CEA’s Andy Klump, Episode 6, Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy

Andy Klump, CEO and founder of Clean Energy Associates, shares his journey in the renewable energy sector and the challenges he has faced. He emphasizes the importance of aligning the team with the company’s core values and vision. The key challenges in the industry include uncertain regulatory frameworks and supply chain complexities. Klump highlights the need for flexibility and adaptability in navigating these challenges. He also discusses his leadership approach, which involves delegation and hiring talented individuals who are aligned with the company’s long-term vision. The principal themes of the conversation are cultural fit and fostering a culture of innovation within the organization. Andy Klump emphasizes the importance of aligning with the cultural fabric of an organization and studying how culture is lived and practiced on a day-to-day basis. He shares that culture starts at the top and advises individuals to do their homework and understand the culture of the organization they want to work for. He also discusses the growth and evolution of the renewable energy industry, particularly in the areas of energy storage and solar. He highlights the need for transparency in the supply chain and the importance of eliminating regulatory hurdles to accelerate the adoption of renewables. Andy predicts that the grid will evolve to meet the needs of renewable energy and that the industry will see a significant increase in the deployment of solar and energy storage. He also envisions a future where the manufacturing base for renewables is co-located around the world, reducing costs and improving efficiency.

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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 our latest episode of Green Giants: Titans of Renewable Energy. Today, we’re honored to feature Andy Klump, a luminary in the renewable energy realm and the visionary CEO and founder behind Clean Energy Associates. With over 20 years dedicated to high tech and renewable sectors, 16 of those revolutionizing the solar PV industry, Andy’s expertise is unparalleled. His strategic leadership at Trina Solar not only facilitated around 500 million in financing, but also pioneered the supplier co-location park in Changzhou, marking a milestone in supply chain excellence. Beyond his corporate community as a former board member of the Solar Energy Industries Association, Andy co-founded iDefine, a nonprofit committed to groundbreaking treatments for genetic-based intellectual disabilities. Andy’s academic prowess is backed by an MBA from Harvard and a BA in economics from Northwestern. Join us as Andy shares his journey of innovation and impact in pushing the boundaries of clean energy forward.

Andy, it’s an absolute honor to have you. Welcome to the show.

Andy Klump (01:27)

Thank you so much for having me, Wes. It’s great to be here.

Wes Ashworth (01:30)

Yeah, so I love starting with a good origin story. So starting out, what inspired you to enter the renewable energy sector and take us back to those first moments?

Andy Klump (01:42)

I was very fortunate to have an upbringing in St. Louis. My parents are both Midwesterners and so I grew up in rural Missouri, moved to St. Louis. And I remember as a kid, one of my inspirations was really my mother, who at the age of five, she taught me that we could actually collect aluminum cans off the side of the road and actually bring those to the recycling center and get paid money for that. And so I always had an appreciation for helping the planet at a small age. And I thought that was an interesting combination of both helping others, eliminating waste, and also getting paid for it. And so I always had a mindfulness towards the planet and trying to do things that were helpful for sustainability. And so when I was working in China, at the time I was working at, I started off my career with Dell Computer in Beijing and kind of moved from the high tech sector to clean tech by being introduced to one of the investors at Trina Solar back in 2006. And so I thought, wow, here’s a sector where I could actually work and earn money and help the planet. I said, this is amazing. I didn’t even know this industry existed at this scale. So, the origin story of CA was really while I was at Trina Solar, I experienced and learned a lot working directly in the factory in Changzhou. And my exposure happened because I knew this investor. I got introduced to Mr. Ji Fan Gao, who’s a CEO and founder of Trina Solar. And he, you know, he, at the time, I had two years of experience in China. I spoke Mandarin. He didn’t speak any English. So when he interviewed me and explained, you know, I really appreciate the fact you have a business development and sales background, but I, you know, he’s like my biggest challenge right now is the supply chain. Can you help me solve getting upstream supply? I said, wow, I really never had any experience with that. But let me go ahead and try. So the origin of CA was really rooted in my two years of living and working in Chongzhou, China, being based directly in the factory, walking the lines on a daily basis and seeing what’s actually happening on the ground and realizing these two years experience are actually quite valuable in 2008 to give an industry perspective that very few others had. So that was really the origin of CA, was rooted in my background and upbringing and desire to help the planet.

Wes Ashworth (04:30)

Yeah. And I love like, those things are there, right? Our passions and values and things like that. And it doesn’t always, you don’t always fall directly into it. You, oftentimes, you’ll start their career in another sector or somewhere else. And then you find your way back into that kind of passion vein of like, man, this feels really good and fulfilling and helping that as well too. So that’s great. I love that story. So now that you’ve been in it, cause you’re looking at your whole career and, and all the time you spend and all that you’ve done and all that you’ve accomplished, so what’s been your most significant driving force just throughout that career and what’s kept you and sustained you and kept you excited along the way?

