emissions/ environmental damage. According to Leitner, "Allowing organizations to emit carbon at the rate they do, is catastrophic and must be stopped." These wise words ring true in the mantra of the Powerbloc's ability to provide clean and renewable energy for the patrons of YouSolar. The lithium-ion phosphate batteries that the company uses and the Powerbloc aren't perfect, though. Mr. Leitner stated that the company is still continuously striving to overcome the challenges it faces when it comes to how its products affect the environment.

Throughout our interview, Leitner made it clear that he was not trying to "greenwash" or deliver "nonsense" to us. Rather, he was adamant about YouSolar and the PowerBloc continuously working towards using as little non-renewable energy as physical and fundamentally possible. Leitner's optimism for the future due to the certain (though intangible) benefits of PowerBloc technology was inspiring for all that recognize the need to curb climate change. Leitner eloquently described the future of solar energy and how it can help heal us as individuals as well as the world that we have damaged so deeply:

"Solar isn't going to be the biggest power solution out there- it's going to be the only one... We are the major change in our world- there are people out there that are working on solutions, simply out there looking at the societal problems, and... devote their lives to it."

Interview

Arnold Leitner, Founder and CEO

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YouSolar, Inc.

YouSolar, Inc.

Emeryville, California, US

Business Website: https://yousolar.com/

Year Founded: 2012

Number of Employees: 51 to 200

YouSolar Inc. is a private solar energy company that is aiming to revolutionize the face of clean energy for years to come. Providing clean energy to those who need it most in crises and conscious consumers, YouSolar utilizes their trademarked PowerBloc™ technology to power homes and businesses across the world. With the global temperature on the rise and no sense of stopping, YouSolar hopes to integrate battery systems that don't rely on a working grid to forever change the landscape of our energy and environment for the better.