Enchanted Rock’s Allan Schurr, Episode 2, Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy Podcast

In this episode, Wes Ashworth interviews Allan Schurr, the Chief Commercial Officer at Enchanted Rock. They discuss Allan’s background in the renewable energy sector and his role at Enchanted Rock. Allan shares his vision for the future of renewable energy and the importance of balancing clean energy and reliability. He also talks about the challenges and hurdles in the industry and strategies to overcome them. Allan provides guidance and advice for young professionals entering the renewable energy industry and shares his thoughts on the evolution of the sector in the next 10 years. He emphasizes the need for innovation and driving change in the industry.

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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 changemakers, 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 (00:25.834)

Welcome to Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy. In today’s episode, I’m honored to welcome Allan Schurr, the Chief Commercial Officer at Enchanted Rock. Allan is a visionary in the renewable energy sector with a career that spans a remarkable range of experiences. His expertise extends from energy retailing, VPPAs and renewable natural gas, to adjacent areas like electric vehicles, smart grids, energy efficiency and energy deregulation. At Enchanted Rock, Allan leads market development, focusing on micro grids that enhance customer resiliency and support the grid. Allan’s work, especially in onsite generation and fast start dispatchable capacity is key in integrating more renewables into the energy system. Allan’s drive stems from a deep commitment to the efficiency and reliability of the energy value chain. He’s passionate about ensuring energy resilience, particularly for critical infrastructures as a cornerstone of the energy transition. A highlight of Allan’s career is his involvement in the Microsoft Data Center project in San Jose. This groundbreaking project showcases innovation with its 100% renewable energy supply and unique support to the California grid during emergencies. Allan’s vision for the future aligns the renewable energy sector with the broader grid needs, emphasizing the balance between clean energy and reliability.

Today we’re excited to delve into the insights and perspectives on shaping a sustainable energy landscape. Allan, welcome to the show. 

Allan Schurr (01:51)

Hey, Wes, thanks for having me on.

Wes Ashworth (01:55)

It’s a pleasure. So kind of starting out and going back to just origins and how it all began, what was the catalyst for your venture into the renewable energy industry? 

Allan Schurr (02:05)

Well, I studied engineering when I was an undergraduate in mechanical engineering. One of my professors got me kind of interested in this, in that he was doing research on wind turbine blade designs. And it was a vertical axis wind turbine, very unconventional at the time, still is. And that got me thinking about energy systems of all sorts. And it was at a time when a lot of innovation was occurring in the renewable space. So I took that thread and pulled on it and have been doing so for a few decades now. 

Wes Ashworth (02:38)

Yeah, no, I love that. And what was your first entry point into the renewable space and how’d you end up in that position? 

Allan Schurr (02:47)

Well, I guess pre-graduation, I worked at the California Energy Commission doing a combination of both Title 24 modeling, as well as worked with my boss on a solar, full solar home design that could be financed out of the energy savings inside of a retail mortgage with the idea that if you built a home from the ground up, you can support passive solar and active PV energy generation and it would actually reduce your monthly outlays. So that was probably the very first thing that I did professionally. And from there got into a lot of different aspects of the energy value chain. And to be clear, I do support in today, you know, the renewable transition, but I do it in a somewhat indirect way in many aspects in that what we provide in resiliency microgrids supports the broader grid. And we do integrate solar and batteries at some of our customer sites, but it’s really the dispatchable capacity at a cost-effective price point that allows more and more renewables to enter the grid. And that’s ultimately utility scale renewables is what we’re going to do to decarbonize until we get to nukes.

Wes Ashworth (04:07)
Yeah, absolutely. And just thinking about your journey in this field, and even some of the adjacent spaces you’ve been in, what has been that key motivator that is sort of the driving force of your career? 

Allan Schurr (04:21)

You know, I’ve always wanted to be close to the ultimate customer. I wanted, since they start with all the money in their pocket, and ultimately, they’re paying for either on site energy systems or a utility bill.