Andy Klump (05:08)

I think one of the things that really excites me is bringing new talent into the renewable energy sector. And so if I look at various highlights I’ve had through the years, I think it’s always really been the opportunity to bring folks with different industry background into solar. And so I still remember my early days at Trina, where I had pretty much zero budget to hire. And I had to recruit some leading folks to come and join and actually work in a factory town. It was, Changzhou was at the time the fourth year city in China, no one knew where they were. So really convincing folks to join and then later, and with literally a bootstrap budget where I had to hire folks at like a thousand US dollars a month, you know, from the US, folks who were internationally minded and bring them over. And so when I built out a team to help support a lot of the supply chain responsibilities that I did have, I’d use that same dynamic when I was at, you know, setting up a CA in 2008 and pretty much bootstrapped the company myself, but just had to deal with the talent gap of no one knowing who I was or the business that we’re in. And so just starting off with effectively free interns and then, you know, low-cost hires. And so we started to build a little bit of a momentum and expand to grow. But to me, like that’s where the highlights is really seeing how those folks over the last 18 years have grown and expanded and seen their careers prosper as the industry’s effectively grown through what started off at 1.6 gigawatt industry in 2006. And now we see the industry roughly 350x that this time now.

Wes Ashworth (07:00)

Yeah, that’s no easy feat to do what you just described in a very simple way of getting those people on board. And like, I live in that space every day and the story you tell and how you get people excited and those kinds of things. I mean, it’s not an easy feat. So what are, what are the, I think it back to that moment and getting those folks to come on board, you know, restricted budget, a lot of uncertainty probably, and all those kinds of things – like what, what sort of story did you tell? How did you get them to go, “yeah, that sounds like something I want to do?”

Andy Klump (07:34)

Yes, so I pretty much always had this belief when I went to China that there was an opportunity to really help grow both the industry as well as a greater understanding between China and the US. So I really, I kind of had a vision when I first went to China was to say, look, I wanted to gain some solid experience, you know, speaking a language was obviously a challenge. I didn’t study Mandarin growing up. I spent the better part of two years to really learn and understand the language and to work with it. And so when I really brought, you know, new folks to China who had never been there, there was that obstacle. But also folks who didn’t speak English or didn’t speak Chinese, you know, and in some cases, there’s obviously a lot of cultural barriers.

But it was also just trying to convince them that, look, the growth in renewable energy sector just had massive potential. And also the belief that, look, there’s a vision for where CA was going. And at various inflection points in CA’s history, starting from that, working at home in 2008 when I set up the business from my small apartment, where I just had to keep, you know, talking about the future and explaining it. There’s a vision that’s out there. And so when we said our vision statement in 2015 and, you know, the company was seven years old at the time, we created a 10 year vision statement to say we would be the, you know, leading solar and energy storage, technical advisor in the sector. And that was a bold vision back when we only had like 30 folks. And now here we are today with over 250 professionals in 15 countries.

And we are in a position to actually achieve that vision statement here. Nine years later, probably a year early, when you compare ourselves with the other technical advisors, with standalone energy storage and solar experts, we’ve now achieved that. It’s very, very exciting to have that vision and to see it come to fruition. So I always really try to reflect with folks the fact that like, CA has gone through this 16 year transition to what we are today. But it’s been the success of all of our hardworking team members coming together and really pitching in for that vision. So that’s where I’m always very forward thinking. And as a planet, we need to have more solar. Solar will achieve double digit percentage of our overall energy mix within the next decade or two. And that is also, I think, a vision where we’re all aligned at CEA and I think within the entire industry.

Wes Ashworth (10:27)

Yeah, that’s an incredible story and just kind of going through it. And I feel like your approach to that is so critical. And I think something people miss a lot of when that vision is not really defined, when you don’t have, and I think when you don’t believe it, you know, I work with companies a lot and they have trouble getting talent. And it’s like, you’re, you have trouble believing your own vision or you’re not selling it in an exciting way or getting these people, you know, fired up about it to go like, “Oh yeah. I see where you’re heading and I want to head there too. I want to be with you on this journey and go with you.” So that’s incredible. And no doubt has driven a lot of that success. So switching gears a little bit just to your, your leadership approach and strategy, thinking about this industry as a whole, it is dynamic and changing and it’s fast and it’s complicated. And there are so many layers of different things that come into play. How do you approach leadership and decision-making in an industry as dynamic as this industry?

