In the last 24 months, as oil prices passed $80 a barrel and electrical costs leaped 10 to 13 percent, interest in alternative fuels and renewable energy has moved front and center. Although consumer demand is a necessary ingredient for bringing a new technology into the public domain, it is not enough. There have to be companies ready to meet the demand.
One is WorldWater and Solar Technologies, founded by Quentin Kelly, who put together a team years ago to develop solar energy technology. His company is now ready to ship product when businesses, governments, and private citizens start asking for it.
As the current demand, driven by rising heating and electrical costs, has moved solar from a “boutique” business to a serious player in the energy market, WorldWater has been growing so quickly that its new 30,000-square-foot quarters in Ewing, where it moved at the end of September, will have no excess capacity. It was formerly located in 12,000-square-feet at 55 Route 1 South in Pennington and in scattered offices nearby.
WorldWater’s executive, office, and scientific staff, which has expanded from 25 to 80 over the last two years, will share the new world headquarters with scientists from Entech, a company Worldwater is acquiring, and EMCORE Solar, a company that owns 25 percent of Worldwater’s shares. Because the new building will be bursting at the seams, the company has already spoken to the landlord about taking additional space in other buildings in the business park.
WorldWater’s conception can be traced to 1984, when Kelly, who then owned a consulting company that advised governments on water projects, was in Africa consulting with the president of Sudan. With him were engineers from Princeton University and elsewhere. At one point, as he stood with the president in Khartoum, the capital, they looked out upon thousands of people, who, he was told, were dying for lack of drinkable water and of water to irrigate their fields.
“We saw all these people dying,” says Kelly. “It had such an impact on me.” He knew that there was water beneath the ground on which they were standing. It was just 30 feet down. “The water was perfectly drinkable, but they couldn’t get to it.”
When he returned, Kelly turned to the university and asked, “Who are your smartest guys to work with me on an idea I have — to take solar energy and try to develop a system that would be more effective and efficient? He supported himself with his consulting business, but worked with this research team — five of whom had been part of the team that designed and implemented rocket engine research for the NASA space shuttle — on weekends and week nights between 1984 and 1997. During that time they created a five-horsepower solar water-pumping system.
The company’s first customer came through one of the members of the its board of directors, a former dean of West Chester University in Philadelphia who had fought in World War II with General McArthur. Since that time he had established good relations with the Phillipine government, and he brought President Ramos to see WorldWater’s system in Hopewell. Impressed, Ramos told them: “‘If you can make this bigger, send it over and let me see it.’”
Kelly invested his own money, took a huge risk, and created a system to pump water for rice paddies in a northern province. Six months later he got a call to come to the palace. Ramos, whose engineers reported the system was working beautifully, flew up with Kelly to the rice fields. The visit was covered in the “Manila Bulletin,” and Ramos tore out the story with dramatic flair and wrote on it the company’s first order, for 25 units, at a price of $450,000. That piece of paper, of course, is framed in Kelly’s office.
In 2002 there was another big breakthrough that enabled WorldWater’s system to produce enough power to drive motors and pumps from sunshine, independently or in conjunction with the electrical grid. Whereas competitors can still only operate machinery requiring five to seven horsepower, WorldWater’s technology can operate 500 or 1,000 horsepower motors and pumps. With this multiplier of 100 over its competitors, the company has “a good hold on the power provision sector of solar,” according to Kelly.
“Everyone in solar can net meter,” says Kelly, explaining that this means gathering electricity from the sun through solar panels and sending that electricity back to the electrical grid, where it is stored for later use or credited to an electric bill. However, he continues, “no other solar company can do what we do in driving motors and pumps.”
The world’s electrical usage is divided just about in half, with 50 percent driving motors and pumps and about 50 percent providing lighting. “We are the only company that can run an entire building by creating electricity for lights and driving motors and pumps,” says Kelly.
Two more changes have made WorldWater ripe to take advantage of what Kelly calls “a sea change of interest in the political and economic world about alternative and renewable energy, particularly solar.” Worldwater has developed a strategic alliance with EMCORE solar and is in the process of acquiring Entech (www.entechsolar.com), both of which are expanding WorldWater’s technological prowess.
From Entech, headquartered in Keller, Texas, Worldwater has acquired the concentrator technology and optics that Entech has been supplying to NASA for space probes and space programs.
“We are going to bring their space activities down to earth,” says Kelly, noting that this technology, which produces 20 times more power than the standard, traditional cell in solar panels, will enable Worldwater to develop massive solar farms. The technology is already in production, and all that is necessary to complete the acquisition is to call a shareholder meeting to authorize shares to pay cash to Entech’s owners. Kelly says a meeting will probably occur later in the fall.
