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Fighting Misinformation in The Renewable Energy Industry

The renewable energy industry has its fair share of challenges, like misinformation and grid reliability issues. Atma Energy, co-founded by Jaro Nummikoski and Supratim Srinivasan, is tackling these problems with transparent, value-driven solar and energy storage solutions. In this interview, Jaro shares how Atma Energy educates customers and brings innovative solutions like virtual power plants to improve grid resilience. He also talks about their commitment to fostering a positive company culture and training their team to deliver genuine energy solutions.

 

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👤 Interview with Jaro Nummikoski

Dunya Jovanovic: Please introduce yourself and tell me more about Atma Energy. When were you founded, what's your mission, and what makes your company unique?

Jaro Nummikoski: Hi, I’m Jaro Nummikoski the co-founder and CFO of Atma Energy. My co-founder, Supratim Srinivasan, and I met in grad school in 2012. We were both working in solar forecasting, and doing our research, and after graduating, we got jobs in different areas of the solar energy industry. I worked in utility-scale solar, building large-scale solar farms in West Texas, particularly serving the San Antonio market. Supratim worked on distributed energy, focusing on residential and commercial solar. We remained friends and had many discussions about starting a business. In March 2020, we decided to start Atma Energy, right before the world shut down due to COVID-19. Despite the challenges, we adapted to remote work and have grown ever since, nearly doubling in size each year.

 

DJ: What inspired you to focus on providing solar and battery solutions?

JN: Supratim and I have been in the solar industry for a long time, and we wanted to provide value to customers. There's a lot of misinformation and tactics that could be more beneficial to consumers. We wanted to offer a solution that provides the best value out of solar and energy storage, helping consumers understand the true benefits.

 

DJ: What kind of misinformation are you referring to?

JN: If you look at social media, especially platforms like Facebook, you'll see claims like "the government offers free solar programs" or "Texas will buy solar panels for you." These are misleading because everything is never free. There are good government incentives for going solar, but it's only partially free. Additionally, some solar companies aim to gain many customers quickly and then sell off their projects, leaving customers without proper service. This creates a negative perception of solar, but our goal at Atma Energy is to help consumers understand their needs and the true value solar can provide.

 

DJ: You mentioned renewable energy growth. What major trends are you seeing in solar?

JN: Solar energy has become mainstream over the last five to ten years, with improvements in panel efficiencies making it more affordable. One significant trend is energy storage, especially after the 2021 winter storm in Texas, which highlighted grid unreliability. This led to a spike in energy storage sales. People want resiliency and reliability, which solar and energy storage can provide without the need for noisy, polluting generators.

 

DJ: How has the policy landscape for renewables changed in recent years, especially in Texas, and how does this impact companies like yours?

JN: There haven't been many challenging policies; instead, there have been beneficial ones. For instance, ERCOT, our grid regulator, introduced a program that allows solar and battery systems to aggregate and provide services to the grid. This wasn't available for smaller energy storage systems before, but it's been a big help for the industry.

 

DJ: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges?

JN: Misinformation is a significant challenge. It's difficult to change people's perceptions when they've been misled. We also face the challenge of untraining behaviors learned from other parts of the industry, especially in sales.

 

DJ: How do you ensure your company's values are reflected in your marketing and communication efforts?

JN: Our company culture is key. When hiring, we focus on people who share our mission. We prefer to train individuals from outside the industry rather than untraining those with existing but conflicting behaviors. Our genuine approach and honest interactions with customers lead to positive experiences and build trust.

 

DJ: How did you decide to hire people from outside the solar industry and train them?

JN: We found that many people in solar sales prioritize making money over providing value. It's hard to untrain that behavior. We prefer hiring people with the right values and teaching them about solar, ensuring they align with our mission of providing honest and valuable service.

 

DJ: What role do you see Atma Energy playing in the future of the industry?

JN: The energy industry is shifting from a centralized model to a more distributed and resilient one. Our goal is to enable the adoption of virtual power plants, aggregating solar and battery assets to serve the grid and provide value to both utilities and consumers. We aim to bridge the gap between consumers and utilities, creating a collaborative rather than antagonistic relationship.

