Featured Engineer

Interview with Alan Gotcher

Alan Gotcher

Alan Gotcher - CEO of Xtreme Power

How did you get into the electrical engineering field?

I came out of the University of California system—I was at the Irvine campus—with a PhD in Chemistry and I went to work for a material science company called Raychem. I spent ten years there and became the Chief Technical Officer at Avery Dennison, which is a company based out of Pasadena, California, where I spent fifteen years. After that, I went and started my own venture capital firm. One of the firms we invested in was a nanomaterials company, which led me into energy storage and product development in the energy space. I came to Xtreme Power last year and became their Chief Technical Officer; in January of this year, I was promoted to the position of President and CEO.

Tell us a little bit about Xtreme Power. What kind of products do you sell and what markets are you targeting?

Xtreme Power was founded back in 2004, so it’s a young, rapidly growing, venture capital-backed firm that has doubled its sales in the last two years. In terms of products, our largest product family is the Dynamic Power Resource®. This product is an integrated power management and energy storage system that provides solutions to a variety of market segments including renewable integration (wind power and solar power) onto the grid. The Dynamic Power Resource provides firming, smoothing and ramp rate control. This removes the variability you get from wind when it pulses and from sun when it’s cloudy. We also provide products that are integrated onto micro-grids. These are typically in areas where the grid is really small, like on an island. What we do there is offer a variety of services to strengthen the grid on that island—whether it is providing power or for instance if they have a transformer go out, we’ll quickly respond with however much power that transformer was providing to the grid as well as provide power quality management. This is a four-quadrant product, which provides the ability to push real and reactive power to the grid, and—if need be—pull it from the grid. Our system sizes vary; our smallest is one megawatt, and the largest product we are fielding right now, which is for Duke Energy, is 36 megawatts.

What other types of uses are there for the Dynamic Power Resource?

As I said before, the Dynamic Power Resource is an integrated solution consisting of power electronics, and an energy storage device we manufacture called PowerCells™, and power management software that we have developed internally. We combine the power electronics, which control the power and quality of that power with the energy storage device; that’s where the electrons go for the duration of when you’re pushing or storing this energy. We integrate those components with our software, which allows us to do real-time control. We have six sites that are fielded—five of them we monitor continuously and every few seconds, we grab data from the site and store it both locally and here in our Texas database. This allows us to control that site remotely and make sure that our customer is getting exactly the service that we’ve offered them. What’s unique about our real-time control is that we can provide power quality management and voltage regulation several times a day.

How big are your plants typically?

Our plants are remarkably small and compact. A plant that runs in the size of 10 to 35 megawatts would typically be 20,000 to maybe 50,000 square feet, which is around half an acre to just over an acre.

What kind of technology do you use for your storage mechanisms?

The PowerCell is an advanced lead-acid battery. We picked that intentionally because advanced lead-acid allows you to extract thousands of amps of current very rapidly and allows you to swing up to 30 megawatts of power and push it to the grid. Or, in 30 milliseconds (0.03 seconds), we can go from full-power out to full-power storage. We really like that storage device and over the next year, you’ll see us introduce additional storage technologies.

What are some the advantages of using this type of system?

For example, if you look at data-center services, you are worried about losing your connection to the grid and experiencing the occasional flutter where the voltage or frequency varies a bit, which isn’t good for servers. Most of the time, data-centers will have a large group of diesel-powered generators to detect when there’s a change in power going into the data-center and power the grid until regular power is restored. Our system can work hand-in-hand with the diesel-power generator; instead of 30, 40 or 50 of these generators, we can reduce them by at least 50%. This reduces the fuel load to these data-centers and substantially reduces the CO2 emissions caused by diesel-fired electric generators. We are a nice complement to these uninterruptable power supply (UPS) systems, and our technology gives these customers more reliability and allows them to use two different types of technologies to keep these data-centers running.

How would you describe the culture at Xtreme Power?

Today, we are located at four sites—two sites in Texas, a manufacturing facility in Oklahoma, and a recently opened office in Beijing, China. I would say the culture at all of our locations is fast-paced with highly skilled employees that are smart and hard-working and, most importantly, I think we are all having a lot of fun. There is a feeling that we may be able to positively impact the power industry in a number of different nations and islands, so it’s a very exciting time.

What are some of the things you look for in hiring engineers?

We hire a lot of engineers, but we also hire a lot of people that are experienced in manufacturing, business development, marketing and sales. The types of employees we are looking for are intelligent people who can speak their mind clearly, and people who are very straightforward with a lot of energy. We also value diversity, and with that comes the ability to express different points of views on data and to be issue-focused, so that the decisions we make as a team are well-grounded and well-articulated.

What kinds of patents do you and your company have?

At Xtreme Power we are always looking for new, innovative solutions. Our engineers and even our business development people are coming up with ideasthat are unique and create value for our customers. We then look at our IP and decide whether we should patent it or not. Our IP is generally focused on our software and integration, so it allows us to have these fast-responding multi-services that we can layer onto our products to solve customers’ problems.

What direction do you see your company headed in the next 5-10 years?

We’re a pretty small company right now, but we are rapidly growing. Part of our growth strategy is to expand geographically; we see terrific opportunity in Asia—in particular, China and India. The other part of our strategy is to develop products that will target needs in the marketplace that are not very well-satisfied by other solutions. One area that is in our sight is what’s called a digital peaker. Today, when you have a peak load coming off the grid, operators who generate electricity will turn on peaking power plants, which are typically based on natural gas. These plants are large, ranging from 50 megawatts to several hundred megawatts, and they come on for a short period of time, for a few days a year. We see this as an opportunity to bring in our Dynamic Power Resource and size it around 25 to 50 megawatts. So, rather than having one large plant in one spot, what we could do is have multiple plants that are small, quiet and compact with zero emissions in areas that are typically more difficult to develop. We see this as a potentially large market opportunity for Xtreme Power.

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