Actual Sun: Better Decisions For Solar Power

Posted on June 19th, 2012 by

The leadership from AcutalSun discuss how their software platform will help managers of solar power make smarter decisions.

Full Transcription:

Ben Lack We’re here at Surge today at Houston, Texas and you guys have recently just pitched the company about 450 people, investors, and potential partners. I wonder if I could learn a little bit about Actual Sun and what you guys are doing.
Sophia We do software for investors in the solar industry or software platform is a product so that investors can manage, compare and market their entire portfolio assets. In other words what we do is take information that is generated at a solar power plant, process it to make it meaningful for someone that is managing it. We give the investors the opportunity to understand that the power plant is performing as it should be. If not why not, and what they can do about it. We also help them learn from history instead of having to repeat the same mistakes over and over. We help them learn from what has happened in the past so that they can do better in the future. And also we have a market place so when they want to sell their assets they can find the best evaluation for them.
Ben Lack We’re talking a lot about software data points and really being able to understand data in order to make the right types of decisions. Walk me through the product itself and how you’re able to present that data to be able to make it easy for a user that’s not necessarily, you know well understood or well versed and everything that you’re collecting for the company.
Sophia So we’ve got two prototypes one of them connects to the monitoring systems that are installed at a power plant. So usually it’s a data logger, so it’s a piece of hardware that is in different places in a power plant and its measuring the electricity and the power that is happening at that place. And there’s also meteorology data points because for solar in particular and renewable in general the meteorology is extremely important. So we measure radiation, temperature, wind. We take those data points. And what we do is aggregate them. The problem that we found in the industry today is that there were so many data points. The raw data was so vast and broad it was very difficult to get an overview. So we started by bundling it up and making it meaningful for, you’re right, we want to know the total production, the total performance. And now and that’s what our first prototype does. And it’s so web interface so the user just logs in and can see this data. And now we’re starting to move stating to give them the opportunity to drill in, to drill in meaningfully. Until now you could drill in to the data but you didn’t know what it meant. So we have a scientist working with us in the UK. And what he’s doing is, when we have these data points we can understand what should the production be, and what can we do about it. Is it shade, is it the model that is under performing, is it the inverter or another piece of hardware that needs to be changed because it’s not the right size for that plant? What is the problem and what can we do about it?
Ben Lack During your pitch you made a comment about how, for companies that don’t have your service, they can take long period of time, weeks, months and there are instances for you guys up to minutes. Talk to me a little bit about how your able to save all of that time.
So what happen to a polycustomer in Spain is that they have 6 different software in place today. Some of them are native to a specific machine at the office, others don’t even have remote access so they’re out in the field in it they can’t even access them. But they have six different software. And they were having to download all this data, collect it all into excel, and then analyze it. But it was all in different formats some are super specific, others were txt file, others were csv, it was a big mess! And the data itself, it was different data points so it’s very difficult to understand what am I seeing in this file comparing to that file. So there’s a lot of copy pasting going on. To put it very simply a lot of copy pasting into excel. It took them two weeks each month three people all they did was copy paste information, from excel to their own excels and then into word to create the report that you saw me produce with three clicks. Because what we do is connect directly to the sources put it all together and crunch the numbers ourselves.
Ben Lack So this might sound like a stupid question but I want to ask and that is, your solar company is operating differently based on where they are located. You have pilot companies that are based in Europe and that’s solar and renewable, really where is at right now. But you ask as starting to get wise so to speak, but the US obviously operates a little bit differently and other parts of the world. So how does your platform handle the different ways that these companies operate?
Sophia So we’ve heard something’s in common and some thing’s different. We’ve also heard we’ve got 5 different software. We’ve got 7 different software. And getting rid of this confusion has really important and is a priority for us managers. So that’s the commonality. What we’ve heard differently is companies’ here have been more pro-active to look for solutions and there are already companies in the market that see their software as a big part of their strategy. It’s strategic tool for their growth. So they already somehow they have a perspective of softwares as tool as a strategic tool that we at least in Europe in the customers that we’ve interviewed wasn’t so clear. The customers that we met in Spain took them weeks to do this here in the US, it took them days maybe so they were already a little bit more advance in it information cycle. Also because they’re coming into the market later so they don’t deal with a lot of the legacy that has been in place for 5 or 10 years back back in Europe.
Ben Lack So the learning curve is faster.That’s what  the microfit .So Luke, talk me a little bit about the growth of the business. What can we expect from the company over the next 6 to 12 months?