 

DJ: Are there any exciting partnerships, projects, or announcements on the horizon for Atma Energy?

JN: We recently announced our first virtual power plant program with an electric cooperative in San Antonio. It's a pilot program involving about 90 homes, where homeowners subscribe to an energy storage system that the utility uses to support the grid. This program benefits both the utility and homeowners, and we have ongoing conversations to build larger virtual power plants in the near future.

 

DJ: Are there any innovations in battery technology that you're excited about?

JN: Yes, there have been many new entrants in battery technology since the 2021 winter storm. While current short-duration energy storage uses lithium chemistry batteries, I believe we'll see significant advancements in the next few years, similar to the leaps and bounds in solar technology. Long-term energy storage is still elusive, but I expect we'll see promising technologies emerging soon.

 

DJ: What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the renewable energy industry today?

JN: The renewable energy industry has a lot of growth potential. My advice is to enter the industry for the right reasons, providing value and looking to build something long-lasting. The companies starting now could become the major players in the future, making significant changes in the industry.

 

DJ: Do you have recommendations for resources or communities for those interested in renewables?

JN: I stay updated through LinkedIn, following industry leaders and their posts. There are many resources and conferences around the country. Don't try to learn everything at once; focus on what excites you. You can learn more about us at atma-energy.com.

📝 Full episode transcript

Dunja (00:00:00) -  Hello friends, you are watching another episode of the Green New Perspective podcast, the place where we host people from the cleantech space and give them a chance to introduce us all to their innovative tech aimed at combating climate change. Today, we are going to focus on the renewable energy sector and its challenges, like misinformation and grid reliability issues. My guest today is Jaro Nummikoski  from a company called Atma energy. And today we're going to talk about how they're tackling mentioned issues in renewables with transparency, value driven solar and energy storage solutions. Stay tuned and enjoy. Hello and welcome to the Green New Perspective podcast. Can you introduce yourself and then tell me a bit more about Atmos Energy? When were you founded your mission and what makes your company unique?

Jaro (00:00:57) -  So my name is Jaro Nummikoski . I'm the co-founder and CFO of Atma energy. My co-founder of super, Tim Srinivasan and I, we met in grad school in 2012, and we were both working in in the industry and solar forecasting. so we were doing our research in solar forecasting.

Jaro (00:01:16) -  And after we graduated, we both got, you know, different, different job roles in, in different areas of the solar energy industry. I was working in utility scale solar. So we built large scale solar farms in West Texas, particularly serving the San Antonio market. And my co-founder, Super Tim, he was working on the distributed energy side. So mostly in residential and commercial solar. We remained friends, you know, after grad school. And, you know, we had many discussions about starting a business. And eventually in, March of 2020, exactly March 16th of 2020, we decided to start this business. And then in March 20th, the entire world shut down for Covid. And so that was a very, you know, interesting, start to our, start to our business. At that time, we were we were all remote. We had a few other members of our team. We were all working remote. So it wasn't really that big of a challenge. You know, it was a little bit difficult to, to reach out to customers.

Jaro (00:02:14) -  We, you know, weren't able to meet with people face to face at that time. So we worked around those challenges. But, you know, we started we started then in 2020. And we've been growing as a business, ever since. And, you know, doubling in size almost every year. Yeah. That leads us to today.

Dunja (00:02:30) -  And what inspired you to focus on providing solar and battery solutions?

Jaro (00:02:33) -  So for Super Tim and I, we, we we really wanted to focus on providing value to customers, the value that solar. We know that the value that solar has for for customers, it's unfortunately there's a lot of misinformation and, just different tactics that are not beneficial to, to consumers in the solar area. So, so we wanted to kind of provide a solution and provide provide a way for consumers to get a, you know, the best value out of solar and energy storage. so that's kind of what drew what led us to, to found an energy.

Dunja (00:03:07) -  What kind of misinformation?

Jaro (00:03:10) -  Oh, that's a good question.

