Phil Layton, the CEO of PI Energy, has had a long, exciting career working in nuclear fusion, satellite hardware technology, and now next-generation solar energy. Phil started his company, PI Energy, to develop solar energy that could be commercially competitive with fossil fuels. Since then, Phil has been on the forefront of new technology in the solar industry that will change the world around us.
Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
I’m a physicist and attorney. I started out my career working in controlled fusion and then moved to working at a start-up building radiation hardened integrated circuits and computers for space applications. Some of the projects I worked on included Cassini, Europa, and a few Mars Rrovers. Protecting the environment has always been important to me so I started PI Energy with the goal of developing renewable energy that could be commercially competitive with fossil fuels. I felt the only way to change our global energy make-up is if it was, easier and cheaper to use renewable energy.
The other big driver is not to create a new problem, meaning not using toxic or rare materials. We came up with a technology that can expand the solar energy market using low-cost, thin, lightweight, flexible solar PV that is non-toxic, and uses earth- abundant materials. We envision creating new markets where solar PV isn’t being used like electrical vehicles, trucks, ships and trains. I am also a musician, and an avid outdoor person. My favorite place is the coastal redwoods. Coastal redwoods forests are one of the most effective carbon sinks on the planet.
What is a fun fact about you?
After college I biked through Europe. I loved how bike friendly Europe was. Biking is a really good way to see a new place since you can easily stop in these out to the way places that you would never of seen if you drove in a car or took a train.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
We are all on the same planet. Our health and economies are dependent on it. We can see how much in recent years fires, and extreme weather events have not only affected our daily lives but have cost us billions of dollars in damage. Climate change has caused uncertainty for businesse’s which creates huge cost. Climate disruption will lead to places on earth that are no longer livable or farmable, which means human migration and, food scarcity, which creates a whole new national security problem. We could invest millions in new clean technology, or spend billions in damages on each new climate disaster. The 2021 Texas Freeze cost $52B in extra electrical costs, and countless more in damages. The 2020 California wildfires cost $12B. Iimagine what we could do if we had spent these billions of dollars on renewable energy research, instead? When I was growing up in the 80’s I don’t remember any major fires in the Sierras. Now you can’t seem to go to any park in the West that isn’t threatened by fire or overcome with smoke. The forrest was our last refuge from the pandemic and those are no longer safe.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
I see renewable energy become a greater percentage of our electric use. Electric vehicles will become ubiquitous driving more demand for electricity and lower fossil fuel consumption for transport. There has been consistent growth in this field 67% growth in 2019 for electric cars and 25% for electric buses. Solar PV will be wrapped on more vehicles extending their range and providing guaranteed renewable energy. This will enable people without charging at home like those living in apartments to be able to go longer without having to find a charging station, making electric vehicles more practical for a greater percentage of the population.
I think an exciting possibility is using the large storage capacity of electric cars to provide both emergency backup but also provide power during peak demand. I also see the concept of more decentralized production with solar production closer to the source of demand enabling solar to be better paired with the new electric car storage capacity. This is where I think our technology is uniquely capable of leveraging this large storage capacity since this can occur without being tied to the grid.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
This is a societal issue. Besides doing you individual part to reduce your CO2 usage, government and society needs to act to support development of new technologies that can globally change how we generate and consume energy. That means voting for those lawmakers willing to make a difference. Also, there are companies out there working on new exciting technologies that can create new economies and make a positive change. They need support in the way of investments to fund the R&D.
Phil, thank you for sharing your vision to develop renewable energy that is commercially competitive with fossil fuels.
To invest in PI Energy, visit their StartEngine campaign HERE.