Photo: Energy Fellows Institute visits Cherokee Generating Station in 2017. Dennis Roark, featured in the post below, is pictured in the back row in the green hat.

Leading up to the seventh cohort of Energy Fellows Institute (EFI) in 2018, we’ll be posting a few blogs to update you on Fellows of the past and highlight regular contributors to the program. Dennis Roark was a Fellow in 2017 and we caught up with him to ask a few questions about his work, his interest in EFI and the impact of the program.

 

CCIA Interview with Dennis Roark, CEO of Terra Ferma

 

CCIA: What attracted you to the Energy Fellows Institute program?

Dennis Roark (DR): As an engineer I am interested in new ways to implement technology. As a resident of Colorado who enjoys the great outdoors, I see reversing all that we have done to our planet as an imperative and I want to do my part. As a former CEO in the telecommunications sector, I struggled to meet leaders in the cleantech industry. The CCIA Energy Fellows Institute Program offers a warm welcome into the cleantech industry.

CCIA: Tell us a little about yourself and your business.

DR: I had been in the telecommunications industry since the early 90’s. Over the last ten years, I became increasingly interested in clean power generation and storage. I began by powering small, remote telecommunications sites with solar & wind power. As my clients’ needs grew, so did the size of the power systems. A problem I encountered time and again was in sizing the power required to operate the remote site. My clients would specify the requirements as the equivalent of the size of fossil fueled generator required to run the site 24/7. This meant the size of the generator needed to exceed the maximum power required at any given time at the site.  Another problem with powering a site with multiple power generations sources such as solar, wind and fuel cells: the controllers don’t always play well together. I entered EFI looking for a way to right-size site power required based on actual loads as well as a “controller of controllers” with the ability to optimize positive attributes of each power generation technology and minimize the downsides. I came out of the EFI program putting a team together creating Optimum VIS™.

CCIA: What are some direct or indirect results of your involvement in the program?

DR: I came into the EFI Program with a few ideas that I wanted to bounce off industry leaders to see what I didn’t know that I need to know. Over the course of the program a few key ideas came to light.

First, don’t try to reinvent or put a spin on an existing technology. Come with your own ideas. Secondly, a great opportunity can be had if you can find a material that is recycled or better still, discarded. Manufacture the discarded material into a product people are willing to purchase. A great example is a company who takes recycled tires, breaks them down into basic casings, then remolds them into new tires [Bolder Industries – an EFI presenter in 2017 and 2018]. This company is paid to take the raw materials (tires) turning them into a common consumer product. How clean is that?

CCIA: Describe your favorite tour from the 2017 program.

DR: We met several exciting companies throughout the program. The one company that really stuck out for me was solving a trash problem [AMP Robotics – visited by the Fellows in 2017 and 2018, and winner of the Circular Economy Award in Davos]. The problem with recycled goods is they are sorted by hand. Recycled product sorting is a difficult position to fill and can be dangerous for the employee. This company realized the problem to solve wasn’t in the robotics, it was in the identification of the items to be sorted. After this meeting, I took some time to reflect on a holistic approach to the problem I was truly solving.

CCIA: What information, connection or presentation during the 2017 program was the most impactful for you, and why?

DR: I really appreciate the camaraderie of my fellow Energy Fellows. I quickly realized that we aren’t in competition. We are all trying to solve issues, unfortunately there are plenty of issues to work on. Following the EFI Program I have run into several people that I met during the program. We each ask one another how we are doing and offer advice and introductions to others we have met along the way. As my new product has progressed and developed, a fellow EFI Alum has joined our team adding a new perspective and added value to our solution.

CCIA: What advice would you give someone considering applying for the program?

DR: Come in with an open mind. It’s all right to have no plan or idea that you are working on.  The program showed me that cleantech is way more than solar panels and wind turbines. People from all backgrounds can find common ground in cleantech. There are some good ideas out there, but we can do better.

Visit the Energy Fellows Institute website for more info about the program. The program is taking applications for 2018 Fellows through April 18.