Today’s employer advice is from Michael Simon, President & CEO of RockeTruck.
Q: Tell us about your organization.
RockeTruck, Inc., a provider of advanced integrated power systems, is developing a family of compact, zero-emission power generators uniquely designed to address multiple broad markets for both mobile and stationary electric power generation. RockeTruck’s generators meet the global need for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases (as well as other toxic pollutants) by replacing conventional fossil fuel-powered generators (gasoline, diesel, propane, natural gas) with advanced technology generating systems using lithium-ion battery modules, hydrogen fuel cells, and high-frequency inverters in varying combinations. With industry-leading expertise in the development and integration of these electric vehicle and renewable energy components, RockeTruck aims to be first-to-market with a standardized, compact, low-cost platform and integration approach that can simultaneously serve three large and growing markets for clean electrical power:
- Battery-electric and fuel cell propulsion for large electric vehicles (EVs), including heavy-duty trucks, transit buses, and school buses;
- Mobile electric generators that can be transported on short notice to provide emergency backup power for anything ranging from small devices to large buildings;
- Fixed, stationary power generation optimized for space constraints and minimization of electricity and hydrogen costs.
Most currently available power generators using batteries or fuel cells are highly customized systems, and the uniqueness of their designs make them very expensive. Using the same basic family of products to serve all three of the above markets, with minimal design variation, is a paradigm shift that will drive down both nonrecurring engineering and recurring production costs.
A key part of RockeTruck’s strategy for gaining competitive advantage in the EV and power generation markets is to drive down the cost of delivering these integrated power systems. Standardizing component layouts and module designs across multiple market segments, as described above, is an essential element of this cost-reduction strategy. RockeTruck will use advanced 3-D printing and robotic assembly techniques to achieve further cost reductions. “Large Scale Additive Manufacturing,” a method of 3-D printing large structures, will be used to reduce the cost of fabricating the tools necessary to manufacture composite and fiberglass structures, which will be used in the EMU™ and PowerBox™ designs to reduce weight and cost. In addition, RockeTruck will also use a high degree of robotic assembly to insert battery cells directly into the EMU™ chassis, utilizing a “structural battery” chassis concept where the chassis itself serves as the main battery enclosure. These technologies will significantly reduce the labor costs to integrate batteries and other components into EMU™ and PowerBox™ chassis modules, giving RockeTruck an advantage over competitors using more conventional, labor-intensive processes.
RockeTruck’s leadership team is extraordinarily qualified to meet the challenges of delivering such complex products to such large and varied markets. RockeTruck’s two principal founders are serial entrepreneur Michael Simon and fuel cell/battery expert Dr. Paul Scott, who have collaborated continuously over the past 25 years. Simon and Scott began their collaboration in the late 1990s as two of the principal officers of ISE Corporation (co-founded by Simon in 1995), designing and manufacturing hybrid-electric Class 8 trucks and several generations of transit buses using both hybrid-electric and fuel cell technologies. In 2010, Simon and Scott founded TransPower, which over the last decade was a pioneer in adapting battery-electric and fuel cell technologies to Class 8 trucks. TransPower was acquired by Meritor, a Fortune 500 company and the world’s leading manufacturer of axles and brakes for commercial trucks, in early 2020. By virtue of its continuing relationship with Meritor, RockeTruck has access to the core EV and fuel cell propulsion technologies Simon and Scott developed over the past decade, as well as Meritor’s new electrified axle system. Other key members of the RockeTruck team include senior advisors John Shettler, who worked for General Motors for 39 years and led the design team for its first electric car, the EV-1, and Robert Sliwa, the aforementioned designer of the “StarShip” truck, who secured funding from Shell Lubricants to build a prototype diesel truck using its unique body design.
Q: What advice would you give to people in midlife who want to transition to a green job?
The same advice I would give anyone at any career stage: do your homework and network. Most “green jobs” with which I’m familiar require specialized technical knowledge whether it be principles of electric vehicle operation, solar or wind power generation, etc. Knowing the fundamentals of how power is generated and converted and the characteristics of basic components such as electric motors, inverters, solar cells, wind turbines, and batteries is essential to most businesses in these areas. How systems are assembled and controlled using these components is also important. There is abundant information on the internet available to anyone who wants to learn about these technologies using simple tools like Google.
The networking component is best fulfilled by attending any of the many industry webinars, conferences, and expositions related to clean energy and transportation. It costs money to sign up for these, but they are invaluable in supporting both of my pieces of advice—they are great ways to learn about the technologies and products, but they are also great ways to find out who’s who in the industry and to connect to people who can offer employment. Mid-career professionals with highly sought-after specialized skills such as software and electrical engineering will have an easier time attracting offers than people with generic skills such as marketing and finance, so the generic folks probably need to do more homework and marketing.
They should probably also accept the fact that they may not command the same level of compensation they are accustomed to if they have achieved 15 or 20 or more years of career progression in some other field. Green companies are more likely to pay top dollar for mid-career people who have directly-related experience. One way to overcome this bias is to accept a lower-paying job with an earlier stage company that doesn’t yet have the cash to pay top salaries, maybe even working for such a company as an unpaid intern. This provides a learning opportunity and the chance to put a relevant job on your resume, and if the company happens to take off, the position could evolve into something more financially lucrative.
Q: What are the skills that you believe will be required most in the short-medium term in your industry?
I’ve already highlighted most of them above—knowledge of the specific products such as motors and batteries used in green systems, and certain technical skill sets such as software and electrical engineering. For non-technical people, having solved financial, marketing, program/personnel management, or other business problems in fields similar to green energy would be the next most sought-after skills, in my opinion.