Jaro (00:03:11) -  So, you know, if you're on, say, any social media website, Facebook, LinkedIn or any of those or mostly and Facebook and those kind of places, you get lots of misinformation about, you know, oh, the government's offering a free solar program, or Texas will buy solar panels for you and put them on your house. That is that is what the industry is bombarded with, you know, non-stop. The impression that people get about solar often. and that's unfortunate because, you know, obviously that's not true. Nothing's ever free. so but there are good government incentives for, for going solar. that that is true. But it is not free and other and other challenges that there are many solar companies that come, come into the market. And really, their primary goal is to gain a bunch of customers in a short period of time and maybe sell off, sell off their projects and then close shop, not provide any further service to customers. And so that creates a lot of negativity in the industry from people that have gone solar.

Jaro (00:04:08) -  So you end up with a lot of people, you know, reviewing solar on, on various platforms, and they're saying that, you know, solar is not a great investment. I got solar on my house and it's it's not what I was promised and all those kind of things. So that kind of just paints this picture of solar being a bad investment or not something you should do. And that's that's ultimately not true. While it's not necessarily, you know, solar is not necessarily right for everybody, but for those people that that have a great roof for it or, you know, are, you know, have to correct, circumstances, it can be a really good investment. That's our goal as an energy is to to lead people to understanding their, their needs and what, what the solar can truly provide for them and make that a possibility.

Dunja (00:04:50) -  Yeah. You mentioned that renewable energy in general has seen growth in recent years. And what major trends are you seeing in solar?

Jaro (00:04:59) -  so when solar I mean, solar energy has been, you know, I would say pretty mainstream for the last 5 to 10 years.

Jaro (00:05:06) -  We're of course, seeing lots of increases in, you know, panel efficiencies and things like that that are making solar more affordable for customers. But I would say one of the biggest trends recently in solar really comes down to, energy storage here in Texas. Back in 2021, we had a large winter storm that, knocked out, power to a lot of the customers in Texas and lasted for, for some people, you know, as long as 4 or 5 days without power. At that point, people realize, you know, that, you know, we have some unreliability in our grid. After that, we saw a large spike in energy storage sales, and we really leaned into that heavily after. That after that time, it's always been our intent. But, since that time, it's really been a lot easier because that messaging is there. People are wanting resiliency and, reliability and, and that's something that solar and energy storage can provide. And it does so in a green way. You don't have to have a noisy, polluting generator on the side of your house.

Jaro (00:06:07) -  Not saying that generators are bad. Generators are serve a great purpose. And for some people they are absolutely necessary if they want long term reliability. But, but for a lot of people, solar and energy storage works really well.

Dunja (00:06:20) -  And how is the policy landscape for renewables changed in recent years, especially in Texas, since that's where you based? And how does this impact the companies like yours?

Jaro (00:06:29) -  No, there haven't been any challenging policies coming up. there have actually been some beneficial ones. In Texas. We have, our grid regulator is called Ercot. And Ercot recently came out with a program called ADR. essentially what the program is, though, it allows solar and battery systems to aggregate and those aggregated systems to be used to provide services to the grid, like discharging during peak times and, and that type of thing. So it's something that wasn't really available to, to smaller energy storage systems before, but that that recently came about in the last two year and a half, it's been a big help for the industry in terms of how energy storage can can be utilized.

Dunja (00:07:14) -  Well, you mentioned challenges with miscommunication. So how do you ensure your company's values are reflected in your marketing and communication efforts? And does that leads to sales?

Jaro (00:07:26) -  I think, the the best answer to that is, our company culture when we, when we make hires, right now, because we're still relatively small organization, we have about 20, 25, team members. I'm involved in a lot of the hiring decisions, and we get to see, you know, people personally and, and learn about their the justification for wanting to work with us. We have a very, very strong company culture here in that, you know, we know our our mission is to to serve customers the best solutions possible. So we don't necessarily hire people from existing solar energy industry. We like to train people from outside of that, outside of the industry. And, you know, kind of teach them people that have the same mission as us, as humans. We like to train those people, in, in solar energy and, and then get them on the same wavelength as us.