Andy Klump (11:26)

So it’s interesting. I guess, philosophy of leadership has grown and evolved through the time. And let’s get I never had, you know, I’d say a basis and, you know, in business leadership. I kind of observed and learned a lot of things through simple things as becoming an Eagle Scout as a kid. My parents are not involved in business. My father was a taxi driver. My mom was a school teacher. So I just kind of observed and learned little by little through them. But my personal experience on leadership came through, you know, partially the framework of international leadership and really being able to work across cultures. Having a 19 year career in China helped to provide that same framework of, how do you work with many different nationalities and a global basis? So but I’ve always believed in delegation, I always believed in folks that are better than myself to run various aspects of the business. And so that’s where I really try to hire the best and brightest for the budget that we had. And at the early days, it was a little bit tough, but just kept getting the profits back to the business and trying to hire the best talent was always the right answer. And it pretty much drove my belief to say, look, if I get folks who are motivated, aligned with our long-term vision, they will create the right path to achieving what their objectives are. And so really trying to align what our future vision and goals were with what they wanted to accomplish personally, then it just, you know, releasing them from as much of the obstacles or challenges that we encountered, that was really the right plan. So, through the last 16 years, we’ve seen and observed that at CEA.

Wes Ashworth (13:18)

Yeah, no, that’s awesome. And kind of, like, think if we frame it up to go, hey, here’s a big decision you need to make, and maybe it’s a change of direction, or maybe it’s a, you know, a new product, or maybe it’s just something that’s a pivotal moment to where you have to decide, okay, do we do this? Do we go this way? Do we not? Talk me through that, you know, from sort of like, concept to the final decision. What does that look like for you today in terms of making maybe some of those big strategic decisions?

Andy Klump (13:48)

So whenever we launch a new product, for example, we always use this framework called NSOP, New Service Offering Process. And there have been many times we’ve launched a variety of initiatives within the company. But we always follow this basic framework, which is really an iterative approach to product management. And in our world, we are a services company. So every new services launch is really our new product launch. But you know, effectively, we always want to understand and get feedback from the market. See if there is, you know, what’s the viable product that we can obtain customer feedback from and then continue to iterate and reframe what is it that we’re trying to achieve and how does that align with the customer’s needs. So when I started the business, it was really, understand the basic perspective that different buyers of renewable energy assets, both solar and energy storage, they needed to obtain transparency into what was happening. And the problem was, in China, a lot of things were opaque. And the cultural differences between China and the US found that a lot of manufacturers, they didn’t quite know or understand the expectations that some Western buyers had. And so I had to sit there and sometimes literally do exact translation from English to Chinese and vice versa, but also create expectations. And the reality was, the Chinese mindset was, look, I want to grow and expand as quickly as we can, and there’s profit pools in different markets. But some folks didn’t respect Western contracts the same way that some Westerners would. And some of the Westerners didn’t understand that some of the Chinese are facing upstream suppliers who were changing contracts on themselves. And so really to be that translation to say, OK, how do we go through, and once a contract’s been signed, sometimes the famous saying is a signed contract is a start of negotiation. And so one has to understand that, look, with such a niche industry and so many uncertainty or uncertain variables changing, how do you work with your supplier as a partner and face those obstacles? So there’s been a lot of times where I’ve been in very tense negotiations between two parties, really trying to help them understand what’s happening on both sides. And to say, look, going to litigation is not the right answer. That may be a Western construct, but we have to respect and understand that both sides need to earn a certain reasonable amount of profit and try to work together as partners.

So a lot of those early days and the basis for our supply chain management business unit was really about, how do we help offer procurement advisory services that really helps both parties win and face uncertainties in the market? And then a market like solar, which was just a very small niche market of 1.6 gigawatts when I started in 2006 to what it is today, is that evolution required a lot of flexibility and understanding both sides to make that work.

Wes Ashworth (17:06)

Yeah, yeah. And I don’t think that piece is going anywhere. I think it will require lots of that going forward too. So changing to focus a little bit on some of the things that you face. And I would love to dive into that a little bit and, just in terms of thinking back and even recent years, what are some of the biggest challenges you face in this field? How have you overcome them or how has CEA overcome them, and just to hear a little bit more about the day to day, you know, things you’ve run into challenges and how you solve those.

