Heliogens Christie Obiaya on AI-driven photo voltaic thermal know-how

In these weeks Opto Classes podcast, Christie Obiaya, CEO of photo voltaic thermal vitality firm Heliogen, explains how the corporate’s AI-powered know-how produces three fundamental merchandise: inexperienced steam, inexperienced hydrogen, and HelioPower. Obiaya particulars how these merchandise can drive the vitality transition and the corporate’s path to profitability.


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Christia Obiaya is CEO of publicly traded photo voltaic thermal vitality firm Heliogen, which makes use of synthetic intelligence (AI) to optimize the method of changing photo voltaic vitality into warmth. She beforehand served as the corporate’s chief monetary officer and changed founder Invoice Gross as CEO in February 2023. Previous to becoming a member of her, Lei Obiaya was chief monetary officer of Bechtel Company.

Obiaya’s long-term ambition for Heliogen is to make a big dent in local weather change mitigation by way of photo voltaic vitality know-how, says Opto Classes.

Local weather change is the best menace to humanity. If we wish there to be a viable civilization for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, we’ve to repair it

Local weather change is the best menace to humanity, he continues. If we wish there to be a viable civilization for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, we’ve to repair it.

Heliogens know-how ought to be a part of that resolution.

Thermal photo voltaic

Heliogen [HLGN] makes use of photo voltaic thermal know-how, which differs barely from photo voltaic photovoltaic (photo voltaic PV), the sort most individuals are accustomed to. Whereas photo voltaic PV converts the solar’s vitality straight into electrical energy, photo voltaic thermal harnesses the solar’s warmth utilizing banks of heliostats, a elaborate identify for mirrors that observe the solar and direct the vitality to a receiver atop a tower .

Utilizing this warmth, Heliogen can generate carbon-free steam and inexperienced hydrogen vitality options, in addition to electrical energy. A key advantage of photo voltaic thermal know-how is that, not like photo voltaic PV or different renewable sources reminiscent of wind or hydroelectric energy, it may be transformed into different types of usable vitality on this method.

Solely 25% of worldwide emissions come from vitality manufacturing; industrial processes reminiscent of agriculture, transportation and development account for the rest. These industries have traditionally confirmed troublesome to decarbonise, however the three merchandise Heliogen can generate utilizing its know-how provide options for these industries.

Inexperienced Steam

Inexperienced Steam was Heliogens first commercially accessible product and affords price financial savings for companies or customers who forgo direct fossil gas consumption.

Individuals pay a excessive price for gasoline; this makes it simpler for us to cut back what they’re at the moment paying for fossil fuels to generate the identical warmth.

When you’re creating warmth or steam through the use of an electrical boiler and plugging it into the grid, you are still utilizing loads of vitality, Obiaya says. In distinction, Heliogens know-how permits firms to generate warmth and steam with none publicity to fossil fuels or their prices.

“We’re giving clients the flexibility to offset their carbon emissions on the identical or higher price than they at the moment pay for fossil fuels,” he explains. We’re beginning to do that by attacking the costlier alternate options.

Individuals pay a excessive price for gasoline; this makes it simpler for us to cut back what they’re at the moment paying for fossil fuels to generate the identical warmth.

Inexperienced hydrogen and HelioPower

Since Heliogen produces steam, it’s comparatively simple to provide hydrogen. Heliogen efficiently demonstrated the usage of stable oxide electrolysers that break up water as vapor to isolate hydrogen in collaboration with Bloom Power [BE] in 2021. Its first commercial-scale hydrogen mission is at the moment underneath development in Lancaster, California.

Hydrogen manufacturing is important as a result of whereas electrical autos are capturing many of the consideration in the USA, different nations reminiscent of Japan are pursuing a hydrogen-based method to transportation gas. Based on analysis by McKinsey, hydrogen may be probably the most promising candidate for the aim of emission-free aviation.

Lastly, Heliogen is creating a commercial-scale demonstration product for HelioPower, a inexperienced electrical energy resolution. Heliogen has a contract with Woodside Power [WDS.AX], Australia’s largest oil and gasoline producer. The mission goals to make use of bauxite particles as a method of storing thermal vitality. Manufacturing at that plant is predicted to start subsequent 12 months, in response to Obiaya.

Synthetic intelligence

Photo voltaic thermal know-how depends on mirrors aimed exactly on the receiver, which was beforehand a laborious guide train. Nonetheless, Heliogen now leverages synthetic intelligence to streamline and automate this course of.

Heliogens mirrors have a closed-loop suggestions system with cameras across the prime of the tower, Obiaya says, and software program that robotically adjusts the mirrors to all the time be sure that they’re pointed proper on the heart of the tower prime.

This laptop imaginative and prescient know-how, he says, has solely been enabled in the previous couple of years because of the event of Nvidia [NVDA] GPU processor.

Funding time horizon

The clear vitality transition is one thing Obiaya believes will occur over a long time, particularly given the truth that a lot of the required know-how remains to be rising.

Nonetheless, governments world wide are beginning to act urgently to deal with the problem. Heliogen is ready to disproportionately capitalize on a few of the provisions of the Inflation Discount Act, in response to Obiaya, by way of funding tax credit, a inexperienced hydrogen manufacturing tax credit score of as much as $3/kg, and thru a superior manufacturing tax credit score.

For traders eyeing this house, Obiaya says, the time to take part and begin coming into is now.

Time could also be a limiting issue, however house shouldn’t be: the world is filled with promising locations for photo voltaic vitality manufacturing.

We’re very lucky that a lot of the Earth has actually robust photo voltaic incidents, he explains. The kind of photo voltaic vitality that’s measured as essential for concentrated photo voltaic thermal happens very properly in areas of the world such because the southern United States, South America, components of the Center East, North Africa and South Africa.

The entire addressable marketplace for Heliogens is, in response to Obiaya, $800 billion globally, based mostly on what industrial firms at the moment spend to gas manufacturing.

Obiaya outlined Heliogens path to profitability on Opto Classesstating that the corporate went by way of a interval of intense analysis and growth till the top of 2022, however that priorities at the moment are shifting in the direction of monetizing its business merchandise.

As a part of this, we’ve considerably lowered our R&D funds. And that displays our shift from know-how growth to supply.

At this level, it is all about advertising and marketing and execution.

For different methods to hear:

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