Dolly instructed us to sing within the sunshine, and Sunfolding listened


Effectively howdy, y’all! (Clearly learn that as Dolly Parton enthusiastically greeting a venue of adoring followers.) Welcome again to our restricted sequence, “What Would Dolly Parton Do? 9 to five within the Local weather Tech Sector.” This week, I’m taking Dolly’s lyrics of “We’ll Sing within the Sunshine” to coronary heart by highlighting photo voltaic monitoring firm Sunfolding. Don’t fear, the one singing I’m together with right here will probably be from Dolly herself. However I did connect a GIF of myself jamming to her music on the finish of the publication. You’re welcome.

Sunfolding, as I already stated, is a photo voltaic monitoring firm. If you happen to’re unaware of what photo voltaic monitoring is, don’t fear. Leila Madrone, chief know-how officer and founding father of Sunfolding, explains the mechanics in essentially the most digestible method beneath. 

Some questions and solutions have been modified for size and readability. 

Leah Backyard: [Pointing at the constructed and functioning solar panels and solar trackers at the company’s Alameda headquarters] So that is the Sunfolding Tracker. May you clarify what a tracker is and the way it works?

Leila Madrone: Photo voltaic trackers are the mechanics that transfer the panels to observe the solar. And we’re making a brand new sort of air-compressed photo voltaic tracker right here. We set up black, lung-like items beneath the photo voltaic panel, that are every managed by air stress and related with air tubing. And so what’s so neat about that’s which you could create a machine that’s actually simplified in comparison with every thing else out there in the marketplace. Most panels are related with tons and many metal to a motor and gearbox, which then strikes the photo voltaic panels into one of the best place to seize the solar. We’re doing it a distinct method. We’re utilizing the air to transmit the drive as an alternative of the metal. So we’re actually changing metal with air. And we’re additionally making a system that may be as versatile because it must be.

Back side of solar panels portraying solar trackers, black, lung-like bags that move solar panels

Backyard: And why is flexibility so vital when establishing photo voltaic panels?

Madrone: Often if you’re constructing a photo voltaic website, it’s important to do a lot of grading to get a extremely flat base that means that you can align all of the tracker techniques. As a result of Sunfolding makes use of air tubes as an alternative of metal, we will construct on any sort of contoured land without having to flatten it first. And that is good since you’re not spending the fee for all of that grading, and it is also actually vital from the environmental and long-term sustainability of solar energy, since you’re not killing the ecosystems to seize the renewable power. So it finally ends up being an enormous profit for the fee, for the velocity of deployment and for the long-term environmental impression of the positioning. 

Backyard: So what’s your background? What led you to photo voltaic trackers?

Madrone: My background was initially in robotics. I acquired my undergrad and grasp’s from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and spent the primary a part of my profession in robotics. I ended up on the West Coast working at NASA and the Clever Robotics Group, which was a lifelong dream of mine. However touchdown your dream job, typically then you definitely say, “OK, what do I do subsequent?” And what I noticed I actually needed to do was work on the power transition and focus my profession on the abatement of local weather change. So I converted from robotics into photo voltaic. I labored at a few firms first and realized as a lot as I might concerning the photo voltaic business. And my expertise led me to appreciate that even the good tasks with ample funding weren’t sufficient if we couldn’t convey that know-how to scale and have an actual sort of competitiveness with oil and gasoline. And that’s what led me to create Sunfolding.

Black and white picture of Leila Madrone, a white woman with dark curly shoulder-length hair and a black t-shirt














Backyard: Committing to go all-in on a startup is sort of the leap. What was happening in your thoughts that satisfied you to enter the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem?

Madrone: I believe you hear this lots if you discuss to anybody who does startups: If it’s not transformational, it’s most likely not price doing. Particularly in case your focus is {hardware} as a result of it takes so lengthy to get to market, it actually has to matter. So the transformational potential of my concept was vital and what I saved coming again to.

Backyard: Did you’ve got an enormous aha! second for Sunfolding? 

Madrone: I believe the massive aha! second was twofold. First, I believed, and I nonetheless imagine, that photo voltaic panel {hardware} ought to actually leverage current manufacturing and provide chains if it’s going to get to market and be worthwhile. As a result of if it’s important to create your personal sort of brand-new, bespoke sort of manufacturing methodology or artistic provide chain, it’s going to take too lengthy and require an excessive amount of cash earlier than you even get to market. So I simply saved going again to the thought of “What are all the neatest issues individuals are doing in manufacturing throughout all industries which are high-volume and low-cost and that may create a sturdy and long-lasting product?” So [the pressurized air compressor] wasn’t born from an urge to be artistic, however relatively the profit that comes from profiting from current infrastructure. So I regarded to what has been taking place in polymer manufacturing, particularly within the automotive house, for the previous few many years. And I used to be ready to make use of that precedent to create a polymer-based drive system for photo voltaic monitoring. And it turned out that the air was the second a part of the aha! second. I used to be in a position to make air because the underlying energy system for maximized photo voltaic seize. 

Backyard: As a feminine founder and CTO, your perspective is sadly not the norm in Silicon Valley. Are you able to converse to that have?  

Madrone: Once I was 20, I’d be in {an electrical} engineering class of 30 or 40 and be the one lady. However during the last decade, the variety of ladies I see in energy within the power transition has actually shifted. It didn’t really feel like there have been greater than a handful earlier than, however now it appears like there’s actual illustration. Everywhere in the U.S. in lots of totally different industries, I believe that there have been boundaries [for women], and far of that was as a result of established social construction of males spending time collectively, which tended to result in extra offers and interpersonal relationships. 

However then there’s the opposite piece that I found: It’s tougher to appreciate what you are able to do if you don’t see somebody such as you. And I believe that makes a extremely huge distinction. Everytime you see a lady in energy, simply doing her factor, you notice you may be in that position, doing all your factor. And I didn’t acknowledge how a lot that might matter till I acquired a bit additional alongside and noticed different ladies rising to energy within the power transition sector. I felt such a lift in confidence and in my very own voice as a result of my management place wasn’t such an anomaly anymore. It’s simply one other factor that occurs. And that’s the way it needs to be. 


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