Tuesday, November 08, 2005

SkyBuilt Power

SkyBuilt Power: "SkyBuilt Aims to be the Dell of Renewable Energy Systems

SkyBuilt Aims to be the Dell of Renewable Energy Systems

If you have a unique power need that is off grid, and you want something that can deploy quickly, is rugged, and will last for a long time, SkyBuilt is who you call. The CIA shouldn't be the only one to benefit. By Sterling D. Allan and Mary-Sue Haliburton, Pure Energy Systems News - Exclusive Interview. Copyright � 2005.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, USA ? SkyBuilt Power recently captured the world's imagination with news that the CIA's venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, has invested in their company and has a development agreement with them. SkyBuilt is an energy solutions company that makes innovative renewable energy systems. One product on the drawing board is a wind-solar hybrid power unit that can be parachuted to a rugged location and deployed within a few hours by two people.

In fact, a steerable wing-type of parachute can be guided by remote control to get it to an otherwise inaccessible location.

20' x 8.5' x 8'-foot wide Mobile Power Station? (MPS?) unit designed for rapid deployment of a fuel-less power system on display in Arlington, Virginia.
Photo credit: SkyBuilt Power Inc; Rich Clabaugh, staff
The units can be configured to deliver anywhere from 3.5 to 150 kilowatts of electricity, depending on how many options are included.

Though there have been many solar and wind technologies developed, what?s new here is the ability to combine them in a tidy package. Using the heavy and rugged steel container as a base means that it is not necessary to pour heavy footings and install towers and guy wires to support the turbine, or hold solar panels steady against wind pressure.

The modular setup allows off-the-shelf components of many types to be added, including combustion-based generators and alternators, solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries.

I was able to interview the company's president and CEO, Dave Muchow, to learn more about what they do and why and for whom. Very fascinating.

He said that because of the recent coverage of their company, he received some 100 calls yesterday ranging from church groups inquiring about getting a unit, to inventors with ideas to pass along. I caught him at a good time and was able to get a lot of great information.

He didn't much care for the "plop and go" slogan I offered. He prefers "drop and operate." Among themselves they call it the "clean, green power machine".

Muchow said that his inspiration and model in forming the company was the laptop computer, with its plug-and-play versatility of components, from the chips to the hardware and the peripherals. The open architecture enables a mixing and matching of components to suit the individual user so that they don't have more than they need, and they can just add on what they might be missing.

Apply that now to renewable energy systems. That is what SkyBuilt is all about, and has been tackling since 2002 when they started. That is the essence of the 140 claims they have filed in their patent applications.

They want to be the Dell of renewable energy systems.

"We are the world's first plug-and-play, open architecture, mobile, and expandable renewable power system," said Muchow.

Call them up, tell them your needs, and they pull together a package based on their wide experience and network of experts that they can call upon to make an ideal system, providing the highest value, at the lowest price possible.

Is your climate cloudy but windy? Is it extra cold? Is your cabin is larger than usual, and you have chemical sensitivities? SkyBuilt will weigh all those factors, look at the energy requirement, then recommend the combination of technologies that will best suit your situation. The system could also integrate diesel, propane, natural gas or gasoline-powered generators. "However, the supply-line for fuel can be problematic in many of the emergency-response applications we handle", said Muchow. Additionally, he points out that in addition to being clean, the 5-10 kilowatt renewable energy systems, for example, can be 50% more cost-effective than diesel gensets -- sometimes as much as 90% more efficient.

A team of professionals can do far better than one person can do by himself. Think of what is involved. You have to research all the various possible vendors for all the various components of the system, weigh the pros and cons, and then make a determination of the most inexpensive, compatible match of components for the proposed system. That task can be daunting for an individual who has other things they need to be doing with their time. It can be handled much more efficiently by people who have made their lifetime careers out of energy technology and all its various facets, and who specialize in this matching of suitable systems.

Muchow served as a General Counsel for thirty years in the energy industry, representing 300 natural gas and electric utilities before he launched SkyBuilt, so he himself has a wealth of knowledge on the subject, and he knows how to network with companies.

The company has contracts with leading renewable energy suppliers, and can access systems from pretty much any manufacturer. "We use off-the-shelf components and adapt them to be plug-and-play so you don't have to replace the operating system when an individual component changes," said Muchow.

