SatCon Technology: The Wall Street Analyst Forum Presentation Transcript

| About: SatCon Technology (SATCQ)

SatCon Technology (SATC)

The Wall Street Analyst Forum

August 15, 2007 11:10 am ET


Leo Casey - CTO and Chief Engineer



Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to introduce the next company in this morning's Alternative Energy and Clean Technology Conference. SatCon Technology has presented with us once or twice in the past, twice in the past actually, once about a year and a half ago, and about a year and a half before that. SatCon Technology Corporation is a developer and manufacturer of power management and system architecture solutions for the alternative energy and distributed power markets.

We have with us today, Leo Casey, who is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Engineer of the company, so you will meet with the guy who runs the company from the trenches point of view. So, without any further introduction, I'd like to introduce Leo Casey.

Leo Casey

SatCon has been around renewables since the early 80's. Several wise people have made the observation that nobody made a dollar in renewables in the US, until GE bought Enron Wind, around 2000. People like AstroPower who were the pioneers of PV went bankrupt. People either got recapitalized or they went under.

So from EV phase, through to the fuel cell phase, till today with large grid-connected PV. We've always positioned ourselves to be the guys, supplying the inverter. We have still got 200 cars on the road in California, electric cars. We had a lot of business, initiatives that cycled by changes in regulation. Fuels cells gained an incredible amount of hype. United Technology has a nice fuel cell that sells 50 times at an existing power plant. The only fuel cell company today, even close to making a dollar is FuelCell Energy and we make their inverters.

We've been around this forever. Today, things look different, and it looks different a little bit based on subsidies in the US. But there are some interesting business models coming in, with people like SunEdison, and the $5 watt installed that could become $250 a watt installed without a subsidy in the next five years. And so, PV would be economically viable, as a great technology.

And then, fuel cells are coming along. Behind it, small wind, big wind is transitioning away from induction generators. Got loads of reasons that an inverter company could sort of look at what's going on today, and eventually I'm going to get to our backlog and our sales have just exploded in the last year and half, two years.

So you are going to read the Safe Harbor statement. But we reported our second quarter financials last Thursday. And really, the high point of the numbers that I will give you towards the end, are going to come out of that. And what that amounts to is that we did $11.7 million in revenue for the quarter. We're going to blow that away the next two quarters, we'll do 50 for the year, we're not profitable, but it's moving in the right direction.


The Wall Street Analyst Forum, a leading conference host for public corporations to address analysts/portfolio managers and professional investors, sponsors four annual conferences in NYC for large, mid and small-cap companies. Seeking Alpha readers may attend Wall Street Analyst Forum conferences free of charge if you pre-register. See the full conference schedule and attendance information.

Read all Wall Street Analyst Forum conference presentation transcripts here.

To learn more about sponsoring investor conference presentation transcripts see here.

Today, you could say that we work in alternative energy and hybrid vehicles and industrial power. But really they are just hybrid power systems of one sort or another. In the past, a lot of references talked about how a fuel cell needs a battery. Well, a fuel cell needs a battery because you can't unload a fuel cell, and you've got to run it at a fixed point. So, if you try to unload it, it overheats, it cracks, it fails.

So fuel cells are sort of useless as power generators, unless you put them in parallel with something like a battery. The grid is the biggest battery of them all, so fuel cells can be on the grid, because you're using the grid to soak the energy up.

SatCon came out of Draper in 1985 and it was a bunch of mechanical engineers doing magnetic bearings. Today, that original technology is called Beacon Power. It's stationary flywheel energy storage, composite wheels. And Beacon is attacking large scale grid storage for frequency regulation and in particular, it's the juiciest part of the whole grid power generation business. If you have got something like a hydro plant that can come on and off quickly and give frequency regulation, you can make a lot of money.

I know that some of the big battery guys, like [Elgar] are looking at places like that too. It's a big opportunity for the battery and flywheel.