I’ve always gravitated to trying to be closer and closer to the end customer. And so that’s been the case with my first roles. When I worked at a utility, I was customer facing. I’ve been selling or doing solution development for end customers most of my career with a stopover selling technology to utilities as they were enabling a smarter grid. 

Wes Ashworth (05:02)

Yeah, no, absolutely. And some of that, you know, I’m curious in terms of how you lead and how you manage your teams now and in your position. And so in this rapidly evolving industry that’s constantly changing and dynamic and, you know, sometimes everything’s kind of fast, fast moving, fast paced. What is your leadership style and how do you navigate the decision making process? 

Allan Schurr (05:29)

Well, I think the dynamic nature of this industry is a pretty big challenge for a lot of people, because it’s a complex system, as people have said, that the energy grid is the most complex machine on the planet. And we’re trying to change that machine while it’s running. Instead of turning it off and making changes to it and turning it back on, we’re literally changing it while it’s operating continuously and organically. I think it’s confusing to many to understand the interdependencies and how this transition will occur. And so my leadership style is to try to maintain clarity around what we’re focused on, how the big picture fits, how other adjacent areas fit in also so that we can all have a better understanding of the systems thinking that needs to go into the energy transition. If we get too myopic, we forget about the perspective and the physics of, you know, how those, the ecosystem is operating. 

Wes Ashworth (6:39)

Yeah, and I guess too, I’m thinking about when you’re building your team and thinking about what you just shared there and I love how you put that, are there key things that you look for in the talent that you’re trying to bring on as you’re trying to build the right pieces, have the right talent on your team? Are there key threads you look for, traits that you’re looking for in these individuals that help drive that and help create success from that? 

Allan Schurr (07:06)

Well, curiosity is really important, as well as initiative in that there’s just always too much work to do. So if you have to micromanage every member of your team, you’re never going to get anywhere. So I, I look for people that are willing to get out there, roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty as well as are curious about how kind of all the components fit together. The difficulty with this transition is that there is so much inertia in the system that to overcome it, you have to rationalize all the other perspectives so that it becomes clear what parts of change are you actually promoting or advocating for or propagating. And again, if you’re close to customers, you realize that customers don’t wake up every morning and think about the energy transition the way I do, we do in the industry. And so you have to meet them where they are and connect the dots.

Connecting the dots is a pretty important part of overcoming some of that inertia as well as putting it in a contextual way so that the benefits of whatever it is that you’re promoting support the objectives of that particular customer or decision maker. 

Wes Ashworth (08:22)

Yeah. And to do that, I guess since you’ve been in your role, is there a critical strategic decision you’ve made or change of direction you’ve made within your organization, and tell me a little bit about that and how it maybe shaped sort of the future or where you’re headed. 

Allan Schurr (08:40)

Well, maybe taking a half a step back, what Enchanted Rocks business is providing, industrial scale resiliency microgrids to critical infrastructure as we mentioned that earlier. And what that means is that we have to find customers that are either already committed to having some kind of backup power function on their sites, or those that would like to have it, but have never taken action to actually procure it in the past. And so I suppose that the main pivot is trying to articulate what is that value of resiliency relative — and our solution — relative to all other options. Diesel backup is the default. It has so many negatives associated with it that can be addressed. But there are also many proponents that want to get into more far-flung resiliency solutions for which they’re either less proven, more expensive, less reliable. And so trying to find that place where you can meet the customer’s needs in a low-risk situation, candidly, resiliency is not the place to experiment with new technologies. They need to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, so to speak, because the customers need them to work when they’re called on. And the back of power business historically has not done everything they can to provide the most reliable systems, whereas an onsite resiliency microgrid like the ones that Enchanted Rock provides, we do that with the care and feeding that heavy equipment needs to receive in order to be reliable when it’s called on during emergencies for extended outages at any given instant we can have that situation occur. 