Andy Klump (17:37)

So I think one of the biggest challenges we face right now, particularly in the US for buyers of renewable energy assets, is a lot of the uncertain regulatory framework. And once again, we’ve had a variety of upstream challenges related to traceability and ESG requirements and creating transparency. And once again, another opaque market in terms of how the quartz is mined out of the ground and then processed into metallurgical grain silicon and polysilicon, then ingots, wafers, cells and modules. So that regulatory construct just emerged in the last four years since 2020 and then evolving to all the challenges related to supply chains. And so how does one take all the different supply chain challenges, which are constantly changing with the regulatory changes that are happening, dealing with the effects of the movement of products really around the world is one of the big challenges. But once again, it’s also an opportunity. And that’s where recently with the passage of the IRA in the United States, a lot of manufacturers are now moving their manufacturing base to the United States. And so really helping to understand, how does one understand the origin of products from where they start being mined out of the ground until where they are in the final assembly process into solar modules. That’s one of the biggest challenges the industry has, is that developers require a lot of lead time understanding of what the product roadmaps are, how the efficiency curve is going to be deployed over time, but they’re in this long, you know, sometimes, you know, four or six, sometimes eight year project life cycle. And one has to plan several years in advance, but then you have all these regulatory changes, which you’re not sure that product is going to originate or used to be in China, and now shifting to Southeast Asia and now all of a sudden becoming a domestic supply chain, or in many cases, having a combination of all three of those different regions to get the final project in place.

Those are some of the frameworks that are changing and that the CA team is really helping our partners understand and deploy. So that’s been one of the challenges of the industry the last decade really since the first, you know, tariffs first went into effect back in 2014.

Wes Ashworth (20:18)

Right. Yeah. And goes back to that flexibility you mentioned earlier. You know, I see a lot of that necessity in what you just described and kind of going, okay, we had this kind of plan. This is where we thought it was going to go, but then regulatory things change or different things change, and you’ve got to adjust and be flexible on the fly. It makes me think about, I’m curious and you’ve built teams, obviously you’ve scaled quite a bit, and you talked about hiring early on versus, you know, hiring growth now.

What are the key things you’re looking for? You know, when you think about somebody that’s going to succeed in this industry and your organization, dealing with some of those challenges that you just went through and mentioned, what are the key traits or things that you look forward to go, okay, this person is going to really help us and add value and help things go forward?

Andy Klump (21:06)

So one of the key themes, I think, of CEA’s success has been the team and the alignment with our culture. And as I kind of reference their early stage of CEA, I set up the company in the middle of a financial crisis in 2008. And it was a lot of just throwing spaghetti on the wall and trying to see what stuck. But it was a lot of reaction to the market and to try to work with clients on helping us solve problems. But it wasn’t really until we had roughly a 30 person team in 2015 that we really shaped our core culture and really worked with an executive coach to align, what are the core values that really drive the CA team members to do what we have to do to succeed? And so, gaining clarity on the CA’s core culture, you know, we identified eight core values. We are family, have fun, unending curiosity, be humble, do the right thing, results matter, own it, and perform above and beyond. And so when I really start from that origin story, it wasn’t just, you know, it wasn’t my own personal values. It was us together, roughly 16 or roughly all folks kind of getting together in a conference room from a few different countries. It was that core group of 16 that came together over the course of a two-day session in person facilitated by our executive coach, Mike Miro, that we really identified what are our core values and how do we align around a core purpose. So, CA’s core purpose is we believe that by helping our clients and stakeholders deploy solar and storage solutions worldwide, we are creating a better future. And once we had that cultural framework aligned, then we went through a lot of transition. We found that some folks weren’t aligned with necessarily doing the right thing or performing above and beyond. And so we had to go through and reframe, who are leaders that are going to establish the next growth? And so there was this kind of two year period of transition where we were experiencing some, you know, flatness at the organizational level. But once we had a team that was fully aligned around our core culture, then we went through very high pace growth. And it was exciting to see the platform then expand to 50, then to 75, and at that point, going from 100 to 250 became a much easier transition point beyond that period through 2024 where we are today.

Wes Ashworth (23:44)

I love it. I’ve heard so many successful stories of scale. They almost always have that thread of really, we really defined our values. We really defined our vision and our mission and those kinds of things. And it wasn’t just like a poster on the wall, right? It is something we really live by and it’s who we are. And I think that’s important, too. Like it’s got to be who you are, not even who you strive to be. But if you think about your core group and your core people as you kind of looked at that 16 or whatever that was it’s kind of like, these are the threads that this is true to who we are. You know, this is genuine and this is us. And then you start building upon that. That’s incredible. That’s how you do it. .

