Harnessing Innovation: Adam Knudsen of Dynapower on the Future of Clean Energy

Adam Knudsen, CEO of Dynapower

In this enlightening episode, Wes Ashworth interviews Adam Knudsen, CEO of Dynapower. Adam discusses his extensive career at Dynapower, emphasizing the company’s mission to solve the world’s most challenging power and energy problems. He shares insights into Dynapower’s strategic expansion into clean energy markets, particularly in battery energy storage, hydrogen applications, and microgrids. Adam highlights the importance of attracting top talent and fostering innovation to tackle current and future energy challenges. This episode provides a deep dive into the intersection of renewable energy, advanced technology, and strategic leadership.

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Welcome to Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy, the podcast where insights and innovation meet. Every episode, we dive into conversations with industry leaders, experts and change makers, bringing you the stories and ideas in the renewable energy sector that shape our world. And now let’s jump into today’s episode with your host, Wes Ashworth. 

Wes Ashworth (00:25):

Welcome to another episode of Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy. Today we have a distinguished guest joining us, Adam Knudsen, the Chief Executive Officer at Dynapower. Adam’s journey with Dynapower began in 1993 as a sales engineer, and since then he has been instrumental in the company’s impressive growth and diversification. Throughout his tenure, Adam has held numerous pivotal roles from leading the development of high-power rectifiers and cast coil transformers to spearheading global sales and marketing efforts.

His strategic vision has been key in penetrating new markets, including energy storage and military power electronics, and he has managed high value strategic accounts with great success. In 2004, Adam took on the role of Chief of Operations where he oversaw engineering, manufacturing, and sales and led the first large-scale market introduction of chopper technology into the mining and electrochemical industries. Adam’s expertise and leadership have been crucial in Dynapower’s ongoing expansion into the clean energy market.

Adam holds a degree in engineering physics from the University of Maine with concentrations in electrical engineering and economics. We’re excited to have him share his insights and experiences with us today. Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam Knudsen (01:10.858):

Great, Wes, thanks. It’s great to be here. It actually almost sounds like I’ve done something over my last 30 years in the industry, so I appreciate that long introduction.

Wes Ashworth (01:16.657):

You have. Pretty impressive guy. So starting out, can you share a little bit about Dynapower’s core mission and also what drives your personal passion in the renewable energy sector?

Adam Knudsen (01:29.162):

That’s easy in the sense that they’re intertwined. We have, for really the 60-plus years that Dynapower has been in existence, half of which I’ve been a participant as just one member of a very hardworking, talented group, always driven to try to solve the world’s most challenging power and energy problems. Over the course of many decades, those problems dynamically shift, right? Where we are currently is, we’re right in the middle of the clean energy soup. I’m thrilled to say in the middle, we’re not in the very infant stages and we certainly haven’t finished, right? Part of what we do is, we really do try to recruit and retain the world’s most talented professionals. I say that with a huge reverence of our team and their ability to solve these problems and knowing that we’re just one part of that equation.

When we have new people join our business, we tell them some of the things that we’re doing that are world-class. Yes, the best in the world. Our technical teams, sales professionals, and the people building product, the whole crew, especially the men and women doing field service for our gear around the world. We take that talent and apply it to today’s challenges to influence the future. Some of those challenges are how to integrate a higher and higher percentage of renewable energy on our grids while maintaining resilience, reliability, and cost-effectiveness. You can probably tell I get really excited about that. Our team gets really excited about that. Your work matters. We do a lot of other work besides the clean energy side of our business that we can talk about. Bringing that talent with global partnerships and the support of our corporate parents, Sensata Technologies, we really can have a bigger and bigger impact around the clean energy world.

Some of the challenges we are addressing right now include battery energy storage and its connection to renewables. There’s massive growth in the connection of batteries with renewables in a lot of different ways. Over the last seven, eight, nine years, Dynapower has led the innovation of DC coupled storage. We have tons of DC to DC power electronics that help add batteries to either existing solar installations for optimization or brand-new installations that just happen to be DC coupled. Allowing the penetration of renewables through battery energy storage has been a cornerstone of ours since we founded our Clean Energy Group in 2007. It was a long time ago in the world of technology, right?