Wes Ashworth (10:29)

Yeah, no, I love that. And maybe for those out there that don’t necessarily understand this difference, can you expand a little bit on some of the differences between a renewable natural gas solution versus a diesel solution as you’ve described it? 

Allan Schurr (10:45)

Sure, so starting with kind of the default diesel solution, a diesel generator is literally an internal combustion engine using diesel technology. So it’s compression based ignition, rotating a shaft, turning an alternator, generating power. It does that by consuming about 70 gallons of diesel fuel per megawatt hour. And the sound and emissions levels are fairly high, but the conventional wisdom is they’re barely rarely going to run. So we put up with kind of an ugly environmental footprint because they’re very rarely going to run. Well, “very rarely” is changing. It’s changing because we’re seeing more extreme conditions that cause more power outages. And it’s changing because the grid is facing more constraints in achieving supply-demand imbalance. And so sometimes diesel generators get called on to support the wider grid. So that’s the status quo. And there’s gigawatts of this installed already across the country.

In fact, I’m estimating over 100 gigawatts of diesel generators are installed in the US. A better way to address that is with these resiliency microgrids using RNG that Enchanted Rock provides. We don’t do all of our microgrids with RNG. Some of them are just conventional gas. But it is substantially cleaner than diesel on a local emissions level. So let’s kind of tick through the various attributes on local emissions. Diesel is about a hundred times more emitting than a natural gas generator, at least the variety that Enchanted Rock provides. Even clean diesel is 10 times dirtier. So local emissions can be managed better. We can also provide a fuel supply chain reliability. That is a diesel generator. In an emergency, you are confined to what you have in your tank.
During the extended outage, getting refills during extended outages are extremely challenging. Even for the very largest operators of diesel backup, like a data center, it’s very difficult to count on the fact that supply trucks are gonna arrive at the volumes you need in order to keep your tanks filled. So fuel supply from an underground gas network that’s unaffected by above ground events, typically is a more reliable system.

It can be, so, cleaner, it can be more reliable from a supply chain. It also, because it is cleaner, can support the grid at times of grid stress so that it’s more likely that it’s going to be ready when there’s an outage because it’s been tested in real load conditions in support of the grid. To give you an example, a diesel generator might be tested 12 hours a year and maybe not even under load. Whereas if you’re in support of the grid, you might be operating 100, 200, 300 hours a year in support of the grid. So it’s been tested, it’s been tested under load. And so it’s more likely to be running when there’s an emergency because it has recently been tested under load. That’s not a small part of the overall equation that a microgrid has. And then renewable natural gas to kind of top it all off, those methane molecules that get consumed during those operating hours can be offset with renewable natural gas, methane capture from a variety of sources, ag waste, dairy farms, wastewater treatment plants and the like, so that on a net greenhouse gas basis, we can have a zero carbon operation for those few hundred hours a year, supporting both on-site resiliency during power outages and supporting the grid when it’s the last line of defense to rotate analogies. Of which again, we’ve seen more of those in the last five years than we saw probably in previous 20. 

Wes Ashworth (14:50)

Yeah, absolutely. It seems more and more common and popping up year after year. So absolutely. Now, thanks for the explanation there. Also in your experience thinking about some of the other just significant hurdles in the renewable energy sector, what have you seen and what strategies have you employed to help tackle some of these hurdles? 