Today, we have to glue with the inverter. We put stuff on and off and we also do a lot of sponsored research for the government. Always trying to make things smaller, lighter, last longer, and so, there is an incredible trend in the American Military towards more electric, all electric, towards tactical grids. A power generator sitting in AWACS runs at less than 20% capacity, because if you step-loaded it goes and it kicks out. So there is a big move there and we are ideally positioned. We do a lot of work with Advanced Devices as well.

It seems that the grid's un-peered; it's not that the grid's un-peered. No one spent any money really on infrastructure since deregulation. People are going to look back at this era and make parallels between deregulating the telecom market and deregulating the electricity market. Ma Bell was allowed to make 10% profit on their asset value. So they have the best assets. As soon as there was an open competition, there was really no justification for anybody to spend a lot of money on things, could be based on reliability, but at least not until the second generation.

So, the grid is the same way. People haven't been spending money on the grids. Everything in the grid is sized to operate at 15% to 20% excess capacity. If it isn't, on one of these hot summer days, you get some sort of event, the transformer blows up, the whole thing goes unstable. The last time it happened on a large-scale, it was a vegetation in Pennsylvania wherein the entire northeast went out, for the better part of a week and in Toronto for three weeks.

So, distribution is great, because it relieves the feeders. Renewable is even better since we are well past the peak of discovery of oil. We may well be past the peak in terms of having used at least half of what's in the ground, that's somewhat controversial. Now, why would oil be the only resource that we were going to suddenly run out of at this point in the industrial age? Go and look at how much lithium is around? We can't replace lead acids for lithium. We can go for high end stuff, but it is not that much lithium. Sodium, the ocean is full of sodium, it's a great alternative.

We all see renewables, rugged distributed renewables, such that you could micro grid. And it's really all about the population and resource depletion and health concerns with respect to the various greenhouse gases. Then fundamentally, we don't like who's got the oil, we don't like where it is. There are all of these geopolitical strategic reason that it would be much better to harness our own energy here.

It's not in this presentation, but people always love to say, a 100 kilometers by 100 kilometers in Arizona could supply the world's energy needs, using PV. And PV has an average efficiency of about 15%.

It’s not that this technology is a toy. The problem is the sun shining in the middle of the day. A healthy usage is actually at 4:30 in the afternoon. You need somewhat of an energy shift and, time shift to back to the batteries. And you know, what are you going to do at night? Hybrid systems. In Denmark now we have 30% installed capacity of wind. We've got the Germans and the Spaniards going up to 15% PV. But they have got to be part of a bigger system. There needs to be storage in the system. And it is likely that there is not going to be a cost effective or reliable electric chemical form anytime soon, which means there has got to be pump, hydro or something like that.

The argument is, if you do everything, if it's distributed and it's renewable and it’s all the different resources, the US could become substantially energy efficient or energy self-sustaining in the next 20 to 30 years. And that's clearly going to be driven by government. States like New Jersey and California with a really strong rebate program, sitting behind the rebate program, is a 20% by 20-20 type of target, right? Whether they are trying to move the whole electricity sector and are prepared to find the utilities that don't come to the party. That's a big part of the European model. If you don't play ball in Europe, you pay a fine and the guys who have met the targets, they get to split the money. So that's why the whole Forward exchange in London, of renewables is doing so well. Forward Energy is selling today for 4 or 5 times real time energy.

So for us, guys making the glue, the electronics. To be completely honest, three to four years ago, there was almost no large utility scale PV in this country and it wasn't much in Europe. But it really was a bunch of 10 kilowatt residential, [alternators] pushing it, the utility side of it. It's completely changed. Today, the utilities are putting in megawatt plants. The utilities are seeing the value of it. The utilities actually have got a lot more resistance towards wind, because they look at wind as completely flaky. One gasp comes and goes and the whole bondable power system is unstable.

But they started talking about what these large PV systems should look like. And it's fundamentally not rotating synchronous machines, they can be something much more advanced than a synchronous machine. It's a high-bandwidth amplifier connected to the grid. In fact, they can stabilize grid instabilities.

But in the short of it, there is tons of money pouring into this field, and we are like a wounded elephant or something, we’re a company that's been around forever. But we finally – well, I would say this is the third chance in our careers to do really well, and the other two times, the changes of laws or regulations took it away from us.

