Arnold Leitner: CEO & Founder of YouSolar – Ep. 101

About Arnold Leitner & YouSolar, Inc.

Arnold Leitner is the founder, CEO, and president of YouSolar. His innovative approach to solar power and battery storage has gotten him millions in investments. 

Arnold has spent two decades innovating in solar, founding two prominent companies in the space called SkyFuel and ReflecTech before his latest endeavor.

YouSolar’s modular battery grid and solar panel combo allows you to dramatically reduce your need for grid power (or eliminate it), and it can keep your house running in the case of a power failure.

It’s tech I hope someday all of us can have in our homes.

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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*0:01 – “My name is Arnold Leitner, and I beat the often path by devoting my life to the preservation and enhancement of the natural and cultural world. By this, I mean, is that the natural wonder of the Amazon is as important as the cultural achievements and scientific achievements that mankind has accomplished, that the beauty of an orchid opening on the morning is as fantastic as the opening of a solar panel to feed power to the Webb telescope. So I decided a long time ago that the way we can accomplish both is that we have abundant energy available that allows us to grow food for a human on the size of a pool table or clean water for our city so that it won’t pollute rivers and estuaries. And so that is what I’ve devoted my life to, and that’s the path I’ve taken.” 

2:41 – “I began in conservation because I lived in Europe, I lived in Germany, and in the early and mid-eighties Germany was still transforming itself into a more industrial world. So more and more natural habitats were taken away to build roads, or otherwise, homes were built…I saw a responsibility and opportunity for me to make a difference and to really work in conservation. So my path was from protecting peregrine falcons to working, coincidentally, with orchids, building breeding boxes for barn owls up in the steeples of churches.” 

*3:51 – “As I just got a little older and looked around and asked ‘What is actually driving the impact on this environment? What’s causing it?’ And of course, the obvious thing was it’s us, it’s humans. But what could I do to allow me to enjoy the life that I do like? I like technology, I like a house, I like being able to travel. What would we need to do that we can move forward, preserving the natural world and living in the civilizations that I think we all should admire and cherish because we’ve done extraordinary things. And that led me to think that we need to do something in energy. And then I decided to become a physicist. I decided to study physics and to work on the solutions to provide us abundant, reliable energy.”

8:09 – “I came to realize that we really need to take solar where people use it. That’s above their roofs. And that kind of seems obvious. It’s not obvious everywhere, because I also like to say you’ve got to fish where the fish are. So there’s a question whether a solar panel over a cabin in Finland makes much sense. But…anything between 30-degree latitude, where billions of people live, most people, solar is a completely practicable source of energy that doesn’t require any auxiliary energy sources like back-up fossil, can entirely stand on its own.”

9:13 – “I was actually one of the first proponents of lithium-ion batteries, looking at the cycle efficiency. This was at the time Tesla was founded, looked at that and thought to myself, ‘that’s really the way we need to go.’”

9:41 – “The lithium-ion battery really offered the opportunity for the batteries to deliver high power. And high power is really where everything is, not because your home needs to start an air conditioner, needs to occasionally run a stove and a dryer, and that’s when peak demand comes in. And being able to deliver that on your own is the first time you really develop some sort of independence from the grid. And that’s not in the sense of trying to break free, which many of our customers want, but in terms of the technical dependence on it, so that the grid no longer has to be always there and instantaneously deliver high power, which is costly and an inefficient way to deliver energy. So that’s been the path to YouSolar, to deliver that kind of a solution.” 

10:35 – (Ross) “It’s no secret that people know that it’s not about the capturing of the energy specifically in huge parts of the world, think Australia, think the southwestern United States where there’s tons of sun like where I live, there’s sun almost 365 days a year. We know that we’ve got tons of sun, but we’ve got this massive issue where the peak hours of use do not coincide with the peak hours of sun. In the evening time people tend to use the most energy in general and the sun is beating down during the day so we’ve long understood that it’s not the collecting of solar energy, but it’s the storing of it for later use, e.g. batteries, and on a large scale it’s often been said…that we simply don’t have the battery technology to do that or the amount of energy required would require so many lithium-ion batteries to power any kind of city that it becomes impossible. And then we get into other discussions of what kind of rare earth materials or generally rare materials need to be mined to sustain such a battery grid.” 

20:44 – “There’s a reason why all these large batteries are mounted in garages. You might think, ‘Oh, well, that’s because there’s space.’ Well, actually, not really. Look at the average American garage – it’s pretty busy. Often so full they can’t even park a car. The reason it’s in the garage is because you can drive in the garage, meaning you can roll a dolly and a crate and some heavy equipment in there to mount against a wall because all these batteries are very heavy…If you were to take this around the world…lots of places don’t have a garage because they can’t afford it and it was never planned into the house. And you need to start moving your battery system by hand. You will run out of options. And therefore, the important part about the modularity you spoke to is we need to break their batteries specifically down into modules that can be hand-carried by two people that can walk down the staircase. You don’t want it to be a piano effort.”