Allan Schurr (15:02)

Boy… I mentioned inertia, how there is a significant resistance to change. And I remember when I was in the energy efficiency space, it was always a perplexing situation where something that had like a one-year payback still would never get funded by a customer. I scratch my head, I think there is no better investment than a one-year payback in any stock market you can think of. And yet it still doesn’t get funded. And why could that be? And I think it comes down to both inertia and lack of confidence that the claims being made are in fact going to be realized. And I’ve talked to it since that time. I’ve talked to CFOs and finance organizations. They just say, I just don’t believe it. They don’t believe it because they don’t understand the mechanisms associated with some of the cost savings. And so I think one of the major hurdles, the challenges is trying to create a financial structure for various aspects of the energy value chain and renewables aren’t really any different than that, for which the risk is in fact owned by the provider, not by the customer, and therefore then the savings can be contractually guaranteed. When you have that sort of a situation, and it’s happened in energy efficiency space through performance contracting, it happens with PPAs, but I would argue that sometimes a PPA isn’t a guarantee as much as a projection of what savings might look like. And it may turn out to be realized, but there are plenty of PPAs that are still operating today for which they were assuming much higher levels of price increases than in fact were realized and the economics haven’t held up. So it comes down, I think, to this kind of financial package, the financial structuring that’s necessary to overcome both the inertia and the resistance to change because of lack of understanding of some of the dynamics inside the energy value chain. 

Wes Ashworth (17.14)

Yeah. Is there anything else you can expand on in terms of just speaking to that resistance to change, maybe the lack of knowledge that’s out there and how this is probably preventing, you know, progress as quick as maybe it could be. Is there anything else you can say to naysayers or those that just maybe just don’t know or, you know, don’t believe it. 

Allan Schurr (17:41)

I think we have to, you know, have a certain amount of empathetic relation to our customers or whoever we’re talking to, to really understand where they’re coming from and be more open-minded about understanding the position that they’re in, in order to overcome some of that reluctance. You know, I, I tell our sales teams, we have ideas about what we think are the best interests of our customers, but we forget about all of the things that they think about. So if I talk to a CFO about this great economic benefit of having continuous power on all of their critical infrastructure, they’re at the same time worrying about compliance issues, raising capital, a number of other factors that might be much more top of mind. And until I can get in the slipstream of their highest priorities, it’s just gonna be wasted effort. And so having more empathy and figuring out what is it that’s moving them, how do you connect the dots for them to, communicating complex subjects in a simple way that draws them into something that’s really important to them. How can you- you’re effectively asking them to change their priorities. 

Wes Ashworth (18:51)

Yeah. No, absolutely. So well said, and something so important not to lose sight of. And I think that sometimes does happen in the conversations that come about. Thinking about just innovations and trends and what’s happening in the future, which upcoming developments in the field of renewable energy spark your enthusiasm and why?

Allan Schurr (19:15)

I’ve been reading a lot lately about geothermal, which has some interesting appeal. I guess I would take geothermal in the most broad sense, which is inclusive of geothermal heat pumps that can overcome some of the concerns about heat pumps and electric heating. But actually, even more substantial, recent reporting on geothermal power generation, 24-7 renewables. Very interesting. I’m interested to see how much it can scale, how geographically broad that can be. I’m a big fan of distributed energy for obvious reasons because if you can be close to the load, you generate many more benefits than being just clean but at a great distance. You overcome interconnection delays and queues. You overcome losses due to long distance transmission. So the closer you can be to the use of energy, the better those kind of systems are. And geothermal has some intrigue there. 

And I’m also, of course, watching how to hybridize solar and wind projects with storage so that you can have firm renewables. That’s ultimately the main objective that we need in the energy transition. If we start forgetting that or ignoring that and assuming it’ll just get firmed up by somebody else, I worry that we risk the energy transition and public support because the lights will go out. We’ll get ahead of ourselves and then
the level of investment and sponsorship that we need could clearly be reduced. So we can’t sacrifice clean or reliability for clean. We have to do it at the right pace. 

Wes Ashworth (21:00)

Yeah, that’s something I know that you’re passionate about in getting that support and buy-in, not sacrificing that. Can you expand on that a little bit more in terms of just your, your mind, your thoughts, your heart on that, and what other people might need to hear. 