Biofuels is really where the action is clearly, particularly on the R&D side, where people can really get the cellulostic ethanol type of idea to go.

Wind is just cheap. It's really cheap to install. So it doesn't matter if it's a little bit flaky and it comes and it goes. You can actually put a wind turbine up in Europe for about $1 a watt installed. And it's cheaper than a hydro plant and a nuke plant by a factor of two or three. So that is part of what's driving it, and I love to point this out. Denmark is the most conservative, the only really right wind government in Europe. So please, these are not of bunch of real green guys, this just makes good business sense. Put these turbines out, make cheap electricity and force the Germans to buy it, which is what they're doing.

But Solar is really on the column. The entire capacity of United States, module capacity about three years ago was about 50 megawatts a year, almost all of that was being sold into Europe. You've got these new startups in California, Miasolé and Nanosolar; each putting in 100 megawatt lines. So, the availability in the US, Evergreen has now come back from Europe and is now building a factory in Massachusetts, by far the largest factory and they are building it on their own.

More than one person has sort of pointed out that, installed PV with $10 a watt, as long as the Californians say, they would give you half or $5, whichever was less. And as soon as they started moving their subsidy down, the module costs came down. So we are not really sure, where today's cost is. It's somewhere below $5 a watt installed for an industrial system, somewhere below $6 a watt for residential system, and that's going to come down.

We're just sitting here making grid-connected inverters, mainly for fuel cells and batteries. We are doing some big battery systems, the big flow battery systems that are out at Snake Canyon in Utah, the DoE likes to show-off. We did the controls and the electronics. With all these two branches have grown up and there is no way to get power in there and nobody wants to put a new feeder through a national park. So they store energy at night and they power the valley in the day. And we were actually approached by them, Energy Conversion Devices, Uni-Solar and they asked us to develop a new inverter for them. And it had to be a single-box solution, because what they were buying was a three-box solution. It had to be a little more efficient and so we got a jump start on the industrial inverter, by coming up with a very clean design, about four years back.

Everyone else has been chasing us and they are probably right at our level at this point. And if you look at their inverters, they look very similar to ours. But it got us a good lead and we have got the leading position today. Xantrex, is number two and SMA is number three, for anything above 30 kilowatts, any industrial size inverter.

The growth rate is phenomenal. We can't keep up with it today, that's one of our biggest challenges. And if we get a chance, I can tell you some of what we have been doing to reorganize ourselves to get into more space and how PV business has been doubling every seven to eight months, I would say, over the last four years.

The inverter is really not the bigger piece of the whole solar food chain. It's typically 7% to 10%, and yet everybody gets beat on to, to get their costs down. The DoE, for years have singled inverters and balanced the system out. But that could be a whole lot cheaper and you sort of scratch your head and wonder why the focus is there.

But in power electronics, I can sell you something that's sort of very high end, a couple of conversion stages, quite efficient, and I will probably want $0.40 or $0.50 a watt, something that's very high end. And if I tell you something that's really low end, cheap and dirty, it's going to be something like $0.15 to $0.20 a watt. And the whole range of products that are out there from Telecom, DC to DC, through inverters to cars, fit in that range.

It's a lot of work, but we have been trying to, not just trying to, the industry sort of sets the pricing and there is a trend towards the inverter supplier being the supplier of all of the electrical hardware. So he supplies the contactors, he supplies the wires. In essence he engineers the project. And that's the way to get more margins. The guy that sells the monitoring software today is probably making more. His margin is by far better, but his total cash return on the project is probably higher than ours. All of those things become important when you want to sell your own monitoring software. Remote management of a 1 megawatt PV system in Arizona or California, it's clearly important that you know the range of temperatures. You know if one module or array looks different than another and you know that there's some deviation from the normal within the inverter itself that would make you shut down and get out there to maintain it.

We had the clean solution, the high sufficiency, and all those things that have jumped out to the lead. But we weren't really keeping anyone from chasing us. And so today, Xantrex and SMA and ourselves, are enjoying the market shares we have had for the last year or so. And there are some other smaller companies coming along.