22:03 – “You want to make it plug and play because there’s a constraint, right? Even an average solar installer needs to make a choice about which solar systems with the battery they can install because they only have that many people, that many certification courses they need to take…So not everyone in the companies can do this kind of work…So ultimately they are often limited to on how many battery systems they can install. And often they just go with one brand, they’re not recommending the brand because they think that brand is better, they’re recommending that particular brand, be that LG Chem or Tesla, because that’s the only one they know how to install. So what we try to do with YouSolar is to have a true plug and play system that any electrician can put together and install.”

23:40 – “You can be entirely off grid. And many of our customers are. However, I think, practically speaking, it is much better if you stay on the grid, grid-connected, no longer grid-tight…and use the grid as an uncorrelated energy source that’s available in case your sun doesn’t deliver.”

24:50 – “I want to make the point about the mobile phone that’s often confused with a walkie talkie. An off-grid system is a walkie talkie. You don’t need a cell phone tower, but a power block that’s grid-connected is a lot like a mobile phone because your mobile phone only transmits for a mile, maybe more, and then goes into a cell phone tower and then goes into fiber optic cable and connects to your uncle in Florida and comes up the cell phone tower and finds the uncle on the golf course. It is hardly an independent system. You’re completely linked in. But opening up that last mile made all the difference.” 

29:37 – [On whether the YouSolar product would work in other countries, especially emerging markets] “I think it’s the only path forward, if we want to have full penetration of solar, which is, let’s not be humble here, truly the only energy solution out there…No one lives where it’s windy. Wind is a large-scale energy form – it requires transmission, it requires all this challenge to try to overcome. Nearly all the people that matter, in terms of energy demand growth, live within thirty degrees of latitude and even closer. If once you’re 15 degrees within the equator, this is pretty much flat demand and flat supply, meaning the demand for air conditioning and cooling is constant and the supply for solar is pretty much constant. So for them it is the solution. But the important part is we need to get out of this complicated, instantaneous network of power systems that the moment there’s a disruption to it, it breaks down.” 

33:44 – “If we suddenly got this idea that we can supplement by building on the German hydrogen economy or hydrogen infrastructure, well, let’s go a step further and make up for the seasonal demand with solar installations in desert countries…You want to store it in tankers, you want to ship it up. I don’t know if I want to be dependent on electricity from a southern country with a high voltage power line because while Putin can turn off the gas and Germany still has a couple of months, if you shut off electricity, you’re off the grid instantaneously. So therefore, if I was to advise the German government, I wouldn’t suggest to put solar panels into the Northern Sahara and run high voltage power lines up there because someone turns them off or they cut off for one or the other reason you’re out. I’d rather say, ‘Look, let’s make hydrogen, ship it up there, store it and buffer it – they’ve all got the clean energy infrastructure.”

*38:12 – “I don’t know if you could have arrived at the Enlightenment without the Inquisition. We would have not arrived at a scientific principle without the Enlightenment. And while we can do well without the Inquisition, we should still keep the Enlightenment. But the point is these were processes that humans and humanity and civilization went through and I have the greatest of respect and admiration and awe of the processes we’ve gone through as humans that ultimately resulted in the James Webb telescope, which I think has been some sort of a point of relief and belief for people that there’s still some greatness in humanity. I think there’s plenty of greatness in humanity.”

43:30 – “My parents built and I designed, one of the first passive houses in Germany. And it was built in 1991…for those who don’t know, it’s a home, even in Germany, that can almost entirely allow you to live without any heat source. It’s super insulated. It has triple insulated walls and windows and water recycling, everything you can ever dream of…In 1991, I was only 17, it would cost twice as much as a conventional home. Today it’s only 6-7%, and until recently it only took you a couple of years to pay it off with the gas savings and now with what we have in Europe right now probably pays them off within the year.”

45:26 – (Ross) “I think that any person that experiences that, witnessing their energy bill going down to zero slowly, and they realize this thing on my roof is powering my car and my appliances and all of this. I think that’s going to be a very addictive feeling for humans in general. It’s going to feel very empowering.” 

*49:15 – (Ross) “I think it speaks to what people can do, the kind of choices that we can make. And at the end of the day, it’s about people making better choices. And I believe in my heart that when people make smarter, more energy efficient, more ecological minded choices, that the satisfaction that they will feel will be worth it. So at the end of the day, you won’t notice spending $250 extra, when all is said and done in your final days of life, but what you will feel is the satisfaction of knowing that you pushed a very important movement forward and that you dedicated your life to something that would benefit all humans. I think that is worth something too. And when we only evaluate our lives in terms of how much our monthly spend is, or our bills, we’re missing a huge component of what it means to be alive.” 

50:26 – “I think there’s a lot of people in the United States and elsewhere in the world that don’t right now know exactly where to hang their compass. And so for them, I say, don’t argue that ‘Well, if I do something it’s not going to make a difference.’….It gives you a moral high ground. It gives you that certainty that if I say something, I can say it with respect to myself. And I think that is so important, because ultimately it’s not the change you make at home that will save the world…but in the role of a policymaker at some point, or as the husband of a wife or the wife of a husband that takes these steps one day they’ll make a decision and a point of influence….I’ll say to everyone, ‘Do it. Don’t wait for other people.’ And if anything, it gives you the right to speak and it gives you the peace of mind, the self-confidence and the footing that I think all of us want in a world that’s in upheaval and so changing.” 

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