Andy Klump (24:27)

Absolutely. And really having that alignment is crucial, but it starts really in the early stage recruiting process. And so really screen for culture in terms of people that want to come to CA. And I will definitely say it’s very different from the early days of CA where we had a very hardworking, innate alignment among that early group of three, five, ten folks. But as we scale the 50 and 100, it was really like bringing that culture down from the executive level to all new team members, wherever they are, and also bringing outside industry veterans to join the CA team. One really has to screen very carefully for culture. So that cultural fit is a common theme, and that’s what’s allowed us to be successful and still allows us to grow and scale the business today.

Wes Ashworth (25:15)

I love it. Yeah, I’d say that often. It’s kind of like matching skill sets is the easy part, but really what’s important is matching the fit, matching the culture, matching like, does this person just fit in this organization where they’re headed? That’s the key component. So, thinking about your team as well, and your company, this industry being very innovative and it has to be that way, I think because everything is evolving quickly and regulatory, everything’s changing quickly. You have to foster this culture of innovation within the team and organization. Not an easy thing to do. How do you do that? How do you foster a culture of innovation within your organization?

Andy Klump (25:55)

So once again, as I talked about our origin story, it was a bit of chaos when we first set up the business. But once we had that session in 2015 and I had an executive coach who really helped me understand my own weaknesses and mistakes on the leadership side, I was able to really kind of work through that process and identify, how do you continue to reinforce culture? So it’s not just about putting, you know, words down on paper, showing a PowerPoint with our core values. It’s about, how do we live those on a day-in, day-out basis? So I read a lot of books, I studied a lot of different frameworks and thoughts on leadership. And one of the key books I often reference to our team is the book Scaling Up by Vern Harnish. And it’s based on the Rockefeller habits that were created by John D. Rockefeller, and he had about 40 different habits that were in all of his organizations and exercised very clearly. And it really starts with that alignment of culture, and then how do you live that and build out a pattern of communication and strategy for your business around that. And so part of just the communication rhythms that we have as an organization, so in the last nine years, we’ve aligned around there. Everyone in the company has a daily huddle that is aligned with what our global objectives are and setting those objectives ten years out, five years out, three years out, and then your annual operating plan. We then reinforce that in both a daily huddle with our team members, but then there’s weekly workshops and monthly all-hands meetings that really reinforce from the very top to the bottom of the organization. And then once again, be able to float key items from the bottom on up. And so, that’s where our executives talk with team members on a weekly basis, get feedback from various parts of the company. We get client feedback and really try to bring each of these communication channels to bear. That’s a huge part of that framework. So I give a lot of credit to Vern Harnish for working with thousands of startups building and suggesting this type of framework. But we started off that first year with literally one out of 40, and I’m very proud today that we’re at 37 out of those 40 habits. Very tough to get to all 40, but it’s something that we would continue to reinforce and measure on an annual basis. So there’s a lot of different ways to create alignment.

Another one is our culture book. And so back in 2014, I visited the, I read the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, I saw the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas during the solar show, and I was just amazed to go on that tour and see the core values alive and understand their culture. And I, you know, by attending that tour, I obtained one of their culture books. And I said to myself, this is what I want for CEA. And it took us about six years till we really built in 2020.

But now it’s been an annual tradition. So, the last three years, we’ve actually launched our culture book and put it on our website. So anyone can go on to cea3.com and download our culture book. And they see that 115-plus page document that has so many stories of hundreds of our team members living our culture on a day-in, day-out basis. And so to me, that’s one of the exciting things I get to work on.

I share a lot of things on a personal basis. This past couple of years, both my mother and father passed away and I actually share the eulogy in the appendix of the culture book, but we celebrate the exciting things that all of our team members are doing and living on a day-in, day-out basis. So that’s really the basis for how we live our culture on a day-in, day-out basis. So it’s one of those things they have to reinforce in a thousand different ways and simply, like the culture book, really demonstrate CA’s culture and action. And that’s, to me, that’s a lot of fun to share that with everyone, really align around our culture and see it as a living and breathing document that changes and improves every year.

Wes Ashworth (30:16)

That’s incredible. You’re setting the standard there for sure. And I think plenty of people are listening to this are going and getting those two books right now and subscribing to that as well. So that’s awesome. Switching gears a little bit. So what are some of the things thinking about just renewable energy and emerging trends? Like what are you most excited about and why?

Andy Klump (30:38)

So I think in the last 10 years since we launched our energy storage practice, I’ve seen and observed the industry grow and change dynamically. I think my first visit to an energy storage factory was back in 2011, where I saw a small factory outside of Beijing. And a very early stage startup that went out of business, but I said, wow, this is a fascinating industry and would love to see the marrying of both energy storage and mainstream renewables come together. And now we see 10 years later, everything coming to fruition. We’ve seen how the manufacturing sector has really grown and evolved to have these large behemoths, leading companies like CATL and BYD establish that core business and see it grow and scale through the years.

