Going Green had the chance to sit down with Bert Wank, the Founder & CEO at infiniRel Corporation. Bert has a strong background in renewable energy and ambitious goals for where he sees the renewable energy industry in the future. Let’s get to know Bert better.
What is your occupation? Where do you work?
I am the Founder & CEO at infiniRel Corporation.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
Starting my career as an Applications Engineer for power amplifiers and DC/DC converters I learned how to become a problem solver. Then, as a customer advocate, I defined and launched 14 successful power management and battery management product lines, most of which are still in production today, and even after those companies have been acquired for over $10-Bn. in total. Hailing from Germany as an Electrical Engineer who wrote his master thesis on real-time data-acquisition systems for reliability testing of electrical components, my career went full circle.
My entrepreneurial spirit actually came through much earlier, at age 12: building guitar effect pedals and modifying amplifiers, I started making money at a young age. Later I ran project groups in high-school teaching fellow students to build very efficient and complex loud-speakers, also known as horn-loaded bass cabinets. It’s all about the bass! The general manager of the store I bought most of my speakers from sponsored me to join the Audio Engineering Society. From their two anthologies
I first learned about complex numbers, work of the audio pioneers such as Klipsch and Thiele & Small. But too many conservative critics discouraged me to go into business. I first had to leave Germany and learn my ropes in America. Every step along the way added a piece of knowledge that eventually became the core of the company I founded, infiniRel, short for a process for, not the fact of, “infinite reliability”: at infiniRel we improve the life-cycle costs of large solar inverters, which often go 500% over budget as nine out of 10 issues at utility-scale solar plants are related to the inverter. I have been synthesizing my knowledge gained from many projects in power electronics, my mentors Jerry Steele and Tim Green at Burr-Brown, digital signal processing at Texas Instruments, TI, which is also known as the “Training Institute” by many, and serving as an expert witness on battery management after defining the world’s first off-the-shelf Lithium-Ion safety chip. That was in 1997. Even my initial rejection to become an energy systems engineer for the German NAVY was a lesson: never let go of your dream.
Today I am essentially doing what I dreamed of over thirty years ago as a teenager. As I first entered the U.S. on an H1B visa, I learned about international business and I set my goal to join Thunderbird – one day. I graduated with an MBA eight years later. Through the T-Bird alumni network I also met Andreas Schneider in 2019, who joined us as our Chief Marketing Officer in residence. Every thing that happens to you has a reason. It sometimes just takes a little longer than you wish before you understand.
What is a fun fact about you?
One of our investors loves the fact I served as a Reserve Officer on a submarine at the German NAVY, a surprise after I first was rejected for a basic engineer’s career. Remember the movie “Das Boot” about a submarine in WW-II? Running a start-up is like navigating a sub-marine: you don’t see anything (no windows on a sub) but you need to listen critically to anticipate and navigate around enemy maneuvers, rely on a small team, and survive on little sleep.
What was your motivation to get into this industry?
Witnessing consolidation and margin pressure of the semiconductor industry, I wanted to be part of the future, not stuck in the past, join an emerging mega-trend, which around 2008 seemed to be driven by the solar industry – at least in Europe. Envisioning a solution that can make an impact on the reliability and affordability of renewable energies, which go hand-in-hand, I wanted to use to good advantage my background in product development, semiconductors, and real-time control systems.
Witnessing the ever increasing frequency and magnitude of fires and droughts, as well as grid reliability challenge, motivated me even stronger to act now. Of course, having a daughter from my first marriage, who is 18 now, has also been a big motivator to spend my time with purpose, and being a better role model now than I was 15 years ago, when I did not have clarity.
Why do you think renewable energy is such an important topic today?
Over the course of my career I saw an acceleration of destruction of nature from acid rain decimating the Black Forest in Germany in the 80-ies, over the ever increasing frequency and magnitude of forest fires in California I live now, to drought and pollution in India, where I split time for a couple years.
Exponential growth of population and consumption is a very clear and present danger to society and this planet as a home for species that are also accelerating in extinction. Will we be next?
What do you envision the renewable energy industry looking like 10 years from now?
I am hopeful that the industry learns from traditional high-reliability industries such as telecom, semiconductors and automotive, industries our core team has learned their ropes. When we apply proven processes and practices to new ideas, we can make renewable energies affordable, ecologically as well as economically sustainable, without destroying its supply chain by a race-to-the-bottom where profits are a zero-sum game: because at zero profits, its game over. We need all the link in the chain to sustain.
Technologies we are first launching in the solar industry today will have applications and implications for markets that are 10x larger than the solar industry, such as energy storage for stationary and mobile applications. In ten years, high-stake applications such as autonomous vehicles on the road and especially in the sky may require Reliability-as-a-Service. E-mobility, while in its infancy today, will grow into an even greater mega-trend, while A.I. and Machine Learning will become a commodity, and hardware will by-and-large be only offered as part of a service. We are building the foundation today.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
Be aware of waste and inefficiencies in our daily activities and act accordingly. Buy local and sustainable product at lesser quantity but greater quality. Drive less, and walk or bike instead and with a purpose, such as incremental shopping.
Enact a work-life-balance, because without health we can no longer be effective, or even enjoy what is left. And most importantly, spend you life with purpose – whatever it is that you are doing. Remind yourself to think positive (we really need that now during the pandemic!) because our thoughts lead our actions. Be helpful, be sincere, and be conscious. Ask “how can I help you?”.
What positive changes are you seeing?
Greater awareness and engagement of our youth of becoming sustainable, who will eventually become leaders, such as the Greta Thunberg movement.
Going Green wants to thank Bert for sharing his experience working in renewable energy.
Going Green, hosted by Dylan Welch, interviews leading experts in cleantech, sustainability, media, finance, and real estate on the Going Green podcast. Tune in and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify to listen to interviews with leading cleantech and sustainable experts.
Dylan Welch is the CEO and Host of Going Green, a podcast, website, and social media brand that highlights renewable energy, cleantech, and sustainable news.