Expanding the use of Solar Energy by Enabling access to DeFi liquidity
Sitting down with Mark Johnson, Founder of CleanestCharge, was an eye-opening exploration of the future of sustainable energy. Johnson is co-founder of CleanestCharge, a leading solar infrastructure provider and sustainable energy company. He has big plans for the long term and is committed to guiding the world in this energy transition period. From the very first encounter, Johnson’s experience in the field is evident and his calm answers to each question are a refreshing break from the sense of urgency attached to the climate crisis. A steady hand guiding the ship is exactly what is required when developing a greener future.
Johnson has a solid grounding in the business of energy. He worked with multiple large companies, heading up their E-business. After IBM he went to work with Schneider Electric where he headed up their Smart Cities of North America division and increased sales by over +$300M. Johnson also served at the US Department of Energy, under Vice President Biden handing out the multibillion-dollar funding. At the Department of Energy Johnson pioneered energy products and services aggregated procurement consortiums of cities and states.
For Johnson, the solar-powered clean energy stations are not a technological breakthrough as they have been around for almost 30 years. But he is quick to point out that it would be a shame to not use this technology as our production of new vehicles increases.
“Solar is not a breakthrough concept. As the penetration of electric vehicles is still low, it’s still expensive. But as electric vehicles become more popular, it would be a shame to just power them with fossil fuels, coal or oil, or natural gas. So let’s use solar, clean energy for the future.” says Johnson.
Johnson also stresses the need to invest in the baseline infrastructure of solar technology to drive a greener future forward.
“We have to spend the money to invest in solar panels. Let’s put battery energy storage with solar so that we could store that energy when we need it. And then let’s put in a fast charger, 175 kilowatts and above, instead of slow chargers that are already plugged into the grid.”
He asked us not to be scared, “Microgrids have been around since 1882. It’s a scary word. But a microgrid, by definition, is just an island resource. It could be fossil fuel or a natural gas generator. That’s a microgrid. In our case, it’s clean energy.”
“We love the fact that you can put these anywhere. And you don’t have to plug it into the grid because the grid is already stressed out. The grid is already overloaded. You’ll blow the grid up if you plug in fast-charging stations to the grid. So solar energy works” continues Johnson.
When asked about the customer’s expectations for charging stations Johnson points to a roadmap for faster-charging solutions.
“What we’re all trying to do in the clean energy charging industry is to approximate or copy the gasoline or petrol fill-up experience. If we can do it in 5, 10, or 15 minutes, you know that that approximates what you would do if you went to a petrol station. So that’s what a fast charger is supposed to do.”
Furthermore, it is rightly recognized that the public, in general, doesn’t have the patience that is asked for when using the most widely distributed electric vehicles of today.
“If you need a charge, and you’re gonna spend four or five hours at a coffee shop. You’re kind of crazy. So let’s do fast charging. So that’s how we came up with the cleanest charge idea,” says Johnson.
What is the CleanestCharge offering?
Each CleanestCharge station is valued at $1.2 Million, with a 12.4% IRR, 466kWh daily solar output, 576kWh battery capacity, and 4 charge points with 2 X 175kW fast chargers. CleanestCharge intends to utilize grants from the fully funded Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a $1.2 Trillion infrastructure package signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021.
CleanestCharge has invested heavily in engineering and has a deep understanding of the requirements needed to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels. In order to create a scalable modern solution.
Johnson stresses where improvements can be made: “What’s the best way to couple solar storage plus EV charging. It’s DC coupling, which is important and also notable because today, everything is AC coupled. But solar is not AC DC, batteries are not AC, they’re DC and even fast charging is DC. So using DC coupling makes it more efficient.”
Johnson notes that we are at a tipping point when it comes to offering access to clean energy solutions everywhere, “I bet you remember when you first saw somebody with an iPhone, and you were rich if you had one but you stuck with your Blackberry and then one day you wake up and everybody, including your mother, has one. I think that’s what’s going to happen with clean energy.”
However, Johnson also recognizes that until the car industry is making clean energy cars affordable to the general public there won’t be any massive shift or mass adoption of these technologies so there needs to be a focus on car production and accessibility. “Until they make an electric vehicle, that’s, you know, $30,000 or below, I’m not gonna buy one.”
Funding clean energy projects
As mentioned earlier, CleanestCharge will use grants from the infrastructure package.
“This is funded for five years to provide EV charging or clean energy throughout the United States. So it’s now a race to access these funds. All 50 states are being given this money from the federal government.
“We have to buy the equipment upfront and not just plug into the grid and suck the grid’s dirty energy, we create clean energy with solar panels. And so we can pay down that cost with this grant money. That’s our vision.”
In addition to this, CleanestCharge is looking to explore how Silta Finance can help it to direct DeFi towards the financing of fast EV charging station projects at various sites within the United States. The Silta solution is built to enable infrastructure developers to access DeFi liquidity to cover the costs associated with the development of the infrastructure. Silta will provide credit assessments and underwrite DeFi loans by providing infrastructure borrowers with on-chain collateral. Borrowers begin making repayments on the loans once the infrastructure enters its operational phase.
When speaking about Silta’s approach Johnson shows admiration for the democratization of investment in clean energy solutions and the due diligence that comes from the broad experience of the Silta founders.
“What’s brilliant about their approach is the crowdsourcing and the ability for you and me to own a percentage of the CleanestCharge stations anywhere.”
“They are so thorough in nature in what they do. And what I like about decentralized finance is that a big part of it is accessibility for the community to be shareholders. Before a certain piece of the pie was given to an elite group or a group at the very top. But everyone can own a piece of the pie if they’re passionate about that project.”
Production partnerships across the US
CleanestCharge is committed to working with homegrown businesses and having a positive impact. Johnson speaks of his partnership with Crossroads Solar, an admirable company that trains prisoners in how to build solar panels.
“There are a lot of companies that are building solar panels with prison labor, which is really redeeming. Because prisoners can’t get jobs because they’re prisoners. And then they are trying to get back to society with relevant skillsets. The wafers and chips may be made in China but the panels will be assembled entirely in the United States.”
Founded by a professor of Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame, Patrick Regan, the Crossroads founder, quit his job as a tenured professor to work with prisoners on the solar panel project.
When you connect CleanestCharge with Silta with Crossroads, you start to see that everybody has the opportunity to stake their flag in the sand and show support for the bigger vision of a cleaner, greener future.
The energy crisis is making headlines worldwide as the general public quickly starts to realize the implications of over-relying on fossil fuels. This has forced people to rethink how much access everyone has to clean, more sustainable energy sources.
A lot of the projects that you come across as a journalist are claiming to be bigger than they are but when meeting with CleanestCharge the size of the vision is undeniable and the focus on a brighter, cleaner future is admirable.