And the attach rate of a lot of both solar and wind projects now having a high amount of battery storage solutions being attached to those projects. So it meets some of the needs of the grid. That’s where we see tremendous growth, particularly in markets like the US, but also in Europe. But globally, there’s higher demand for both energy storage and solar being paired together. So we have a very strong team led by Jeff Burkett, who is one of the leaders of NextEra’s energy storage practice, where he grew and scaled a $7 million business to $1.9 billion. So he’s gained a lot of insights through his nine years at NextEra. And those are being shared with a lot of, the insights are shared now with a lot of our clients in the industry who are deploying energy storage together with solar. So I’m very, very bullish for our energy storage practice. Seeing the growth and the change under Jeff’s leadership is certainly very exciting. But I know that this is meeting the needs of renewable energy buyers around the world. And so it’s great to be a part of seeing those products being deployed in 80 plus countries. And that’s where our track record leads us to be a global player, but seeing energy storage and solar coming together.

Wes Ashworth (32:49)

I love it. Yeah, it’s kind of like now it’s unavoidable, right? Everything sort of like connects back to storage at the end of the day. It’s such a huge important thing. What are some of the things you’re seeing as far as, like trends or kind of like current market state in terms of storage and some of the things you’re seeing from your perspective?

Andy Klump (33:07)

So the energy storage side is absolutely a much higher attach rate to projects than we’ve seen in the past. But there’s a desire for both transparency of supply chain as well as repeatability of product deployments. So I think one of the key trends is really, how does one eliminate the risk around thermal events? And so creating greater transparency into the supply chain, where the components are coming from, and also where the safety measures are in place. Unfortunately, we’ve been at many deployments of projects and seen the challenges around thermal events. And so once again, keeping the industry safe and making sure that everyone’s following the protocols that are deployed is absolutely crucial. Seeing how the supply chains have evolved and shifted closer to the US means that our teams have grown and evolved in the US, but making sure that all these systems are kind of passing the different standards in place and certainly looking at safety and efficiency as key themes. Those are some of the things that we see grow and evolve.

But once again, also the cost trends come down dramatically. On the solar side, I still remember the days when there was a massive shortage of upstream raw components of polysilicon. We saw a product sold for $375 a kilogram. And now seeing that same product at a cost basis dropping below $10 per kg. Now, that cost reduction has resulted in the solar modules being a fraction. Literally, I’ve seen a 95% reduction in terms of their selling price to the market. Allows the market to grow. And so one of the themes in picking up on the regulatory trends is, you know, the U.S. doesn’t have access to the lowest cost upstream supply due to tariffs. And so once again, working within the regulatory frameworks and making sure there’s a transparent supply chain that’s delivered that allows low cost renewable energy to meet the needs of the market. That’s one of the things that we always try to follow is, what is happening on the supply chain side? How does one react to different cost trends and try to work with the regulatory frameworks to make that successful has kept us quite busy.

Wes Ashworth (35:34)

I can imagine so. Going back to that safety component with storage, what do you think, I guess, needs to happen? Is it a matter of just time? Do know, we just need more time to perfect it and get the things right. And that’s just normal. Like I think you see that with any emerging technology usually. Is it these companies need better engineering support? Is it a mix of both? Like what is it in terms of like a solve, I guess from what you’re able to see, like what do you see needs to happen?

Andy Klump (36:05)

So I think it’s a combination of both technology development as well as transparency around the supply chain. And so we accomplish a lot by working directly with the manufacturers and understanding what their technology roadmap are and then translating it to our clients. We’ve seen a big shift towards safer chemistries like LFP versus NMC. But a lot of standards have grown and evolved in terms of new product innovation that meets the needs of the market. Many upstream suppliers kind of meet the specifications that clients have, but really understanding what the use case is and really outlining how degradation will likely evolve over time and giving folks insights into what are the technology and product innovations that really drive towards safety are absolutely very, very crucial. So understanding how one’s augmentation strategy works in line with the contracts is really quite crucial. So once again, our teams are involved in very early stage product roadmap exercises, but helping clients know and understand where the products are going and understand the use cases is one of the areas where we have a strong edge and allows our clients to deploy solutions that are both safe and environmentally friendly. So our teams are heavily involved in all those exercises.

Wes Ashworth (37:31)

Yeah, no, great. In kind of going back to just the industry and outlook and thinking about the future and those kinds of things, so thinking about the next decade, right? Like, what are some of the things that you see? What do you predict?