Allan Schurr (21:17)

You know, it’s happening a little bit now where we get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got technology looking to advance faster than the market can accept it. We have also a tendency to wait for the perfect instead of pursuing the good. So incremental improvements are not a bad thing, although many think that just being incremental misses an opportunity. And I got lots of examples, but EVs is one recently. You read a lot about there’s concern by the public around the lack of infrastructure related to EVs. And I’ve had EV for over 10 years. I know exactly the situation, but I can afford to have two cars. Yeah, we want to have a complete replacement of electric transportation from internal combustion engines. And we seem to think that more efficient cars or plug-in hybrids or hybrids generally are inadequate. It has to be a full battery electric vehicle. It just doesn’t work for everybody. And so we’re creating this alienation for some where they’re being told you can’t drive what you wanted to drive. You have to drive what we’re giving you and mandating. California mandates are still out there for 2035.

There are certain drivers where the level of infrastructure would suggest it would have to be expanded dramatically as well as the vehicle technology in order to meet their mission. And until that happens, you can create the risk of some kind of a backlash. Electric vehicles are tremendous technologies, but they’re not necessarily for every driver, every use case, every economic strata. And so we have to accommodate a mix and that’s similar in other parts of the renewable industry too where certain mandates can create concerns because they’re not grounded in reality. 

Wes Ashworth (23:22)

Yeah, I think that’s such a good, good point. We can have a tendency of being pretty myopic and looking at that and just wanting this all or nothing type of thing or you want it all today. But I think as you look back, all of these revolutionary transitions that have happened throughout history, it wasn’t, you know, instantly you were there, you know, you’ve got these transitional things that help you get there. And I think “perfect” can be an enemy of progress and not moving forward. 

Allan Schurr (23:55)

Now we face a lot with our resiliency microgrids where we use natural gas compared to diesel. And natural gas is a fossil gas. And therefore we can’t do that. So I can relate several places where it seems like we prefer to have diesel until we have hydrogen. Well, hydrogen, to be delivered in a distributed way and stored on site, is an expensive proposition. And if we wait for that to happen, we’re going to be building more and more diesel generators year after year after year. And the local air quality implications are substantial. Whereas the incremental ton of hydrogen that can go toward displacing other uses of hydrogen today and other more appropriate applications would suggest we’re not going to use hydrogen for backup power on site anytime soon, even after hydrogen becomes cost effective to manufacture because it’s not necessarily cost effective to move it and store it. 

So what’s the best alternative there? Getting off of diesel is good. Getting onto a cleaner local emissions is better. Using renewable natural gas, better yet. Those kinds of trade-offs and choices, that should be part of the rational discussion is what’s the right level of investment so that in fact the economics can pay for that transition without subsidy or incentives. We’re not getting tax credits to build natural gas microgrids. We don’t need them, on the other hand, we don’t need them either if they can participate, keep the lights on by providing grid services. 

Wes Ashworth (25:35)

Yeah, no, absolutely. Switching topics a little bit, in terms of just thinking back, you know, if you could offer just guidance or advice to your younger self entering this industry in renewable, what would that advice be? What would you tell your younger self? 

Allan Schurr (25:55)

Yeah, I would say that, you know, the industry is so interconnected and interdependent that networking and really being curious about other perspectives. Trying to, ss I’ve said a couple times, connect the dots, it- having a, an internal kind of clock speed to know what matters and what doesn’t matter but there’s so many different interdependencies across the value chain. You know, there’s competition for electric interconnects for wind and solar projects – fine, but they’re also, those same projects are dependent on the transformer industry and the transmission permitting world and transmission is a very local issue. So public opinion and local politics factor into that. Land use issues are important. So really understanding the breadth and complexity of this machine and not being too narrowly focused just helps keep, I think, some perspective as to how things fit together. You become more credible, you become more valuable as a team member if you have that context. So I think, for my younger self, encouraging a greater and greater networking, and, the recognition of the various aspects. Now I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work at different parts of the energy value change from big super critical, generation to electric vehicles. I have patents around infrastructure charging. When I was working at one company, we, we built a national management network for the EV charging infrastructure for a country in Europe.