Another company, EMCORE Solar (www.emcore.com), a manufacturer of semiconductor-based products for satellites, solar power, and communications with headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, invested heavily in WorldWater in 2006 and now owns 25 percent of its shares. WorldWater has a strategic alliance with EMCORE, which is its exclusive supplier of multifunction solar cells, assemblies, and other components, a contract that was valued at up to $100 million over three years.
EMCORE is working on a concentrator that will produce 500 to 1,000 times more power than the standard solar cell and, says Kelly, “is going to be the future of power.”
“We will use the EMCORE solar cell with the Entech high-tech optical lenses, and our control devices developed at Worldwater,” says Kelly, “and we will be able to provide all the power for towns of maybe 15,000 people.” WorldWater has had six patents granted and has five more pending.
At the new building research staff from all three companies will be working side by side on research and development.
Following hard on the technological advances was a name change, which occurred in May.
“Because the name had been Worldwater and Power Corporation,” explains Kelly, “people didn’t understand we were in the solar business.” Pressure from Wall Street prompted the name change, and Kelly says it has made a huge difference, particularly in attracting investors. One of Worldwater’s heaviest investors, who had been a successful money manager, decided to start buying individual stocks in the water sector, figuring that water would grow in importance over the next several years. Then he decided to expand into solar energy, and says Kelly, “he then found a company that does both — WorldWater.”
With boosts from the new name, recognition of the power of new technologies, and a receptive public, WorldWater’s business has surged. It has a letter of intent from a Spanish group, for example, to produce 130 megawatts of solar over the next five years. Worldwater will supply 10 megawatts each year from 2008 through 2010 and then 50 megawatts in 2011 and in 2012. This represents a giant step forward, because until this year the company has only been doing one-megawatt installations. Says Kelly: “It took too much physical space to generate sufficient electricity, and one megawatt was tops.”
Despite its increasing interest in pure solar energy projects, WorldWater continues to employ its technology for driving the motors and pumps of water utilities. It has a big contract in California for operating the pumps of a big water utility, and it has completed a water utility program in Idlewild, California, creating “the only self-sustaining water district in the world.”
The advantage of solar energy to these utilities, says Kelly, is that it is an alternative that supplies the same amount of power as other sources, but with “totally clean air.” When companies use traditional electric power sources, they have to switch to diesel generator pumps every time that there is a power disruption, and the diesel pumps are out of compliance with new air standards.
That leaves 65,000 pumps out of compliance California. The state averages a total of three to six days each year of interrupted power, and companies are subject to major fines if they use the diesel pumps. WorldWater’s patented technology senses any interruption and provides clean power for the equipment. And as for the potential for blackouts on the East Coast, Kelly observes: “We are like a big insurance policy against that happening.”
WorldWater has also gone into the poultry business, because its needs mesh well with the solar controls that WorldWater can provide — to closely control warmth and to run little water pumps, for example. “We are looking at a slew in Delaware and Maryland,” says Kelly.
WorldWater is also waiting for New Jersey to release the rebates for residential, industrial, and commercial projects that have been clogged for at least a year in the Board of Public Utilities pipeline. These rebates are funded by a small societal benefit tax on utility bills. With the increased popularity of solar — the desired outcome of the state rebate program — the money ran out. “We are going to put a lot of people to work when that money is released,” says Kelly, predicting millions of dollars of business.
For the present, things are really rocking for WorldWater. Kelly predicts a staff of 150 in the not too distant future. “Over the last 18 to 24 months,” says Kelly, “Wall Street has fallen in love with the solar business. I’ve never been in this position, where every week two to three different investment banks calls to ask, ‘Can we give you some money?’”
Looking ahead, Kelly says, “What I see for the next four years is a ramp that goes up at a very steep incline for our business.” When questioned about potential obstacles, he did admit that success brings competition. But even if the big companies step in, he says that they might slow down WorldWater, but not bring it to a grinding halt.
In the meantime, says Kelly, “all of us in the business are pleased to know we’re changing the electric power structure of America, and we’re filling a very important role in the future of this planet.”
— Michele Alperin
WorldWater & Solar Technologies Corp (WWAT.OB), 55 Route 31 South, Pennington Business Park, Building B-1, Pennington 08534; 609-818-0700; fax, 609-818-0720. Quentin T. Kelly, CEO. Home page: www.worldwater.com.