Andy Klump (37:45)

Well, I think it’s very clear we’re seeing certain points where some markets have deployed a high amount of solar, where all of a sudden solar during the daytime becomes one of the peak providers of energy. And you see how do different countries deploy such a large amount of solar and wind when they’re producing at peak times of the day. And that’s where the understanding like, how will the grid evolve to grow and meet those needs? We see that in key markets like Germany, who’ve deployed such large amounts of renewables, and where those deployments achieve greater than 50% production in the market. I think that one of the key themes is just how does the grid evolve in different countries and really kind of meet the need for resiliency. And so that’s where, you know, solar historically has not been a part of base load. And that’s where solar stored with energy storage solutions allows folks to take that the peak production times and then offset that to where your needs are in the market at various times, in the evening, for example, when the sun isn’t at its peak, once again marrying solar and storage together. So my overall theme is like over the next decade, how does that resiliency of the grid evolve and how do you marry energy storage with solar? That’s a big question. How can we move towards that double digit percentage overall energy needs of the market? That’s an exciting trend to see, but those deployments will absolutely be greater than 10, 20, 30 percent of the overall grid, a combination of both solar and energy storage.

Wes Ashworth (39:37)

Yeah, awesome. Any other key changes you think need to happen just to see the renewable energy sector becoming more predominant, becoming more accepted, you know, becoming just a normal part of like, we’re here, we’ve arrived, you know, like any other big changes you feel like that need to happen?

Andy Klump (39:55)

I think one of the key points is really ensuring that different governments and different countries adapt by eliminating a lot of the regulatory hurdles. Once again, utilities need to, you know, they’ve had a slow reluctance to adopt some of the renewable energy deployments in a variety of ways. But they have embraced the technology trend. And so as the larger utilities who are the end owners of the various grids around the world are accepting that, it’s just like, how do you eliminate the barriers that the different regulatory agencies or utilities have in deploying renewables is obviously one of the key themes. And so that’s where the role of organizations like ACP and SIA in the United States play an important role of really trying to translate different industry actors to work with the utilities to know and understand how to deploy renewables at scale is really important. So really trying to eliminate barriers that are put in place by the regulatory frameworks or those organizations is extremely important.

Wes Ashworth (41:13)

Yeah, absolutely. And kind of sticking with predictions, if you were to predict one major change, maybe something unexpected, or not, maybe not common knowledge out there in renewable energy, so one major change in the renewable energy sector, what would it be?

Andy Klump (41:31)

So I’d say one of the key themes is absolutely about how low-cost the supply chain can be. And I think there are absolutely going to be points where we’re running to an asymptotic curve where solar and energy storage have reached a tipping point where it’s based on what the, you know, what the actual market can bear. So I do see that once again, going closer and closer to the, you know, two, three cents per kilowatt hour threshold. But we have to get past some of the tariffs and regulatory hurdles that are in place. So we can’t, you know, solar can’t achieve that in today’s market. But it is obviously clear if we get a transparent supply chain produced in the United States that is really co-located to where the energy demands are, then I think we can eliminate some of the bottlenecks and barriers of transportation throughout a global supply chain. But that is still going to be a hurdle and something that’s hard because of some of US relations in the next handful of years. But I think in the next decade, as we really see the solar market emerging, it’s a lot like the Japanese automotive market transitioned in the 1980s. And so we start to see manufacturers going global and being in a lot of different markets. And I think a lot of folks just thought, OK, this is going to be a China-based supply chain. Yes, that is the basis for 90 plus percent of a lot of the upstream capacity. But as we get deployment of solar, I still think that manufacturing in a highly automated fashion at the downstream level will actually reduce a lot of the costs related to transportation and allow the market to become more efficient. So I do think that a co-located manufacturing base around the world is where the market will eventually go. And that will kind of marry both upstream low cost with downstream distance to the end market. So my overall theme is that decoupling from manufacturing base in China will still continue to happen for certain parts of the value chain and eventually we’ll see the supply chains being built out in different parts of the world.

Wes Ashworth (43:52)

Yeah, love it. In kind of getting closer to, you know, wrap it up, the interview, and I want to get to a couple of things that I have on my mind left. And one of those is just thinking about reflecting on your whole career and your journey and what you’ve done. What are you most proud of and why?

Andy Klump (44:11)

I would say I’m extremely proud of the success that our team has had in really working together around aligned vision and culture. To me, the basis of CA was really some of the things that I saw and experienced in the upstream supply chain, but really aligning around a common goal and vision. To me, I’m extremely proud to see the alignment and the engagement that our team has had around what our client needs are.