Luke Okay so the next 6-12 months what we’re looking to do is build out the minimum viable  product and get that in place across our product customer’s platforms. We want to build it out with them. So they have the minimum features set that they’d be happy with, to still up becoming paying customers. And why we started is the manage piece. So we have three pieces manage, compare, and market. And for the manage piece we started with a particular bit which is the financial reporting. We’re also working on a diagnostics tool which is looking to take consultant’s case by case methodology if analyzing the health of the solar plant portfolio of solar assets. And turn that into software so that the relatively low level engineer can understand very quickly what is it that going on what is it they can do about it. And then the third  piece we’re looking to do in the manage section is to do in operations and maintenance; trying to understand how we can optimize and save money in the operations and maintenance scheduling. Once we’ve done that we’re also working the same time on what we’re recording as solar project index and this is essentially a market exchange platform. We’re going to use that core engine which is Actual Sun so the ability understand what a plant should be producing and what it is actually producing, understand why there’s a difference there, were going to use that core engine to be able to understand and be able to value better plants that are planning to change hands in the market place. So that’s really what we’re looking for over the next six to 9 months.
Ben Lack Part of your responsibility to the company is really looking at the customers’ side of things as well as the financial side things and I know that you guys are currently trying to raise some capitals. So talk to me a little bit about how much money are you trying to rise and what will the money go for?
Luke That’s right, were looking for a $ 600, 000, we’ve already raised a piece of that. So we’ve raised nearly a third of that. And that’s going to go towards our industry and were going to make this happen, and really setting it all in place. We’re looking to bring1 on board the technology piece and get that in house. And then to run a marketing campaign and get a marketing person in place. So that were ready once we have the minimum variable product to scale up not just here in the US but over in Europe as well. Sophie will be in Europe next week and we’re going to be in Lisbon, Madrid, in Rome and London. So it’s going to be a constant process of visiting customers and telling about our products and delighting the ones who are on board, and getting more engaged and of the show and they’re going to be the first on all this.
Ben Lack And Europe obviously is low hanging fruit because it’s just a community that better embraces renewable. But talk me a little bit about the role that US does play.
Luke Yeah I think that’s slightly different animal, so they have slowly different approaches specifically to start-ups. So in the US I think it’s a more start-up friendly community. Over in Europe people are more traditional they are looking at companies like us to have a long history coming from technology, first this from Berlin, from Madrid and other places these guys have been operating for 20-30 years over in the US. What the feedback that we’ve got is the people don’t really care what you’ve done outside the US. It’s all about what you’ve done in the US. And more open to listening and hearing from new companies because they have newest data culture here. So really I think it’s a level playing field for us and they want to see results, they want to see a team that can do what they set out to do and that’s what Actual Sun is.
Ben Lack So Luke why solar? Why does this industry interest you and why are you choosing to do what you’re doing and same thing for you too Sophia?
Luke So why solar? Well, I’ve been working at around clean technologies for 10 years now. And as three years ago, I had a look at which technology I wanted to focus on, I looked on wind, I looked biomass and hydro and then I looked at solar. And solar really is where the opportunity lies I think. And that’s because the technology is still evolving. And there isn’t a fixed technology out there isn’t wind, is getting bigger and going offshore. There’s also different innovations that are constantly happening and in there, there’s room for a small player and it’s also very modulated. You can have solar on your watch, on your house, in giant fields and so in the future its going to be in windows, in paint, in clothes. So this huge opportunity they’re just growing phase and that’s what’s really exciting about solar.
Sophia For me coming into solar well first of all Luke brought me here to Solar, We’ve known each other for two years always a little bit around a start up with Luke’s started  a project. I helped a little bit something else. So we’re always there in and around in entrepreneurship. But for me what I was looking for when I set-out to build Actual Sun, the company that brought me meaning. I wanted my work to be meaningful, I’ve always loved what I do, I liked to do business, I liked to develop products .But I’ve  developed software for like SMS,  for games, for things that are cool and fun. But I wanted something that has meaningful and so being in Clean Tech was very appealing to me. I liked to be a part of a revolution in our energy system and a revolution for a world to me it seems better and good and that’s why it’s so much fun.
Ben Lack And talk to me very briefly about role that Surge has played in the growth of the company.
Luke Sure. Surge is  a fantastic opportunity for us. It gave us opportunity to come here to the US to Houston to have to be honest with you, I knew very little about Texas before.  I like it here and amazingly surprised by how diverse and how multi-cultured the community is here and how just friendly everybody is. It is absolutely mind blowing. And what Surge has done, the real value that Surge has done made apart from all the structured imput and some cash has been introduced to us all. That network of men we’ve had some cash presidents ,we’ve had companies offer and open up their address book and say who is it that they need to speak to made the introductions. And that people talked to you and that’s what early stage of the company is all about it’s a customer discovery process so it’s really being opportunity to make 70 odd phone calls and meetings with customers, investors, and potential partners over the course of three months that has made the difference for us.
Ben Lack Sophia Luke thanks so much for being with me. I really appreciate it. Good Luck on everything can’t wait to follow up you guys and stay in touch


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