So I’ve had a lot of different opportunities to be exposed to different aspects of the value chain, trying to get it refocused back to what I’m doing every day. I never want to forget those, the rest of the infrastructure world, the rest of the stakeholder community. 

Wes Ashworth (27:50)

Yeah, no, absolutely. Is there a defining moment or experience in your career that significantly shaped your professional journey and something that comes to mind, just that key moment?

Allan Schurr (28:03)

Yeah, there’s one that’s sort of an interesting story. I was working at PG&E Energy Services, the deregulated arm of PG&E after California deregulated before they locked out competition again. I was on a plane back from Houston to the Bay Area and I ran into a former colleague that I hadn’t connected with for probably about 18 months or so. And we spent the entire night flying back from Houston on a late flight, talking about a business he had left to start. And I was so excited about that business. It was called Silicon Energy. It was the first internet-based building automation integration system. And he and a couple of others started this company. They didn’t have much money. They had a great idea.

And I said, I’m ready to go join that effort. I could see the vision of where he was trying to take it. And he advised me, he says, just wait, wait till we raise some money. And so, I sat patiently for about six months and then I ended up joining, after they had a firm term sheet, all the papers had been signed, but before they actually had the money in the bank and I discovered later that they had about $60 on the day I joined the company right before the wire made it into the bank account. But it was a defining moment in that I had clarity around what I wanted to do and saw the vision of how it could be accomplished. I was confident that we could raise money. We went on to raise lots of money and I tried and acquired the company a few years later. That set me off on a course of looking for something that I had high confidence that we could achieve success. And I’ve been in a few different jobs since then where I felt the same motivation. 

Wes Ashworth (29:57)

Yeah. What would you say to someone that is maybe contemplating a transition like that? You know, they’re seeing this company or maybe they’re in the process of considering that, but it’s scary, it’s unknown, it’s uncertain. What advice would you give them?

Allan Schurr (30:15)

Well, there is a lot of noise out there. There are opportunities that are worth changing for, and then there are some opportunities that are not worth changing for. So be educated, be prepared, ask questions, and don’t just take your own judgment. Look for others that might have a perspective because there’s so many exciting ideas in the energy transition. But some of them break the laws of physics. Some of them are gonna have a difficult time scaling. You have to be able to separate out those that are real opportunities for the ones that just tell a good story. 

Wes Ashworth (30:51)

Yeah. Is there anything that you use to be able to do that? And I’m thinking about candidates going through interview processes and this company that has this great story and has all the things you’re talking about. But you see the other end of that and that company that doesn’t quite make it and the things really weren’t there in the beginning to drive that success. What things could one look for as they’re evaluating this opportunity or as they’re talking to this company? 

Allan Schurr (31:22)

Yeah, I like to think of it like you’re an investor because you’re investing your time or career. So ask the questions that if you were an investment manager, you would be asking. Who are the comps? What’s the past performance look like? What are the risk factors? If you were reading an S -1 for that company as if they were writing it, what are those risk factors that they’d have to inventory and ask a lot of questions because you are ultimately making an investment, maybe even more than investing dollars, you’re investing your time and career. 

Wes Ashworth (31:55)

Absolutely. I love that analogy, kind of looking at it as an investment and through that lens. That’s fantastic. Transitioning a little bit to industry outlook, you know, how do you envision the evolution of the renewable energy sector over the next 10 years? What do you, what do you see? What are your bold predictions?

Allan Schurr (13:14)

Bold predictions. Well, I do think that we have kind of an all-of-the-above, has to be present still. We- I am concerned that we are creating a risk in the grid that will sour the mood around transition so we don’t need that to happen. But I see a lot of you know, great innovation that’s occurring too. So that’s going to continue. Money is flowing into the sector of late, I’ve been also monitoring some of the developments in SMRs, the small modular reactors. In a 10-year time horizon, I think we’re going to see that emerging, if they follow the principles of more mass production, more standardization, more repeatability. We overcome a lot of the cost overrun risks and other issues. The public is warming to the idea. The conversation has changed a lot in the last even just six months.