Jaro (00:08:17) -  We have a, we have a lot of really good leaders in our company. And they all got into the same mission statement as, as our founders that helps, you know, kind of permeate through the organization by having that company culture existing in the organization that allows our messaging to come across in a genuine way. And that's really the that's really the key point there is that because this is truly who we are and what we're looking to do, our messaging comes across as genuine and and honest. The it is challenging, of course, to say, you know, hey, we are we are honest. Trust us. You can't come out and see that on, you know, directly. So it has to be in those unspoken things that you do, in the way that you communicate with customers, in the way that you interact with them. We, you know, we get a lot of praise from our customers after working with them, how communicative we were and how, you know, how would they just really enjoy the experience.

Jaro (00:09:11) -  And making a positive customer experience is is really one of our biggest goals.

Dunja (00:09:16) -  and how do you come to that, that you are not actually employing people directly from solar, or at least not at all, but doing those types of trainings?

Jaro (00:09:24) -  Yes. So the the reason we came to that to realization is that we, dealt with and we've interviewed a lot of or, and we've actually had several people from, you know, the solar industry. And I'm not saying that this is pervasive, you know, throughout the industry, but particularly on the sales side there, there's a lot of money to be made for in sales of solar. And, and therefore people will use many different tactics to make as much money for themselves. And that kind of behavior is not necessarily what we're what we're looking for as a company. I'm not saying that our sales staff does not do well for themselves, but the the key is it's not. They're rewarded for providing a great value and an honest transaction to a customer, rather than tricking someone into into making a decision and then only that person to later regret their decision.

Jaro (00:10:17) -  So it's very hard to, untrain that behavior from, from people once they've learned something. One way of doing it, it's very hard for us to kind of reverse that. So it's easier to start with people that have the correct behaviors in place and teach them solar aspect. That's that's kind of the way we've gone about that.

Dunja (00:10:37) -  And that's an interesting take. We are a marketing agency, as you know, and we do what was being called a sustainable. About marketing. I guess that's what you've been mentioning that relies on authenticity and transparency. I mean, that's how you should communicate in clean energy overall. But yes, I agree with you. There's a lot of greenwashing there, not just on the sales side, but on the PR side as well. So it's important to talk about this, and I'm glad that you do what you do and that you're trying to change this. I think it's important to mention the impact of marketing value in clean tech communications. With that in mind, how do you see the industry involving in the next couple of years and what role with your company play in the future?

Jaro (00:11:20) -  So the industry at large, you know, one of the things that's happening in the energy industry or, you know, electricity industry, there's, we're coming to this shift from the centralized, one way flow of electricity to a more distributed model, and a more resilient model.

Jaro (00:11:39) -  So our goal as a company is to truly to enable the adoption of virtual power plants. So, so virtual power plants are, you know, the aggregations of, many different solar and battery assets, put them, you know, aggregate them together. And to serve a purpose for the grid. As a company, we are looking to, to provide this service to, to utilities, to be kind of a turnkey provider for virtual power plants. And so we do this by, by working with, with consumers and with utilities and kind of bringing them together to make, to make this product whole. The industry in general has kind of, this, us versus them, mentality when it comes to solar, us being the consumer and them being the utility. It's always a, you know, kind of a antagonistic relationship saying that, you know, oh the utilities charging, you know, raising your electricity rates. You should go solar to combat that. Get off the grid completely. whereas we see the, the actual benefit being so much larger, if you can provide solutions that that kind of bridge the gap between the consumer and the utility.

Dunja (00:12:52) -  Are there any exciting partnerships, projects, announcements on the horizon for Autumn energy?

Jaro (00:12:57) -  So recently in November, we just, announced our first, virtual power plant program with a cooperative, electric cooperative that's, here nearby in San Antonio. it's a one megawatt, pilot program. it's about 90 homes that are participating in the program. So essentially it's a homeowner that's interested in solar, and they have the, they have an energy storage system that is placed at their home that they subscribe to. And this, this battery is utilized by the utility, most of the time, most of the most of the year, whenever there's, you know, a need for the utility, say to, to support the grid. And then if there's ever an outage, then the the battery can be, is utilized by the homeowner to provide backup. So it's it's kind of a win win scenario for the utility and the homeowner where the utility is getting the the value out of the battery most of the time. And instead of the battery just sitting there at the customer's home just waiting for an outage event, so the utility gets to utilize it and the homeowner gets to utilize it whenever there's an outage.