So, that’s a growing piece of our business. About four years ago, we expanded our clean energy business from battery energy storage and power electronics to a much broader-based solutions approach. We vertically scaled through the battery energy storage, providing batteries, controls, and much more. We went after very purpose hydrogen applications. Hydrogen applications are growing and will have a massive impact on the world. We’ve been working with Proton Energy out of Connecticut for a long time, and they were acquired by NEL, a current and future partner of ours. We’ve been doing hydrogen for a long time, and the evolution of that technology, cost outs, and incentives are really driving that space.

We use some of our existing technology that we’ve been selling in the mining and electrochemical space for 20-plus years, chopper technology, which is being deployed in the hydrogen space. The project we’re doing with Mitsubishi at the ACES project in Utah uses advanced chopper technology that Dynapower has provided multiple gigawatts of that product all around the world. The hydrogen, large-scale hydrogen, is leveraging that existing technology in a new application.

We’ve got microgrids as well. Micro means small, but in reality, it means an independent energy grid. There’s a lot of technology that has to happen to make that work. That technology has to be interdependently linked for all of the loads and the generation sources.

We have three very specific and differentiated applications and end markets. On the defense side, we provide two different types of defense solutions. One is mil-spec, which is forward operating theater gear that helps our men and women in the military be safe and execute their missions. We provide power electronics that power up the Patriot missile system. Sometimes the Patriot missile system is connected to the grid, and sometimes it’s connected to standby generation. Dynapower developed its dynamic transfer technology in 2009 to support that gear being connected to the grid. If the grid has a perturbation or goes away, it dynamically transfers to an alternate source. That’s what happens in microgrids.

We took that technology and applied it to advanced purpose-built solutions in the clean energy space. Everything we do in the defense side is defensive. We don’t do anything on the offensive side of defense. It’s always been about protecting and helping our men and women in the military do their jobs safely. We apply that into clean energy. On the microgrid side, planners, energy planners, municipal planners, get different tools today than they had 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. They can more effectively operate those independent grid systems.

Just 90 miles south of where I’m sitting in Rutland, Vermont, we did a project with the Department of Energy and Green Mountain Power that provided battery energy storage, power electronics, and a lot of solar on an old landfill. One of the things that project drove for innovation is the ability to disconnect and independently operate at a medium voltage level. That means a lot more power. With the solar, batteries, power electronics, and controls, we have an indefinite energy source. We operate without needing diesel generators. This was driven by challenging climate-based storms in Vermont, where whole towns were cut off for weeks. The critical load on that feeder is Rutland High School, the disaster emergency shelter for that part.

If you fast forward, there will be independent microgrids providing renewable battery energy storage and controls, providing indefinite energy and hence indefinite reliance. This system can provide power to the hospital, emergency shelter, grocery store, and pharmacy, keeping the entire population safe through renewable energy and Dynapower power electronics and technology. That’s a project that gets me excited.

We did that project with Green Mountain Power eight years ago. It takes time for people to understand the technology, feel comfortable, use it, deploy it, learn from it, update it, and redeploy. Over the next several decades, the use of these technologies, both battery energy storage, renewables, and hydrogen, will converge into providing packaged power and energy solutions that increase resiliency and provide cost savings.

In California, we provide power electronics for several projects, including the Calistoga project. One of the protectionary actions triggered by fire emergencies is shutting off the power to towns. What are you supposed to do if the power in your town is turned off? We provide power electronics, sometimes the whole piece including the batteries. Our gear is deployed because it has a feature called black start, which means you create the grid through a black start application, taking energy from the batteries and creating the grid, ensuring everything is properly ramped back up.

So microgrids are our third segment within our clean energy. We have renewables, hydrogen, microgrids, and then e-mobility. Electrified transportation is big and growing. I believe it has a critical mass. It’s going independent of any short-term challenges. My wife and I have a Tesla. We’re part of the solution. Amazon is driving electrified transportation. Watching football with my son and seeing the Amazon trucks, it’s exactly what we’re trying to do. Dynapower’s message is powering a cleaner planet, supported by Sensata electrification.

Electrified transportation, whether it’s trains, planes, cars, freight, ferries, it’s here. Our DC to DC technology and utility-scale inverter providing DC bus for high fast charging applications rounds it out. We don’t have a fifth segment yet, but there’s space for future solutions as the clean energy journey continues.