Like anything in life, you buy the product you want it to last forever. Well, electronics can probably last for 30 years. But the biggest danger, when I say that, is plastics, plastic packaging whatever. A roof manufacturer will give you a 20 year warranty on a roof, but the plasticizer does disappear. The stuff becomes brittle and all of that happens inside power electronics, and so (inaudible). But we have gone from 5 year warranties to 10 year warranties and they are going to go to 15. The whole thing is being driven in the direction of the building industry, where it needs to have the reliability of the building products.

That really forces us into advanced packaging ideas. The way large IGBT Modules made for an automotive application is not necessarily the right way, if it has got to operate for an extremely long time. We are doing all of the PV inverter work today up in Canada, we're leveraging a facility that's got a lot of experience with very large fuel cells, we've got 3 megawatt fuel cell unit that we sell, that's for fuel for energy. A lot of industrial choppers, so it's basically electrolysis, very large chloralkali lines to Dow Chemical, people like that.

And here is sort of a range today, although we've come out recently with the 1 megawatt PV product. If you would look inside you would see quite a bit of uniformity in the way they are put together. And from 2004 till today we have shipped 50 megawatts of these PV inverters. And that segment of the market is growing much faster than the residential segment. And that's because, there are these financial models out there where people will go to someone like General Motors and say we'll put a PV system on your roof and we'll sell you the electricity. And then they take all the rebates and the tax advantages, and so they run it as a power provider, and that's the Sun Edison model and there are a few others like that. But it's -- with a reasonable level of subsidy, it's cost effective.

Essentially the same electronics is used in a fuel cell inverter or a wind inverter. It looks like the high-end of the fuel cell business is finally going to take off, after all that hype of the plug towers, and the barriers and we are one of many companies that sort of gave-away technology to those guys gearing up to build the big order that never came. But, fuel cell energy has been selling probably 10 megawatts worth of fuel cells a year. The DoE, it’s all part of the clean coal initiative. This is one of the ways to run a coal gas location plant is then to put it through a huge filter.

So there is a couple of competing teams Rolls-Royce, Siemens Westinghouse and FuelCell Energy, and there is an awful lot of money behind this. So it looks like it's really going to start to take off in the next year.

And of course this selling into Japan and other places, there is a little more concern. The big market for PV, I mean, the US market has been exploding, this is the only place we have been selling and yet we are just a small part.

I think there are six European countries that rank ahead of us in terms of the yearly market. And one market that is, it's sort of following Germany and Italy the next big market in Europe appears to be Spain. And so we have formed a partnership with former Westinghouse people in Spain, and it links back to some of our customers, here in the States, so they are moving in that direction, but they are big programs, big funds.

Sun Edison is the power purchase sort of model and the key of that power purchase model is you need a good rebate in that state but you also need a net metering situation where it doesn't matter how much power you sell back to the grid you can get retail rates for the General Motors in, Compton, California have a one megawatt PV system on the roof and because of net metering it's worth $0.24 a kilowatt hour for them. So, it's clearly almost impossible if you are trying to sell $0.01 or $0.02 or $0.03 per kilowatt hour electricity with such expensive technology today. I think $0.24 is doing extremely well, it's probably with $6 - $5 a watt installed, it's probably cost competitive around $0.10 to one.

But, for instance, in Massachusetts net metering is 10 kilowatts, so I can't sell beyond that. If I put a PV system; I really got to give them the extra energy or use it. Uni-Solar really put us in the business in this particular area, but on their battery inverters, and we put together a very clean system for them.

Okay, our backlog today is $50 million and back in the deep recesses of my past, back in the fuel cell heyday, I think we once did a $12 million quarter and that's right, but we just essentially managed that this last quarter. We have never had this sort of backlog; this is twice the backlog of sort of the historical and it's relatively short-term. When PV inverter orders come in or when PV projects get to the point where they are placing the order they want 12-week turnaround or 16-week turnaround.