I think that we need to have early successes to build on those successes. So I think that’s gonna be a major source of carbon-free energy. We’ll still do solar, we’re still gonna do wind. We’re gonna improve on efficiencies, the geothermal technologies that I mentioned earlier, and renewable fuels, all of the above. It’s gonna have to be with us because even nukes aren’t dispatchable. They’re really basic. They like to run 24-7, and so we’ll still need to swing capacity on the margin.

Wes Ashworth (33:41)

Yeah, no, absolutely. Any other kind of fundamental shifts that you feel are necessary for renewable energy to take a more dominant role? Things that need to happen?

Allan Schurr (33:54)
The integration of it is going to be the biggest challenge. We need to interconnect it, but that’s only part of the story. And building transmission is not simple. It takes a long time. So some transmission lines are seven to ten-year time horizon just to get the lines built. So we’re going to be confronting a situation where it’s going to be difficult to interconnect as much capacity as the market wants. And so, being closer to customers, being distributed, overcome some of that. You can offset load rather than just being a wholesale supply, but that’s really the antithesis of scale economy. So overcoming that is one of the biggest challenges. That’s why I like being in the distributed energy space with microgrids. We have a value proposition that helps fund the microgrid in the sense that it is displacing some other asset that’s dirtier, less reliable for those customers, that infrastructure that needs always-on power. And it can support more distributed renewables too. So I think that it’s going to be a continued adventure and we just need a little time, I think, in order to get the sequencing right so that we can continue to evolve. 

We’re expanding dramatically. And the direction of continued investment in those technologies is going to continue, but it’s not without difficulties. In almost every quarter, there’s some concern that you have to overcome in order to make it happen. 

Wes Ashworth (35:33)

Yeah, absolutely. And what I see too, beyond just technology and all the things is the need for talent in the industry and continuing to bring in talent, continuing to appeal to these young professionals that are starting their career and getting these bright minds that enter the industry and continue this progress. What would you say to people out there that are thinking about what industry should I join and what would draw them to this greater renewable energy industry? 

Allan Schurr (36:08)

You know, we see a lot of mid-career professionals. I’m in Houston. That’s where our headquarters are. And the oil and gas industry has been through so many ups and downs. We have employees that have basically said, “I’m tired of the roller coaster,” and they want to make a change. And so we have a number of former oil and gas professionals in our company that have decided they wanted to try something, you know, a bit of a shift in an adjacent space. There’s a lot of interest, of course, in colleges. We’re out in front of college audiences frequently also, and there’s just tremendous amount of interest from different disciplines. We need finance professionals. We need engineering professionals. We need project management professionals. We need everybody because this industry is hungry for talent and keeping talent. But if you have a good value proposition, if you can answer the questions that they should be asking related to their investment in their career, I think we can attract the best and brightest from across the board.

Wes Ashworth (37:18)

Yeah, no, I agree completely. And kind of thinking back just in your career, and this may help others too, because it’ll get them excited. So as you look back on your career, what achievements or moments fill you with the most pride as you look back and why?

Allan Schurr (37:34)

I think it’s, you know, I’ve had great teams that I’ve led, and worked on too, over my career. Hearing from employees about how much they enjoyed working on the teams that I’ve led has been, maybe evidence that I’m, my leadership style of, you know, good delegation, providing strategic perspective so that they can go do the things that they can do every day. I think I have been able to pass along, share some of that knowledge with, team members that I’ve led in different jobs over the years. So I think that may be one of the most, you know, rewarding parts of my career. I’ve done interesting projects.
I’ve worked in interesting companies, I’ve invested a lot of money and I’ve even patented some ideas, but I think the people part of it are what probably transcends longer than that. 

