October 6, 2022

Dolly told us to sing in the sun. And Sunfolding listened.

Well, hello! (Read clearly when Dolly Parton enthusiastically greets the place of its beloved fans.) Welcome back to our limited-edition series “Dolly Parton Do 9 to 5 in the Climate Tech Sector” this week. Dolly’s Sing in the Sunshine” for you, focusing on Solar Tracking Company. sunbatheDon’t worry, the only thing I sing this song including Dolly’s is herself. Instead, I attached a GIF of myself stuck in her song at the bottom of the newsletter. my pleasure.

Sunfolding, as I said, is a solar tracking company. If you don’t know what solar tracking is, don’t worry, Leila Madrone, Chief Technology Officer and Founder of Sunfolding, explains the mechanism in the most digestible manner below.

Some questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Leah Garden: [Pointing at the constructed and functioning solar panels and solar trackers at the company’s Alameda headquarters] This is Sunfolding Tracker. Can you explain what a tracker is and how it works?

Laila Madrone: A solar tracker is a mechanism that moves the panel along the sun. And we are building a new compressed air solar tracker here. We installed a black lung-like piece under the solar panel. Each piece is controlled by air pressure and connected to an air duct. What’s really cool is that you can build very simple machines. Compared to everything available in the market Most of the panels are connected with a lot of steel to the motor and gearbox. This will move the solar panel to the best position to capture the sun. we are doing something else We use strong winds instead of steel. So we literally replace steel with air. And we are building a system that is flexible as needed.

The back of the solar panel depicts a solar tracker.  Black sac-like lungs that move solar panels

Garden: And why is flexibility so important when installing solar panels?

Madrone: Usually when you build a solar site You have to score a lot to get a really smooth base. This allows you to keep your entire tracking system organized, as Sunfolding uses air ducts instead of steel. So we can build on any rounded-shaped plot without first smoothing. And this is a good thing because you don’t have to pay for all those ratings. and of great importance from the environment and the long-term sustainability of solar energy. Because you’re not killing the ecosystem to capture renewable energy. So it becomes a huge benefit in terms of cost. speed of deployment and for the long-term environmental impact of the site.

Garden: And what is your background? What led you to solar trackers?

Madrone: My background was originally robotics. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degree from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and use the first part of the robot career I ended up on the west coast working at NASA and the Intelligent Robotics Group, which was my lifelong dream. But getting the job of your dreams Sometimes you say, “OK, what do I do next?” and things I realized I really wanted to do. is to work on energy changes. and focus my career on climate change mitigation. So I switched from robots to solar energy. First, I worked at two companies and learned as much about the solar industry as I could. And my experience has made me realize that even the best projects with enough funding are not enough if we can’t bring that technology to scale and be truly competitive with oil and gas. And that’s what made me create Sunfolding.

A black and white photo of Leila Madrone, a white woman with dark wavy hair and a black T-shirt.

Garden: Putting your full effort into starting a business can be quite a leap. What happened in your mind that convinced you to enter the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem?

Madrone: I think you’ve probably heard this a lot when talking to anyone starting a business: if it doesn’t turn up. It’s not worth doing. Especially if your focus is hardware as it takes a lot of time to get to market. what really matters So the transformative potential of my thinking is important and something I keep coming back to.

Garden: You have Big aha! Sunfolding period?

Madrone: I think big aha! The time period is doubled. First, I believe and still believe that solar panel hardware should take advantage of existing manufacturing and supply chains if it is to enter the market and be profitable. Because if you have to create a brand new on-demand manufacturing method or a creative supply chain. It will take too long and cost too much money before you hit the market. So I’m going back to the idea that “What is the most elaborate thing people do in any industry with high volume and low cost? and can create products that are durable and will last a lifetime.” [the pressurized air compressor] not born of a desire to be creative Rather, it is the benefit that comes from taking advantage of the existing infrastructure. So I looked at what was going on in polymer production. especially in the automotive industry over the past few decades And I was able to use that model to build a polymer propulsion system for solar tracking. And it turns out that the air is the second part of aha! Moment. I was able to make the air the basic electrical system for capturing the full sun.

Garden: As a female founder and CTO. Your views are not typical in Silicon Valley, can you speak to that experience?

Madrone: When I’m 20, I’ll be studying electrical engineering at 30 or 40, and I’m the only woman. But over the past decade The number of women I’ve seen in the power of change in energy has really changed. Before, it didn’t feel like there were more than a handful. But now it feels like a real representation exists. Across the United States, in many industries, I think there are obstacles. [for women]And this is largely due to the accepted social structure of men spending time together. This often leads to more agreement and interpersonal relationships.

But there’s another piece I discovered: It’s harder to realize what you can do when you don’t see people like you. And I think that makes a huge difference. Whenever you see a powerful woman do what she does You’ll know you can do that too. do what you do And I don’t know how important it is. Until I took a step further and saw other women Rise to power in the energy transition sector I feel more confident and confident in my voice because my leadership position is no longer an anomaly. It’s another thing that happened. And that’s what it should be.

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