So, the revenue on the left is the quarterly revenue and the revenue in the backlog is shown on the right although it actually is in excess of $50 million today. This chart is a couple of weeks older. So you can see it's radically different from anything we have had, it's orders that can be turned quickly, it's not a big project to take years. And we did $20 million in the first half. We are comfortable that we going to do at least 30 in the second half, so we are going to get to $50 million for the year. And a lot of that is just scaling up to build at this higher level.

So that forecast we are quite comfortable with it will make 50 for the year. And this is just to show you that it's really all in Canada, half the backlog is in Canada. And that's the part of the backlog that's actually all deliverable in a much shorter time frame and, when I say Canada that's the PV inverter line.

So as a company, we are still organized around doing R&D for the government. It's sort of a quarter of our business. We do a lot of space electronics and that's another quarter of our business, but the grid-connected renewables that we had done, one of this and one of that and a transfer switch over here, and a micro grid there, and a fuel cell system there and a battery system over there. It's no longer project-driven, it's absolutely product-driven and really we have just got to stay up with the leaders.

We have got to keep reinventing the product to have the best efficiencies, and best densities, and best liabilities, and best cost. And I think it's a plenty big business and there are plenty of big markets and so, we are a sort of a high-tech moody bunch of guys that are left in IT and we do a lot of things for which people kick themselves later and wonder why it never saw the light of day. But, in this particular case, we seem to be in the right place at the right time.

And there is no reason to think that small-scale wind, you can imagine vertical-access wind harnessed or even medium-scale wind and then getting into large wind, the future of large wind generators is going to be permanent magnet generators, so they are going to need inverters again.

And so, today the players are ourselves and Xantrex really, and then some other foreign people coming in and they are still looking. There will always be the large American industrial electronic giants who usually, as I commented about the sudden foray into the wind business in 2000. They want to make sure that it's absolutely clearly profitable before they're going to come. And you could see that if you looked at what happened in the last two years with GE, they sold their aerospace business. And then they realized that they made this huge blunder because of the electric aircraft. So they went out and bought Smiths Aerospace to get back in. And -- so, I always put my tongue in my cheek when I hear Ecomagination and things like that. It's just good solid business sense of those guys, which is good. Right? How long would that take?

Question-and-Answer Session

Unidentified Audience Member

(Question Inaudible).

Leo Casey

Well to be completely honest Xantrex is not small, for it makes [Red Baron] that's a lot of money. They went public, they raised a couple of hundred million and they kept it in the bank for a few years, they didn't need it. They did make a profit. Alright, I mean they make like $10,000 profit on a $150 million in sales.

So, I sort of look at them as prepared to win the business what ever it takes. But there is some really deep pockets there, that's a bunch of funds out of Europe that rolled up all the small inverter companies in the United States; Statpower, Trace, Xantrex itself. Maybe it was ten companies rolled up, and with the Baron it is a [rush sort of a business out there], and they did it. Having said that, they maybe got a little distracted last year they went and bought a test and measurement company, called Elgar. They took all their money for this private firm and subsequently their salesmen are all looking for jobs, but the product is good.

The key engineers, they are either from Trace or from the American Power Conversion, people we know. I think the market is big enough for both of us particularly right now. And I think we are much stronger in the systems end, in the power systems end, the idea of what could an inverter be, what would an advanced inverter be, the DoE have set up a task force, we are chairing it. So, we have to maintain our space there. Now, everybody sort of leap frogs a little bit, I think someone comes out with a new generation they have got a half a point better efficiency, the rebates are paid in how much energy you can deliver to the grid, so that half a point is quite important and it affects the entire project.

It's not about IT, it's reasonably how to pull electrons on and off the grid, it is more of a controls problem than the power kind of stuff. So, it's not like you can put these barriers up behind you, they are going to fall out, right. I think you have to keep them at bay. And so, for me, today, the big thing is the hope for reliability. It's essential the self aware inverter that knows that it's had some temperature extremes and therefore it's on borrowed time. And I have been working on some programs funded by the Air Force that they call prognostics. But they want to know with these all electric aircrafts, when they go to take off with more electric aircraft, joint strike [model], that they are going to get back, alright.