"What you find in the industry is that nuclear people don't talk much to solar people. They specialize in their own focused area of research and development," he said. Meanwhile, the customer might only need a portion of this, a smattering of that, but the specialists only know about their own product.

"We think sideways, across the many companies, rather than focused on any one. The customer wants a cross section that represents the best solution for their particular needs".

While the direct personnel staffing at SkyBuilt is lean, by networking with those who have the skills they need, they are able to respond to whatever scenario is presented to them. They have independent contractor relations with numerous electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, stress engineers, as well as access to business and legal expertise required. They farm out the construction of the systems they build, similar to the Ferrari model of business operation.

"We try not to turn anyone away," said Muchow. The home market is one they are interested in tackling, but that won?t come for a while. Up until now they have specialized in government contracts. Their forte is in situations where there is a need for rapid deployment of a system, such as in disasters or in developing countries. But the Dell model for renewable energy systems is a principle that can be applied much more broadly.

"We could haul a solar-powered water pumping system into a remote area by donkey, install it in a day, and it will last for decades," said Muchow. "The first solar panels installed in the 1950's are still working," he noted.

Part of SkyBuilt's patent claims has to do with the idea of using shipping containers to package and deliver the systems, with easy-to-follow instructions for assembly and disassembly. "We made this as dummy-proof and reliable as possible. Red piece lines up with red piece."

I make the suggestion that while the home installation doesn't require the permanent location of a shipping container along with it, the shipping container could be used to deliver the system, then be sent back to the company to ship another system to a different customer.

The advantages of the shipping container are many, among which is ease of shipping. These containers are used worldwide in trucking, trains, shipping and air freight. They are like the tower that houses the PC. They all look alike on the outside, but can be very different on the inside, though the inside is really just a particular combination of reoccurring themes.

"Think of all the uses for the container once the components are out of it and assembled," said Muchow. "It can be turned into a medical clinic, a fire house, a birthing clinic, a police station, civic building, or even a school." The SkyBuilt.com website itemizes yet further uses of the interior of the Mobile Power Station: "air-conditioned office space, telecommunications, medical center, emergency operations/command center or storage."

In disaster response, which is one of their primary applications, having a clean, sturdy, enclosable small building can be as helpful as the power system that comes packaged in it. According to the company website, "The container can be heated and cooled for climate-controlled and lighted storage, office, medical clinic, border patrol facility, telecom, operations centers, or other secure, self-powered space in any environment from the desert to the artic".

"And it floats," said Muchow, noting that sometimes shipping containers will fall off ships en route to their destination. A floating container can also be a crucial component in a hurricane or flood. Maybe you could even drop it into the water, row it to where you need it, and deploy. There is no absence of wind in hurricane response.

The ruggedizing is in the container itself, and the patented connectors. Designed to avoid the problem of jerry-rigged exposed wiring that can be nibbled by animals and corroded by natural processes, these rugged modular connections will enable the portable station to withstand degradation caused by temperature extremes and other factors.

The MPS can even be left unmanned for extended periods, and operated by remote control, This would have many uses, such as a border-monitoring station in difficult terrain.

A chief benefit from the military point of view is that the solar power generation is silent, and lacks the heat signature of a fuel-burning generator that could give away its location. A small wind turbine such as that depicted on the site can be low-noise as well, storing extra energy to high-capacity batteries. With such obvious advantages for covert work, you can see why the In-Q-tel has invested in it.

Hopefully, the technology will not find its most frequent application in facilitating war, or even make it easier to set up martial law in a disaster zone.

While SkyBuilt is poised to obtain patent protection for the container deployment concept, the Dell concept is one that can be mirrored by many companies, in addition to SkyBuilt. Hopefully such competition will speed the time when home and small business customers can enter into a buying revolution akin to the computer revolution when personal computers began to start showing up in most every home and office.

Other recent press releases:

In-Q-Tel Announces Strategic Investment in Skybuilt Power to Develop Mobile, Renewable Energy Power Stations

SkyBuilt Power and the Research Institute of Kazakhstan Sign Cooperation Agreement for Renewable Energy in Remote Areas

SkyBuilt Power?s� Mobile Power Stations are Ideal for Tsunami and Other Disaster Relief Needs

SkyBuilt and the University of District of Columbia Invited by Ethopia's President Girma to Assess Ethiopian Renewable Power Needs

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