Wes Ashworth (16:11.697):

One of the things I love is how Dynapower is connected to so many different areas, at the heart of this transition, helping with microgrids, electrification, and even the defense sector. People don’t always think about how much power is used there and the impact you can have. I’d love for others to hear about Dynapower’s involvement in both renewable and defense sectors and how you balance the challenges and opportunities of these diverse applications.

Adam Knudsen (16:58.57):

So, the first part is how we work within the defense segment. The second part is what’s going on in the world of energy in defense. Dynapower grew up providing power electronics for metal finishing applications, aerospace applications, battery energy storage, and battery forming back in the 70s. We’ve been around for a while. In the mid-90s, we were approached by defense contractors to build transformers that go on ships. We build magnetics mostly for our own use and sometimes for others. We build mil-spec transformers for the U.S. military, which set a new path for our business.

The mil-spec side of the business is unique, with more paperwork, quality trails, and esoteric understanding. We were approached to build shipboard transformers for the U.S. Navy, a domestic requirement. That drove and set a new path for our mil-spec business. We currently have multiple programs for defense contractors like Raytheon and General Dynamics, providing shipboard Navy power systems and the Patriot missile system for the Army. The processes and needs of mil-spec applications are best practices for other aspects of our business, like clean energy.

Our defense business is strong and growing significantly over the next five years. We’ve built a reputation within the defense segment, delivering on what we say, which leads to more opportunities. The U.S. military is one of the largest energy users in the world, with diverse energy needs from bases to forward operating theater energy packs. Understanding these challenges and supporting both the defense side and defense contractors is crucial. The defense segment and energy solutions connected to it will be an important part of our business for a long time.

Wes Ashworth (21:27.185):

Absolutely. Reflecting on your extensive experience, what advice would you offer to professionals eager to make a substantial impact in the renewable energy sector? How can people get started and make an impact?

Adam Knudsen (21:41.418):

To make an impact, you have to take that first step. There are millions of diverse jobs in the clean energy segment now. It’s not just research scientists; there are roles in billing, supply chain, quality, R&D, and commercial. Organizations are diversifying, with large oil and gas companies jumping into clean energy, creating more opportunities. Educational institutions are also evolving. You can have careers, make money, and drive financial performance in clean energy.

I remember being in a power class in my junior year, learning to use different tools to solve problems. The integration and combination of technologies will solve problems in the renewable sector. You’ll see the integration of renewables, battery energy storage, fuel cells, and more, all working together. Dynapower’s direct DC coupled electrolyzer solution takes DC from solar directly to the electrolyzer, avoiding grid issues. As these technologies emerge, they’ll work in parallel, not in silos, accelerating the clean energy impact.

Hydrogen will be a sprinter, emerging in parallel with other technologies. Over the next decade, the silos will disappear, and integrated solutions will solve problems.

We’ve reached a critical mass in clean energy, battery energy storage, and renewables. Hydrogen is approaching a critical mass, with exponential growth expected by 2030. Hydrogen will have a continual positive impact alongside renewables.

Wes Ashworth (29:04.177):

Absolutely. Any closing thoughts or parting advice for our listeners?

Adam Knudsen (29:30.89):

To have an impact, you need stamina. Be confident in your goals and expect failures. Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing optimism. In the clean energy segment, you will face challenges, but it’s how you pick yourself up and work with partners that matters. Our business has been in clean energy for a long time, deploying reliable projects. We work hard to meet expectations and make a positive impact.

The clean energy industry is exciting and offers diverse opportunities. You can make a difference in any role, whether communications, HR, or technical. The industry is disruptive, fast-moving, and challenging, making it a great career choice.

Wes Ashworth (35:18.122): 

Without a doubt.

Adam Knudsen (36:25.482):

The clean energy challenge is not solved by one company alone. Collaborate, engage, and find out what others value. Work together to solve problems efficiently. One of our biggest competitors is also one of our largest customers. Work together to solve problems and make the world a better place.

Wes Ashworth (37:03.057): 

So good and so important. Collaboration is key. Thank you, Adam, for your time. This has been an insightful episode. Thank you to our audience. If you enjoyed the conversation, share it with a colleague, friend, or family member. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. Stay tuned for new episodes. Thank you, Adam, from Dynapower. We’ll see you next time.