They don't care if the unit doesn't necessarily last that long, they need to know it's going to get back, but they need all the thorough mechanisms sort of monitored and linked to the drivers, like temperature vibration and temperature side lines. So, I think there is quite a bit there for anyone that follows a set of wide band gaps, silicon carbide, gallium nitride. The military uses technology readiness levels, those technologies are getting to a level seven or level eight. Yeah, it's close. If you talk to a really old engineer they'll say fuel cells have been coming since my granddad's day, which is true.

Fuel Cell was demonstrated in the 1880’s and I got my age right. I have been hearing about wide band gaps since the '70s… It's fraught with difficulty because these things, if they want to operate with such a wide band gap, it almost necessarily means that the melting points are extremely high, all the activation energies are extremely high, they are tough materials to work with, and so there is this slag of silicon carbide in Cree. The government giving Cree all the money and Cree somehow locking into the wide LED and the Santa Barbara is really trying to get the material's straight, but it's getting awfully close. The Navy says that they are going to take to sea this 10 kilowatt transformer, high frequency transformer. They are taking a big transformer on a carrier and they front it down kind of fusing…

Unidentified Audience Member

(Question Inaudible)

Leo Casey

In truth, I was a really idealistic teenager and I was going to dam the pivots and save New Zealand from the evils of farm oil. But, if I say that grid parity is $2 a watt, it is all these guys that are PV designers and installers that want to argue with me that I'm not taking into account, granddad sent the steamer and I mean, they just want to bring everything into the evils of the power generation industry. If we say that it was like 2 to 2.50 of watt installed, right, then clearly the inverter needs to do it's part which is to go from $0.10 to $0.05 and it can do it.

I would love to turn that around a little bit and say, if we could convince people there was more value in this PV inverter, where they have more capability to stabilize loads, phase balance, fuel harmonics, then everybody should kind of a bit hold the flak on where we're headed. Is it really 2, is it 2.50, is it 3?

Inverters are not the challenge there, alright. In Nova, so I am going to be careful, it's really important for everyone to realize semiconductors are not the problem in power electronics; semi costs 3% or 4% of the unit. All the cost is in the copper and the iron, it's the magnetics; right, it’s the isolation devices. Those things cost -- that the box with the super consistence takes up half the cost of the system type of thing, right.

So, there is tremendous room there to bid on the non-electrical parts of that, with composites, with making things overseas. For me, the real thing is getting the module cost down and my big hope is, Sun Power just went out and signed the 3 gigawatt silicon deal, right, guarantying supply. When people were starting to talk about those numbers, I asked the President of Evergreen, recently I was trying to give him a hard time, why didn't you guys never made any money? You are supposed to use a fraction of the silicon as everybody else, you go to Germany; you build two factories and you are hemorrhaging right? He seemed pretty confident that the future is really bright for all those guys in terms of getting the costs down. The module costs must get down to $2 a watt really.

In advance, the inverter road map, I could just about mail you one because I've built one already for the DoE's next felicitation. But a tad of that is going to be on cost reliability and quite a bit of it on sort of advanced features.


The Wall Street Analyst Forum, a leading conference host for public corporations to address analysts/portfolio managers and professional investors, sponsors four annual conferences in NYC for large, mid and small-cap companies. Seeking Alpha readers may attend Wall Street Analyst Forum conferences free of charge if you pre-register. See the full conference schedule and attendance information.

Read all Wall Street Analyst Forum conference presentation transcripts here.

To learn more about sponsoring investor conference presentation transcripts see here.

Copyright policy: All transcripts on this site are the copyright of Seeking Alpha. However, we view them as an important resource for bloggers and journalists, and are excited to contribute to the democratization of financial information on the Internet. (Until now investors have had to pay thousands of dollars in subscription fees for transcripts.) So our reproduction policy is as follows: You may quote up to 400 words of any transcript on the condition that you attribute the transcript to Seeking Alpha and either link to the original transcript or to All other use is prohibited.


If you have any additional questions about our online transcripts, please contact us at: Thank you!