Heliogens Christie Obiaya on AI-driven photo voltaic thermal expertise

In these weeks Opto Periods podcast, Christie Obiaya, CEO of photo voltaic thermal vitality firm Heliogen, explains how the corporate’s AI-powered expertise produces three important 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 major dent in local weather change mitigation via photo voltaic vitality expertise, says Opto Periods.

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

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

Heliogens expertise needs to be a part of that answer.

Thermal photo voltaic

Heliogen [HLGN] makes use of photo voltaic thermal expertise, which differs barely from photo voltaic photovoltaic (photo voltaic PV), the kind most individuals are conversant in. 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 title for mirrors that monitor 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 expertise is that, in contrast to photo voltaic PV or different renewable sources corresponding to wind or hydroelectric energy, it may be transformed into different types of usable vitality on this means.

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

Inexperienced Steam

Inexperienced Steam was Heliogens first commercially accessible product and presents value financial savings for companies or customers who forgo direct fossil gasoline consumption.

Individuals pay a excessive value 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.

For those who’re creating warmth or steam through the use of an electrical boiler and plugging it into the grid, you are still utilizing quite a lot of vitality, Obiaya says. In distinction, Heliogens expertise permits firms to generate warmth and steam with none publicity to fossil fuels or their prices.

“We’re giving prospects the power to offset their carbon emissions on the similar or higher value than they at the moment pay for fossil fuels,” he explains. We’re beginning to do that by attacking the dearer options.

Individuals pay a excessive value 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 supply hydrogen. Heliogen efficiently demonstrated the usage of strong oxide electrolysers that cut up water as vapor to isolate hydrogen in collaboration with Bloom Vitality [BE] in 2021. Its first commercial-scale hydrogen undertaking is at the moment below building in Lancaster, California.

Hydrogen manufacturing is important as a result of whereas electrical automobiles are capturing many of the consideration in america, different nations corresponding to Japan are pursuing a hydrogen-based method to transportation gasoline. Based on analysis by McKinsey, hydrogen might also be probably the most promising candidate for the objective of emission-free aviation.

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

Synthetic intelligence

Photo voltaic thermal expertise 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 mechanically adjusts the mirrors to all the time ensure that they’re pointed proper on the heart of the tower prime.

This laptop imaginative and prescient expertise, he says, has solely been enabled in the previous few 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 expertise continues to be rising.

Nonetheless, governments all over the world are beginning to act urgently to handle the problem. Heliogen is ready to disproportionately capitalize on a number of the provisions of the Inflation Discount Act, in accordance with Obiaya, via 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 area, Obiaya says, the time to take part and begin coming into is now.

Time could also be a limiting issue, however area is just not: the world is stuffed 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 vital for concentrated photo voltaic thermal happens very effectively in areas of the world such because the southern United States, South America, components of the Center East, North Africa and South Africa.

The full addressable marketplace for Heliogens is, in accordance with Obiaya, $800 billion globally, based mostly on what industrial firms at the moment spend to gasoline manufacturing.

Obiaya outlined Heliogens path to profitability on Opto Periodsstating that the corporate went via a interval of intense analysis and improvement till the top of 2022, however that priorities at the moment are shifting in the direction of monetizing its industrial merchandise.

As a part of this, we’ve considerably lowered our R&D finances. And that displays our shift from expertise improvement to supply.

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

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