Cost as the Ultimate Driver of Adoption: A Guest Interview with Bradford Baker

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on May 11, 2016
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This week, we report on a lively conversation with Joi Scientific business advisor Bradford Baker, a serial entrepreneur and tech champion who took his first company public while he was still in his 20s. He also served as a White House Fellow at the Treasury Department.

In this short interview, Bradford shares his views on how disruption allows industries—from communications to energy—to bring down prices, way down, so they become ubiquitous. He discusses how advances in technology ultimately make the status quo obsolete by providing innovative solutions to problems that seem intractable to industry and governments alike. Bradford also examines how government policies drive change and how Hydrogen 2.0 will tackle the historical issues of hydrogen energy adoption.

The Interview

Vicky Harris, Vice President of Marketing at Joi Scientific, sat with Bradford last week—here’s the interview.

  • Tell us a little about your life-long relationship with technology.

I’ve always been fascinated by technology. I started my first companies when I was still in high school and took my first company, a technology company, public in my twenties. Even when I started some national science foundation courses at the university when I was only 15, I was always trying to figure out what the next technology opportunity would be. That led me to a lot of different things—from fingerprint technology to the Internet, and now Joi Scientific.

  • You were a White House Fellow, how did that come about?

The White House Fellows program offers young men and women who have distinguished themselves, first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government. Fellows spend one year at The White House in a leadership position in the hope they give back what they learn from their public service. I was appointed to the White House Fellows program by President Reagan in 1988 and joined the Treasury Department where I was responsible for all domestic communications in and out of the Treasury.

  • How did this public service experience, especially seeing how government works from the inside, help you in your business endeavors?

It’s proven quite valuable. Most people outside the government think of Washington as a point source with people huddled in a room making big decisions. The reality is quite different. It’s not one person going in and making a decision. It’s actually this huge machine that you have to move, and as we all know, it does not move very quickly. Presidents come and go, but the reality is the machine does not get rebuilt every four years.

The other thing is understanding just how big Washington is. Energy is a lot about tax policy—for instance, tax benefits for solar and wind, tariffs, or it could be an EPA issue. There are many people and agencies that can make something happen or not. So when I think through problems, this first-hand experience gives me a different perspective.

  • This experience must affect the way you think about Hydrogen 2.0. Tell us how?

Well, there is the technology side and there is the government side to your question. So obviously, I think that the technology is going to speak for itself, which is why I am here talking to you as an advisor!

When I think of Hydrogen 2.0, I think about the commercial environment nowadays. Almost every decision made in any company right now is made with energy in mind. If Walmart wants to build a store, they want to put solar panels on it, use better insulation, LED lights, etc. Every business wants to be an energy leader, but they also want to make a long-term capital commitment that is going to last for 20 to 30 years.

  • So, would you say clean energy adoption will be driven by an economic impetus over political will or legislation?

What I see is that when energy becomes dramatically cheaper or free, like any other thing when you jump on the technology bandwagon, it changes everything.

I was talking to Al Gore the other day, and he was saying that in four more years, electric cars will be cheaper to manufacture than gasoline cars. The reality is that—whether you believe in global warming or not—if it is cheaper to build an electric car, then you are going to build an electric car. The hydrogen car is the ultimate destination for this whole transition. On top of this, if you can refuel cars with water, you have eliminated the storage issue, the safety problems, and you’ve eliminated the global warming problems. You have basically solved all of these really tricky problems that people have been trying to solve for generations.

  • In your view, what’s the problem with energy production as we have it today?

I went over to Saudi Arabia, and their cost of production is $2 a barrel. They can choose to pump it, but the problem is who ultimately wants oil in the long-term because of global warming? The reality is that technology is making oil obsolete. Think about it: every solar panel on a roof and every LED lightbulb that’s installed is another gallon of oil that isn’t going to be used. This adds up. The same applies to transportation with every fuel cell car or truck that Toyota or Mercedes builds. Although it is early for these technologies, those first fuel cells cars are important.

You can see that disruption in communications. My first cell phone was a couple of thousand dollars a month and they were bricks. I now pay $25 a month for unlimited everything. Gmail is another example: communication has become free, and it has evolved in the matter of a decade from the most expensive technology to one of the cheapest. I see energy on a similar path, as energy is priced on the margin. However, the problem has always been the energy storage issues. Joi Scientific has solved the storage problem because water is everywhere and that is what their unique technology is all about—and it is huge.

  • Do you think companies who see the potential of technology disruption early on will be the ones who profit from it?

Exactly, and it is no different from cell phones or computers; when they first came out, they were expensive. However, early adopters spent the money and learned how to use them, understand what they were good for, and continued to buy more as they improved. This reduced those company’s operating costs, once they had paid the initial capital costs, and then they became the low-cost producers. So, if you run a store and your electric bill is half that of the store next door and there is a downturn in the economy, then you are going to be competitive because the store next door cannot compete. In information technology, we have seen migration to the cloud and we will see the same thing happening with energy. If I am Apple and I have to make a large capital investment upfront, yet I do not have to pay for energy for 30 years, that is huge. So again, economics will drive this decision and companies who adopt Hydrogen 2.0 technology will be rewarded.

  • Why Joi Scientific? How do you help to move the company forward?

I am on their business advisory board, so I share my knowledge and relationships and do whatever I can do to make things happen. From my perspective, it is exciting because very few companies really have the potential to change the world. Joi Scientific has solved a problem that has consumed governments and businesses for a very long time, which will allow us not to think about that problem any longer.

About Bradford Baker
Bradford Baker is a Joi Scientific business advisor and serial entrepreneur who has successfully guided several companies through explosive growth. He has held multiple leadership roles both in the private sector and the government since starting his first company in 1979 shortly after high school. Learn more about Bradford’s background here.

 

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As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.

 
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