Jaro (00:14:05) -  and therefore you're kind of, you know, everybody wins in that scenario. So we recently started this one in November. We're still enrolling participants into the program and getting those assets built. We look to probably complete that by the end of this year. That's one that we actually have in operation. And we we have a few other ongoing conversations, to build much larger virtual power plants. We're excited to, you know, make an announcement here in the next couple of months, about something much larger, you know, kind of the next steps. But, as I mentioned, virtual power plants, you know, being a turnkey provider of virtual power plants is kind of what we're, we're really driving for as a business because it's, we believe it has the largest impact to the, to the state.

Dunja (00:14:48) -  And are there any innovations in a battery tech that you are excited about, looking ahead in battery technology?

Jaro (00:14:53) -  Yes. I mean, since I mentioned that, the winter storm that happened in 21, there have been a lot of, new entrants to the battery technology industry right now.

Jaro (00:15:03) -  Everything is more based on short duration energy storage. You know, lithium chemistry batteries, they all have similarities. And, some are, you know, some are a little bit safer. Some are a little bit, a little bit, more energy dense. I think, as we go forward in the next, you know, few few years, five years, maybe, there's going to be some, you know, major advancements. It's kind of what happened in the solar energy industry, where as more entrants came into the business and started making manufacturing panels, they get better and better at it. Technologies improve, and you kind of start improving by leaps and bounds with energy storage. We were where solar was about 15 years ago. So we'll start seeing significant ramp here in the near. Future. And I think long term energy storage is something that's still kind of, elusive right now. But I think we'll see. We'll see some technologies that kind of rise to the top that will provide much more solutions than what we currently have.

Dunja (00:15:58) -  Well, we're coming to the end of our conversation here. And one of my last questions for you is what advice would you give to someone looking to enter the renewable energy industry today, based on your experience.

Jaro (00:16:11) -  That the industry is where it's it's got a lot of upward trajectory still. So for the next foreseeable future, renewables are going to take a larger a larger portion of the electric share. in, in the US, I think in the world in general. So, you know, there's a lot of opportunities in terms of, advice. you know, I think being in it for the right reasons, you know, providing the value to, to utilities and making sure that, you know, you're doing it for more than just a quick buck is, key and, and looking for, you know, building something that's going to last for long term because I think the companies that you'll see starting in the next, next few years will be the, you know, hopefully some of those will will be the large ones that talk about 20 or 30 years from now that kind of stuck around and really made a significant change in the industry.

Dunja (00:17:02) -  And if someone wants to, educate themselves on renewables, maybe join some slack channels, LinkedIn groups, communities, do you have some recommendations? And of course, tell our audience where they can find you on socials. if they want to DM you, ask you some questions.

Jaro (00:17:19) -  One of my favorite ways is using LinkedIn, following various, various leaders in the market, you know, that are leading the largest companies in the industry. and following the, the post that they make, they're often, you know, kind of providing the most current news in the industry. That's one of my favorite sources for for news and information in the industry. there are many, many, many different resources, many different conferences that that take place around the country all year. that's that can also be a good, good source of knowledge. I mean, I've been in the industry for 15 years now. So it's it's something that, you know, you accumulate knowledge over time. So there's a lot of information to be had.

Jaro (00:18:03) -  Don't try to learn it all at once, but, find something that excites you and, you know, grab on to that and keep learning.

Dunja (00:18:09) -  Yes, we can find you.

Jaro (00:18:12) -  Oh, yes. To learn more about us, you can visit us at, Atma Dash Energy comm. that's our website. And, we have, some good resources for, for homeowners and, and just learn a little bit more about who we are as a company.

Dunja (00:18:26) -  Thank you for being my guest here, on the Green New Perspective podcast. And I wish you all the luck with the beautiful project that you mentioned that you had going on later this year.

Jaro (00:18:36) -  Well, thank you so much, I appreciate it.

Dunja (00:18:46) -  Hey, this is the end of this conversation with Yano Mikulski from Atomic Energy and the end of this episode of the Green New Perspective podcast. Of course, this is the perfect time for me to introduce you to our sponsors. Their new perspective, a Boston based digital marketing agency working with clean tech clients only.

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