Bolis Ibrahim: Building the DC-Powered Future of Electricity – EP. 169

About This Episode:

Bolis Ibrahim is the president of Cence Power, a start-up that aims to stop energy waste when AC power is converted to DC.

The power coming into your house or office is AC, or alternating current. However, the vast majority of the devices and lights you use are DC, or direct current.

Currently (har har), each individual device does its own AC/DC conversion, and if you’ve ever felt a hot laptop charger, you’ll have witnessed power going to waste.

Cence can save buildings up to 40% on their energy consumption for lighting and HVAC systems, which adds up when you consider how many commercial buildings there are in the world!

Full Audio:

If you enjoy the show, please rate it 5 stars on Apple Podcasts, subscribe, and leave a nice review!


There's a lot more you're missing.

Submit your email address to gain instant access to the rest of this page, including episode highlights with timestamps & original research.


2:12 – “Edison…he started a company called Edison Co or Edison Company, and he was an inventor…he had the original patent for the incandescent light bulb and he also devised the system for distributing electricity, people were using candlelight, literally. And so he invented the light bulb and he wanted a way to distribute electricity to this light bulb. And so he invented a system for distributing this power. …The way he generated this power was through a motor. It was all direct current or DC. And the problem was that the voltages were really low…if your voltage is low, you have to send a high current and high current means you need thicker wires. You’re also generating more heat…so the higher the current the more power loss…Tesla was thinking we need to increase the voltage to be able to transmit the power further. And so Edison hired Tesla, who came with all these really good ideas. They had a falling out. And then Tesla ended up going to work for George Westinghouse at the Westinghouse Company.”

3:59 – “Tesla was the inventor of the alternating current generator, so he had a generator that made alternating current or AC power, which is what we still use today, 140+ years later. But he also invented the transformer, and the transformer was a cool way to step up the power and it only worked for alternating current. And we still use transformers. They’re the big green boxes in our neighborhoods. They’re up on the poles. We use them in our cell phone chargers. They’re a way for us to step up and down the power. The catch was that transformers only work for alternating current. They don’t work for direct current. And so, what happened was Westinghouse and Tesla were left with a system that could distribute power further than Edison’s system. The wires were thinner because they had a higher voltage, so less current, and their system was a lot cheaper. And so Edison, in an effort to save himself…he invented the electric chair and used alternating current in the electric chair. And so he was trying really hard to defame the alternating current system. Of course, physics always ends up winning in the end. And so Edison failed and he had to merge his company with General Electric, or he was acquired by General Electric.”

5:34 – (Ross) “The main issue that your company solves, that your startup solves, is the fact that despite the fact that AC is coming into all of our homes, all of our devices like our phones and all of that, that’s on DC. So what is the issue that you’re trying to solve and how did you solve it?”
(Bolis) “So thanks for doing your research and already knowing that. If you think about it, the modern home, it’s almost 100% direct current power consumption. So the screen you’re looking at right now, your studio equipment, our lights, if we’re using LED lights, our chargers, our devices, anything digital, anything with a battery, anything with a display, all that stuff is direct current – and moving into the future, the most efficient motors that we can build are direct current. They’re called brushless DC motors. So our power tools, our washing machines, our fridges, the compressors, if you go into like a BestBuy now or wherever you buy appliances, you see these inverter appliances like LG inverter, Samsung inverter, inverter fridge, inverter dishwasher. These are all direct current appliances. Almost everything is becoming direct current, right? Like our Hvac systems are becoming direct current, ceiling fans, anything with a motor so our heating and cooling. So moving into the future we use direct current but the utility supplies are still with alternating current and the grid is alternating current. So our job is to convert now from alternating current to direct current. It’s a generally inefficient process and it’s obvious because if you pick up your cell phone charger, you can feel how warm it gets or how hot it gets. Yeah, and sometimes your laptop charger, you can cook an egg on it, right? If it’s like pretty bad and all that power is being wasted as heat and that’s only one type of loss.”

7:46 – “Thomas Edison was just way ahead of his time. And Nikola Tesla had basically the best of what was available at the time so we stuck with it. There was no vision for the use of direct current. There was no vision of, we’re going to have cell phones or we’re going to use semiconductors or we’re going to have supercomputers. There’s no vision really of that and that those things are going to be direct current. So we stuck with the alternating current, we poured all the money into the infrastructure and now we’re stuck converting or making these conversions. And it’s such a problem that you see companies like Apple, you go and buy an iPhone now, you don’t get a charger. That’s someone else’s problem now, right? Apple said, ‘You know what? We can’t make this efficient, in a cost-effective way.’ So instead of trying to make it efficient, it’s just this pure genius – ‘We’re going to cut it out, someone else can build it. Or if you want to come buy ours, you pay a premium.’ And so everyone’s following suit. I just bought a Pixel and it didn’t come with the charger. Samsung’s now don’t come with chargers. So, yeah, the solution – and it’s happening – is that we’re starting to distribute and generate direct current power. So solar panels, they produce direct current power, batteries they store direct current power. If you look at the newer grids that are coming online for transmission, not distribution into communities, but transmission over long distances, those are all HVDC or high voltage direct current grids. So we are moving towards this. But this is 140-year-old-momentum. We need to change directions.”