Wes Ashworth (38:38)

Yeah. Yeah, I agree completely. And I love that you said that because there’s a lot of fun for technology changes that come along and inventions and, you know, all these sorts of things, but the people side of it, you know, that at the end of the day is the most important thing, so I love that. Kind of thinking bigger picture, so in the overall realm of renewable energy as a whole how do you define success?

Allan Schurr (39:04)
Well, how do I define success? Well, you know, we have to make money for our investors or we don’t have anything to offer to the market. Sustainable business starts with financial sustainability. We can’t tilt at windmills too long before good ideas just go to die. So, I think we need to be able to do those steps.

Now, continuing looking for white space and innovation, that takes a mindset where you have to challenge the status quo and say what worked in the past doesn’t seem to work now or there’s a better way. There’s a lot of risk to doing that. I don’t mean necessarily a danger, but it’s difficult. And to challenge the status quo, you go straight long into that inertia that I talked about earlier. So it has to be well thought through and there has to be a very strong value for the buyer or they will get bored. They will move to something else that is more impactful. And so to have long-term success in the renewable energy industry, we’ve got to be able to demonstrate real progress in solving real challenges. And economics is a big part of that. It’s true that some businesses will pay extra to be cleaner.

But businesses need to have a sustainable business themselves too. And so we have to be conscious of what’s worth paying for, what are the efficiencies economically in the value chain that could deliver the most value. 

Wes Ashworth (40:44)

Yeah, no, absolutely. It kind of just helps it all come together and drive success. And I think that’s a critical, critical part of it. And you were talking a little bit about on just challenging the status quo and change and innovation. And I think those are, I think everybody wants it, but it’s not as easy to obtain. How do you drive innovation on your team and create that mindset where people are thinking outside the box maybe, or innovative, or not afraid to fail? Like what are some things that you do?  

Allan Schurr (41:12)

I do think about kind of the five forces strategy and innovation when I think about a new idea, new concept of, what are the incumbents doing? What are they going to do? What’s the supply chain look like? What do customers think about?
In one of the jobs I had, I ran an exercise where we — this was in the early days of the EV discussions — I said, well, people are talking about this world where there’s a million EVs. What would really change if there were a million EVs? And we just had a two-day working session where we just kind of thought through, what would that mean? What would be the opportunities in the market if you had a million EVs? Like what problems emerge? What needs exist? That was the genesis for some of the patents that I was talking about earlier, where we just thought through like, oh my God, you’d have to do these things differently and those things. So trying to isolate the change and think about all the implications of that, the systems thinking led us to develop a whole array of capabilities that we ended up selling, doing, you know, protecting and patenting and they’re pretty novel today. We take them for granted, but have everything to do with cloud-based infrastructure associated with managing EV charging in that particular example. But I’ve done other things like that where we come up with an idea and we think about like, all right, what, what are the other players on the chessboard going to do if we come into that space? Is it truly white space? Are we encroaching on some other activity? And then can you harness some of those other aspects, other technology that’s an adjacent partner with, you know, incumbents that might feel threatened. Otherwise, there’s, you know, various implications that can come out of that. But as soon as you put your stake in the ground, then other people see it and they say, wait a minute, I thought we were doing it gets kind of interesting to game it out. 

Wes Ashworth (43:21)

Yeah, no, I love that. I think that’s a great way to kind of wrap this up, that, that’s probably a million dollar plus idea in terms of just leading and driving innovation within your team. So, that is fantastic. But Allan, I am so appreciative of your time today and the valuable insights you’ve provided. Not only just, I think specifically the industry, but overall just leadership and some of those insights as well too.

So with that, we will wrap up, but if you enjoyed this conversation, please share it with a colleague. Don’t forget to follow us on social channels, like, share, and comment, and give Allan a follow. He’s a great leader and somebody with valuable insights. So thank you again for your time, and stay tuned for the next episode coming soon.