So once again, I have to get a heart back on that key theme of culture. It just, once again, living a culture that lives far beyond that first team of 16 who aligned around our core values and just seeing the organization grow in scale to now 250 folks globally. To me, I’m most proud of really seeing our team live our culture on a day-in, day-out basis. But know that we’re going to continue to grow and double, triple, quadruple in the next decade. And part of one of the key changes that company, and that happened a couple of years ago was when I sold the business to Intertech. Intertech is a testing inspection certification business with 44,000 folks globally. And they wanted to grow in the renewable energy sector. And so CA is now a standalone P&L business unit within their broader industry services organization. And so it’s exciting to now have a platform where they have teams in over 100 plus countries. We married our team in 15 plus countries into that organizational framework. So I’m extremely proud that our organizations are working closely together and see making outgrow and expand and help our clients deploy solar and storage worldwide. And so we measure how many different countries we’ve been active in. We’ve had clients or client projects in over 80 countries, but that still is roughly 41% of the globe. And so we know that once again, eventually our teams will achieve over 150 to 200 plus countries around the world. And so helping that deployment, I think, solar one of those technologies that can be deployed in the country and the planet. So the alignment of our team with that overall arching long-term core purpose, that’s what really excites me and makes me very proud.

Wes Ashworth (46:33)

I love it. Love it. Kind of concluding, so what, any parting, just wisdom, thoughts, insights, you know, sort of open question, anything that you want to share with the audience, with the industry. Any other, you know, advice, wisdom, insight, anything else you want to put in here.

Andy Klump (46:50)

Well, to the early theme I mentioned about my personal career, bringing a lot of folks outside the renewable energy business into the sector. You know, one of the things I always talk about with folks is like, you know, do your homework, understand what organization you want to work for, but align with the cultural fabric of that organization and really study and understand not just what the organizational core values are, but how they’re lived on a day in, day out basis.

So I always direct folks to podcasts like this to understand my background, but more importantly, the company’s cultural fabric. And so I see when folks come prepared, they understand our culture. They’re excited and engaged by what they see and read in our culture book. And so I always advise, look, culture starts at the top. So you have to look at the top of those organizations and say, how is the culture lived and breathed and practiced on a day-in, day-out basis?

So, my advice to individuals who are either new to the solar industry or new to their careers is just always study the culture fabric of those organizations and see the alignment with your personal goals and objectives and go where that alignment is strongest because you’re going to succeed in those organizations that are aligned from a culture perspective. So going through and doing that homework and studying that at the get-go is absolutely a key part of long-term success.

Wes Ashworth (48:12)

Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with that. Kind of on that talent discussion and maybe final question, I know you’ve had to pull talent from other industries and things like that and sort of building it out. What are some of those industries that you typically go to most commonly?

Andy Klump (48:30)

I’d say just in general, we’re looking for folks that know and understand the premise of high growth businesses. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be folks coming from the energy background. We’ve pulled a lot of folks who had background in manufacturing. Sometimes that’s been in other sectors like semiconductors. But it also comes from folks with a high tech background. So we have a strong team with IT background and orientation. We built a lot of processes around automation and trying to deploy new technologies. What’s going to be the impact of AI in our business is still just at the early stages. So we look for folks who really gravitate towards high growth industries and then apply principles from those industries into our sector. So if I looked at the origin of where our industries come in the last 19 years and seen the 350x kind of growth of the supply chain, I want folks who know and understand how to react and work with high growth markets. So it doesn’t necessarily matter as much where the industry is, it’s more about, how do they react to high growth and individuals that are attracted to high growth sectors, you can really thrive in our industry because there is a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of change that’s always happening. So being able to work in that constant change of frameworks is extremely important.

Wes Ashworth (49:54)

Yeah. And that’s where the fit comes in, right? Like there are people that are hardwired to, they love that and they find that exciting and fulfilling and it gets them out of bed in the morning, like ready to go. And then there are ones that are kind of like a little less growth, a little less uncertainty, a little, you know, more rigid. That’s good. And we need those people too, but, I think it is important to find that fit as you’ve outlined. So that’s incredible, incredible advice.

But thank you so much, Andy, for your time, your ability to just share with us and share your wisdom and insights. And it’s an honor again to have you on. And I’m sure the listeners will get a lot out of this interview as well too. So all those out there, thank you so much for listening. Next episode will be on the way soon and remind you to just listen, subscribe, rate, review, share, help, get the word out and spread this around. And until next time, we are concluded.

Andy Klump (50:52)

Excellent. Thanks so much, Wes, and we look forward to engaging with all those listeners out there. So feel free to have anyone reach out to me on LinkedIn or visit our website to understand more about CEA.