In 2001, when I was 23 years old, I moved to Boulder, Colo., and started up Renewable Choice, a company selling wind power, with two of my best friends, Kris Lotlikar and Quayle Hodek. I left the company after a few years to raise my children and I tacked, career-wise, towards working in environmental media.
Kris and Quayle stuck around Boulder and have since built Renewable Choice into one of the top companies in the wind energy industry. They were named by the Environmental Protection Agency as the 2012 Green Power Supplier of the Year for their work with clients like Whole Foods, Steelcase, The Weather Channel and Performance Bikes. They're now a big player in a big, fast-growing industry.
And yet, for all of their success, Quayle felt that something was missing. Their work was having huge positive environmental impacts, but they were invisible impacts. It's great when a large wind farm goes online, but it doesn't really change the day-to-day lives of the people using their energy; they flip a switch and the light is still there, even if it is generated by a wind turbine. Quayle wanted to find a way to make a more meaningful, positive impact in people's lives.
He found it when he was sitting in the audience of a presentation by social entrepreneur Juan Fermín Rodriguez at an Unreasonable Institute conference. Rodriguez told the audience about his work starting up Quetsol, a company whose business model places small solar panel and light systems into the homes of poor rural Guatemalans. (I previously wrote about them here.) Before becoming customers of Quetsol, many of these families were restricted to just an hour of candlelight each night. Quetsol's system not only stretches that span by three or four times, but is also cheaper — whereas a family could spend $16 a month buying candles, they could get a Quetsol system for just $12 a month.
The Quetsol system also has a plug for charging cellphones, an important line of communication in remote areas that is used to not only keep in touch with far-off friends and family, but to also check weather reports and commodity prices, which is vital information for farmers.
After seeing the Quetsol presentation at the Unreasonable Institute conference, Quayle quickly connected with Rodriguez and has been working to mentor and guide him to grow Quetsol's customer base from the thousands to millions.
Quayle was recently invited to talk about his work and the future of energy at TEDxMaui and did a great job telling his story. This is worth the 12 minutes to watch.
More great TED talks on MNN: