“Any infrastructure that uses fuel is an opportunity to remove and improve the conditions of the infrastructure.” This is what Alexandra Rasch Castillo, the founder and CEO of Caban Systems, believes. Having been enamored with the idea of removing contaminants from the environment, she has set off to create clean power infrastructures. In this episode, she joins Carrie Charles to talk about green 5G. She explores what is called carbon neutral and how they are working on minimizing and eliminating fossil fuel use on sites. What is more, Alexandra also discusses decarbonize data, why it is important, and what she thinks is the future of clean power infrastructure. Join this conversation and discover the possibilities of having a greener world.
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The Green Behind 5G: Caban Systems’ Intelligent Clean Power Solutions With Alexandra Rasch
I am thrilled to have Alexandra Rasch with me. I have a few things to say about her because she is a pretty amazing woman. She is the Founder and CEO of Caban Systems. Alex is an Engineer, an entrepreneur, an environmentalist, and a clean energy evangelist. In 2019, she made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. In 2020, she was awarded the Rising Star of the year at the Global Women in Telco & Tech Awards. I was a judge for that in 2020. Alex, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
I’m dying to hear more about your journey and how was Caban Systems born? What is your why?
I ask myself that all the time. I’ll say that a one-time question to my background is in engineering. I’ve always been enamored with the idea of removing contaminants from the environment. I started off in the automotive space, designing systems and electric vehicles to remove any type of pollutants from the environment. Having grown up in a developing country, a lot of the infrastructure that’s still used still has a lot of fossil fuels. I was at a dinner party in Mexico City and quickly realized in a conversation that we were having that a lot of the infrastructure that’s still there uses fossil fuel. Immediately, I thought, “Any infrastructure that uses fuel, if it’s a business opportunity, it’s an opportunity to remove and improve the conditions of the infrastructure.” With the mix of my background in battery design and commercialization of products, that’s how Caban was born.
[bctt tweet=”If you have big dreams, you need to be prepared to work on Sundays and walk the floors.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
Tell me more about Caban Systems, the products, the services, what problem does the company solve?
We specifically focused on the design and manufacturing of Lithium-ions’ energy storage solutions. We manufacture and design the controllers, the firmware, the cloud-based infrastructure. We specifically work with both operators and tower companies to improve reliability, decrease operational expenses, and modernize their network. Our platform works in sites that don’t have any grid connectivity. We’ve been integrating our solution into sites that are grid-connected. We can interact with a grid consuming power on-site, but we also have the ability to push energy back to the grid. We’ve become an intricate part of active infrastructure within the site.
You said you work with operators and tower companies. Are those your only customers? Tell me a little bit about the customers that you serve?
We operate all over the Americas. We’re operational in about twelve countries. The majority of all of our customers are either operators. A good example is Liberty Latin America flow would be in the Caribbean Claro, America Movil as a whole. We’re starting to implement solutions in the US, T-Mobile and AT&T. More specifically, when we work with tower companies, we offer the ability to provide infrastructure sharing. You have three operators’ insights that are co-located. Each individual operator uses a specific set of power equipment. What we’re trying to move into is actual infrastructure sharing, so your levelized cost of energy or your cost per kilowatt-hour goes down if you are able to share some of the infrastructures that you implement.
[bctt tweet=”If you’re young, have energy, and have a dream, you have to go for it, but when you do, make sure that you understand it’s not easy. ” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
Let’s explore this term, carbon neutral. I’ve heard it quite a bit lately. What exactly does it mean and what’s the role of clean power infrastructure?
For anybody who hasn’t been around space, it’s a hard thing to grasp. You and I, when we’re walking around to city and we pick up our phones, we think there’s a tower nearby. We don’t think about the supply chain aspects of a call that we’re trying to make. The reality is that anything that goes into providing power or any type of support to the infrastructure, there’s a supply chain and there’s an implication to that supply chain. When we talk about carbon-neutral, that means offsetting all of the energy that you’re consuming on-site with a renewable energy-based solution. It isn’t just buying carbon credits that are not enough.
It’s figuring out how to minimize and completely eliminate fossil fuel uses on the site, whether it’s a backup diesel generator that you’re using as your secondary source of power or, even better, if the current electricity that you are using is from the utilities is very carbon intense. How to minimize the amount of energy that you are utilizing from the electric grid? In the Caribbean, for example, and in a lot of nations, it is 99% of the energy generated for grid consumption comes from coal oil, or even worse, bunker fuel. What we try to minimize is not only what you’re consuming on-site but what is the long-term impact of consuming power from the electric grid.
This is a world that I was not aware of. There is digitization in the telecommunications industry and we know that. What does it is mean to decarbonize data and why is this even important?
When we try to digitalize infrastructure, in the past, a lot of infrastructures have been analog. The equipment turns on, you have a signal, and you don’t know much about it. You know that it’s either on or off and you get feedback into whether or not it’s on or off. You don’t know its performance, if it’s efficient if there’s anything to be improved, and let alone, you don’t also know whether or not the equipment needs maintenance to perform better. When I think about digitalizing infrastructure, it’s moving away from an analog system into a system that provides way more information that you need to make an educated decision and then eventually automate that decision. We have sensors throughout the entire equipment and we have logic that says, “If the system behaving this way, I’m going to make an automated assumption that this is how it should behave.” All of a sudden, you become a more intelligent system that can now self-sufficiently operate.
We do this through IoT. We have hardware systems and software that’s not only embedded but also cloud-based, and that’s what an IoT device is. We’re moving into a more connected world that way. When we talk about decarbonizing data, it’s how do we think about the amount or grams of CO2 equivalent that we’re admitting as a function of a megabyte of data that we consume. That’s the metric that I’m trying to get companies to start measuring. I’m not talking about becoming carbon neutral as a company. I’m talking about looking at the life cycle analysis of the amount of fuel that we’re consuming.
It’s so much deeper as we’re talking. The future of clean power infrastructure. Let’s talk about that in mid-level or developing countries. The clean power infrastructure solutions, renewables, what does this look like looking into the future? You said there are some major problems in the world right now.
I’m going to start off with the regulatory because I think that’s important to put in the back of our minds. While sometimes people think the developing countries still need to get with a program, there’s a lot of countries that have very advanced incentives where they do not tax anybody who’s importing goods specifically around energy. We don’t get taxed on controllers or solar panels. This would be your import tariffs or any other duties. You would think the States would be different, but in fact, you have a big tax right now here in the States.
[bctt tweet=”If you’re raising capital, make sure that it’s a relationship that you’re building.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
I don’t think it has to do with developing or not developing. I think it has to do with the type of agenda that each individual country has with respect to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The landscape in developing countries as a whole is difficult to answer. There are specific countries that are definitely more advanced. I’ll point out Columbia. They have advanced laws around augmenting the amount of renewable energy or the amount of development that’s happening. Countries Mexico are going the other opposite direction. I don’t want to generalize, but I think that there are a lot of advances from a regulatory perspective.
There are behind and in front of the meter options. Behind the meter, that means you generate power, you auto consume, and you’re not bothered by what happens in front of the meter. That’s always been a pretty loose thing to measure. Not a lot of countries do, but I think that the more and more leasing of energy solutions becomes available, the more countries will start implementing it. In front of the meter, utility-scale, there’s also a lot of movement with things like feeding tariffs generating power that you’re selling it back to the grid and consuming it from credits based on the amount of power you produced. A lot of countries that have a lot of movement in that part, and I’m excited to see what’s to come, especially in the Caribbean nations.
Let’s talk a little bit about the rural areas and between the grids or where the grids end. What are the barriers and challenges to implementing clean power and reliable connectivity there?
It is where the grid ends and then nothing begins. There’s a lot of places where, for example, you and I want to travel or there are communities that may not have access to either power nor communication. The reason typically there’s no power on these communities, highways, or national parks for that matter, there is going to be no cell service unless an operator decides to strategically put a site there and then have it be completely run of fossil fuels. We enable two things. We enable sites that are running off fuel generators and we replaced them with completely renewable energy solutions, so power generation and then storage. We also enable sites that were never built to begin with because the return on investment or their fuels on that specific site was never worth it because you were running it on fossil fuels and it was too expensive to run.
[bctt tweet=”Money is money, but money should come with more than capital.” username=”rcrwirelessnews”]
We help transition or we help reenable companies to go to the most remote areas and then provide cell services there. The way that we do that is by helping customers transition away from fossil fuel, not only because it’s environmentally not very friendly, but because it’s very expensive. There’s a lot of theft. There is a risk to running fuel where you have to maintain the generators. You have to go to the site every two weeks. With our equipment, you have to go to the site two times a year. It becomes a lower total cost of ownership from a customer perspective. We’ve been moving into energy as a service offering whereby we make the investment into the infrastructure and we almost become a utility company on the DC direct current side and we offer energy services to customers.
I own a tower company and I’ve heard some benefits for using your services or products. Would it be safe to say that it’s going to be cost savings for me? It’s doing the right thing for the world, which we all want to do. I know there are tower companies that are doing that. I know I interviewed Vertical Bridge and they’re on that track. Tell me, what are the benefits to me as a tower company owner for using your products and services?
There’s a couple of power companies that are headed that way. Vertical Bridge made that announcement, PTI, Phoenix Tower, SBA, and MTP as well. There’s a lot of companies moving in that direction. From a tower company perspective, it isn’t that you necessarily are reducing operational expenses for them. You’re reducing operational expenses for the operator. Ultimately, the majority of the operational expenses that any site has to sustain fall on the operator, not on the tower company. What ends up happening is when we work with power companies, it ends up being a benefit to all three companies.
From a tower perspective, they can utilize their infrastructure to offer more than a lease. They now offer power. They include that either as part of their lease and of the lease extensions or whatever they need to offer. If they have three operators, now they’re offering energy from a single infrastructure solution to three different operators. It becomes very attractive. We have a patent on our ability to manage and meter exactly how much energy each individual operator uses and, therefore, offer energy services to the operator. The operators become very attractive because they’re utilizing gen sets. With this same infrastructure, they could save for on-grid all the way to off-grid sites, anywhere between 20% to 60%.
You are a young woman in a male-dominated industry. I want to ask you what challenges have you faced since you founded Caban Systems and what’s helped you succeed?
I’ll start off with the positives. Being positive has helped me succeed. I started the company with my Cofounder Brian, who’s our CTO, right before a global pandemic hit. We never planned on it, and nobody did. We had to make very difficult decisions along the way, but that’s built us up as entrepreneurs and as people. Personally, being young and being a woman in this industry, what’s made me be successful is being technical. I am an engineer by background and I think that if you can articulate and make a point, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, Black, or White. As long as what you’re talking about and you can articulate what you’re talking about, people listen. That’s what I’ve noticed. I have gone by myself all the way to the Middle East in a room full of men just as well as a room full of men in Mexico City. There’s no difference.
What advice would you give to women who are reading that want to follow in your footsteps?
This isn’t easy. If you have big dreams, you need to be prepared to work on Sundays and walk the floors. You need to be prepared to give it everything twenty hours a day. It doesn’t matter. If you’re young, if you have energy, and you have a dream, you have to go for it, but when you do, make sure that you understand that it’s not easy. While sometimes on the outside, it’s like, “The CEO of a startup in Silicon Valley.” That’s nice to hear, but the reality is that you’re at a minimum wage, you’re working twenty hours a day, and on top of it, we’re in an industry that’s very difficult to enter. It’s a long sales cycle. We’re making hardware for global needs. If I were to be starting from scratch and I would have to give advice to myself, I would ask a lot of questions and get educated upfront. I learned how to negotiate from day one. Learn how to negotiate and don’t back down.
You’ve had great success raising capital, and that’s huge. Congratulations on your last round of funding. Discuss the challenges with raising capital and the lessons that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur.
My perspective is a little bit skewed because of the pandemic and because of how we’ve evolved. If you’re raising capital, make sure that it’s a relationship that you’re building. In the relationship, it’s not like you’re going to raise capital and never see them again. You’re going to raise capital and see them more as years go by. Make sure that the people you’re fundraising from are the people you want to have on your board. The people who, when things are very difficult, they’re going to help you, they’re going to listen to you. That would be my number one.
If it’s a good idea, money will follow. That shouldn’t be a concern. Making sure that the people with who you’re entering the business are somebody you want to spend time. Also, the importance of having strategic partners is critical and that the people who are also investing, or the funds that companies are investing, whether strategic or not, bring some value. For example, whether that’s product advice, product development, manufacturing, or simply entering the market. There are enough funds out there. Money is money, but money should come with more than capital. Don’t accept money for the sake of it, but rather think through 2, 3, 5 years ahead and figure out if you want to spend time with them.
What is your vision for Caban Systems? What’s your vision for the world?
We’ve been laser beam focused on the telecom world. I specifically came into this industry because it’s an exciting one. It’s one where there hasn’t been a lot of disruption on the infrastructure side and on the front end. On the infrastructure side, there’s a lot of things that even as we’ve been implementing our solutions, there are things that I already know we could do better and even more opportunities that have come up since then. Our laser beam focus on delivering equipment to our customers that have signed up with us has trusted us to deliver. We bought 800 units in backlog, so that’s about eighteen months of manufacturing production. Our number one goal is to make sure that those customers are happy with their product and we deliver on time with quality.
Number two is we are looking beyond mobile sites into still within the telecom world. Our solutions, while were in this important space that’s unique, our solution of renewable energy, power generation, and storage is applicable to other industries. It’s very much applicable to manufacturing settings or even commercial or small residential. We would be exploring that in the future. My grand vision is to work with the biggest operators around the world and to remain a globalized company that’s specific to product development. One of the best things that we can offer as a company is innovation. I would like to stay innovating products and then push them to the market.
I have no doubt in my mind that you’re going to accomplish all of that and more. I cannot wait to see, follow, and watch what you do. I’m sure, so many people right now that are reading are thinking, “How can I learn more? This is great.” How can the audience learn more about Caban Systems?
We have a website www.CabanSystems.com. We’re also on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. You can drop us a message anywhere within the social media platforms, specifically if you want to talk more strategically or about any needs that you may have, Sales@CabanSystems.com or Info@CabanSystems.com. I’m happy to answer any questions. If you’re curious and want to know more about the technology or more about how you can join Caban, we are recruiting quite a bit. We’re opening up an office in Kingston, Jamaica, and in Bogota, Colombia. We have an office in Mexico City and in Guatemala City as well. We’re hiring a lot here in California. We are based out of the Bay Area. If you know anybody or are interested in joining us, feel free to email us at Hiring@CabanSystems.com.
Alex, thank you so much for coming to the show. This has been a pleasure.
Thank you so much for having me.
We will talk very soon. Take care.
I hope so.