28 Sep 2021
During this week’s episode of ‘Investing in Zero,’ I was joined by Andrés Gluski, president and CEO of the AES Corporation. Founded in 1981, this Fortune 500 company provides sustainable and affordable energy to fourteen countries via a diverse portfolio of businesses. They are committed to operational excellence and meeting the world’s ever-changing power needs. Before joining AES in 2000, Andrés held a variety of leadership roles, including executive vice president and CFO of EDC and vice minister of finance for Venezuela. In 2012, he was named international CEO of the year by Latin Trade Magazine for his accomplishments, and in 2020 AES was the only US-based energy company to be recognized by Fast Company as one of the best places to work for innovators.
It was illuminating to gain the insights from one of the sharpest business minds in renewable energy on the vast transformations he has helped support in the industry during his long and impactful career. We began by touching on Andres’ unusual professional journey from finance in the public sector to telecoms to the electric sector, and how the skills he developed across each continue to help him lead effectively at AES. We covered his bold leadership away from fossil fuels and coal towards renewables, how AES experimented with lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage to problem-solve renewables’ intermittency issue well before it was economically feasible to do so, and how being open source and teaming up with Siemens allowed them to speed up the refinement and expansion of clean energy across the world. By being ahead of the market in energy storage, Andrés solidified AES’ position at the vanguard of the electric sector, where they continue to invest in cutting-edge innovation like AI-enabled cloud-based digital efficiency systems and prefab solar, which can be constructed in a third of the time as regular solar, doubles the energy produced per acre, and is hurricane resistant.
We discussed AES’ ongoing efforts decarbonizing fossil plants and why it’s worth investing now in building a smart grid. Interestingly,Andrés noted that we already have the potential for a much more efficient grid today, since presently, transmission lines are only used at maximum need for a few hours. If energy storage is added, we could change transmission lines from a peaking asset to a base-load asset, allowing the backbone of the grid to be utilized much better—we merely have to figure out proper compensation of grid operators and address regulatory concerns.
We covered the challenges of energy storage, and what technology might overtake lithium-ion batteries, which, while good for short-term storage, fall short for long-term storage. Naturally, Andrés is always open to new innovation—AES is constantly collaborating with and investing in companies to produce better and more efficient batteries, and they’re already working on the first industrial scale hydrogen in Chile and the Americas. This brought us to discuss AES’ other exciting projects in Chile, and how they’ve committed to the largest voluntary closure of coal plants of any operator in the country, and the delicate negotiations between themselves, their client, and the local government that this required to realize.
I picked his brain about how transitioning to completely green energy is as much about commercial arrangements with the existing status quo as it is about innovation in technology, and how AES’ entrepreneurial approach, mission-driven staff and openness to collaboration and sharing ideas across organizations has allowed them to thrive in tackling such challenges so far. We discussed vital lessons in local stakeholder management he’s learned on the job, and the challenges of keeping his business running through the COVID-19 pandemic, from supply chain interruptions to ensuring safe working environments for his employees and contractors, to working to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.
We wrapped up with AES’ commitment to reach net zero in electricity sales by 2040, and whether Andrés believes their efforts will be enough to forestall the worst of climate change. Andrés stressed they’re “not waiting” for 2040 since it’s vital that we all “move as fast as possible.” It will require cooperation across nations, and proaction from large populations like China and India, but with Western countries leading the charge and companies like AES offering large technological transfer of knowledge to markets in need like the Philippines, Andrés is cautiously optimistic that we will make it through.
It was thrilling to speak with someone who is actively working to shift us from our old modes of being and into the future, and at breakneck speed no less. Hearing Andrés speak of what is possible with determination, collaboration and grit was inspiring. You can listen to the episode here.