10:56 – (Ross) “I saw a number from your website, something like 40% inefficiency here. What does that mean in the context of the home or a commercial building? And how did your device help mitigate that loss or waste inefficiency?”
(Bolis) “…If you go and buy a down light, recessed down light, what we call pot lights, these LED flat disks that we put in our ceilings and they make really nice light. The drivers are the ones that you buy from Amazon, the regular one, they tell you it’s ten watts, but actually only five watts of power gets converted to light on most of these…So what’s happening to the other five watts is getting burned off as heat. And that’s in the conversion from AC to DC. And that’s because the manufacturer has no incentive to make that thing efficient. The pot light, the LED is already efficient so like ten watts, so what? Ten watts is nothing. And it’s expensive to make the driver efficient, and no one’s telling the manufacturer they have to. There’s no regulation at that low power. And so what they’re doing is they go, ‘Okay, what’s one pot light,’ right? And, you think about it one pot light is five watts. What’s five watts? Five watts, that’s less than a penny, right? Over like a year and – maybe not less than a penny over a year – but it’s a very small amount of money.”

12:52 – “It starts to get really crazy how much power we’re just burning off as heat because we have this really old way of sending electricity, electrical power from the place we generate it to the place we use it. And at the place we use it, unfortunately, what happened, what was unforeseen, was we stopped using it the way it was being sent to us and we started using it a different way. So we stopped using the AC power and we started using DC power. And it’s just because of the advent of cell phones being so cheap and computers being so cheap and, this is how we do our life now. It’s all digital. It’s all connected.”

13:37 – (Ross) “Your device, basically, it acts as a one time converter, if you will, and then all of the devices that spring out from that, they’re now getting the right power at the source?”
(Bolis) “What we do for the lighting side, that lighting panel, is we convert the power from AC to DC at a very high efficiency right from the jump. And then we distribute DC power out of this box, out of this – we call it a DC hub or a DC Subpanel. We distribute that straight to LED lights that don’t have a driver inside. An LED light that doesn’t have a driver inside has all these benefits that now it’s purely turning the power into light at the LED. The LED is very efficient and wastes very, very little power as heat, the majority of it turns into light, has a very high efficacy, what we call an efficacy. And then the LED lasts longer too.”

15:29 – “If you’ve ever had a LED bulb – you buy a screw type bulb, you plug it in – if you’ve ever had that flicker or just turn off, that’s not the LED failing. The LED is actually good for ten+ years. That’s the driver failing, the AC to DC driver, because it generated so much heat, it started to degrade and as it degraded, it generated more heat, and it’s this positive feedback loop of the thing destroying itself. And so if you’ve ever had to replace an LED bulb before ten years, that was the driver failure.”

16:23 – (Bolis) “In residential, we’re used to having like wall outlets. This is not going to change probably for a long time because you have to still be able to plug things into the wall. And that’s decreasing substantially. When you think vacuum cleaners, things you plug into the wall that need to be plugged in, like a vacuum cleaner, but look at Dyson – Dyson’s vacuum cleaners – those have a USB-C, they’re plugged in. In the future, I think all these wall outlets will all be USB-C.”
(Ross) “Really? That’s cool.”
(Bolis) Yeah I think so. I think we’re probably 15 to 20 years away from new builds all being like USB-C or some equivalent to USB-C. Some direct current, like DC plug, basically. And I think that there will be very, very few devices that we need AC power for and I think we’ll be doing the opposite instead of converting to DC, we’ll be converting to AC.”
(Ross) “That makes perfect sense.”

20:16 – (Ross) “So one of the added benefits I guess if you switch, if everybody switches to USB-C, which would be great, would that solve the issue of when you go to a different country, you don’t need any kind of power transformer? I lived in Europe for a long time and one time I tried to plug in my electric shaver and it exploded and I said, ‘Whoops, I forgot that was on a 50Hz only circuit.’ So a lot of devices that we have, accept both – obviously like your phone and whatnot, but if the whole world adopts USB-C, those types of issues, they just wouldn’t exist anymore, right?”
(Bolis) “Yeah, for sure. It’s a global standard and I think that the world should move towards global standards because of what you just mentioned. And it’s easier for everyone. It makes sense. It’s just superior, it’s better, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a global standard plug and…it’s moving towards that.”

27:38 – (Ross) “If every commercial building adopted your tech, what kind of savings would we see at scale?”
(Bolis) “It’s a complex math. So, we have a bunch of these calculators where we do the math, so if we’re looking at carbon savings, we look at the carbon intensity of the grid, where this building is, or if we’re doing all of America we can average, we can take the carbon intensity of producing electricity. We can look at the power consumption that we’re going to reduce from LED lighting by looking at lumens per square foot and how many lumens we need to light, and then the power per lumen or efficacy – lumens per watt. And then it’s this complex formula, but they are pretty serious numbers, we’re looking at megatons of carbon. And we’re looking at millions of dollars per year.”

30:23 – “Make sure that you’re solving a real problem, that’s a very high-quality problem. And by high quality, I mean that it’s affecting a lot of people. It’s actually a problem. Your solution is like painkillers and not vitamins and that it’s a problem that is persistent, it’s multiple times a day, ideally, that people experience this problem. Ideally, it’s a consistent problem, not, ‘Hey, this is a once-a-year problem. It’s a Christmas-type problem.’ You’re solving a really high-quality problem. If the problem that you’re trying to solve is really, really high quality then…go solve that problem.”

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll to Top