founder

Founder Profile: Lee King of Hydro Wind Energy

Introduction

Water takes up more than 70% of the planet’s surface. Unfortunately, most of this is undrinkable salt water, and clean water is becoming more scarce as the human population grows and sources become polluted. There are methods for converting salt water into clean water, but they are often expensive and lead to more pollution and greenhouse emissions. 

Hydro Wind Energy is creating sustainable solutions with wind energy and green desalination technologies. Its current projects include the OceanHydro Omni, which turns offshore wind into electrical energy that can be stored; SubSea RO Wind, which desalinates water with wind energy and subsea pressure; and QuenchSea, an affordable, hand-powered desalination device. We reached out to founder and CEO Lee King to learn more about how the company compensates employees on a low budget and why its technology differs from current options.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What inspired you to take the leap and start Hydro Wind Energy?

Lee King

The major inspiration was trying to make an impact on the world’s water crisis and also recognizing that the environmental crisis is probably one of the biggest threats to humanity, and one of the main causes of that is fossil fuels. We are in the business of sea water desalination, so the energy cost and the levelized cost of water are the most important aspects of building something that can solve the world’s water crisis. From the solution we developed for seawater desalination, we found a way to also harness offshore wind for power generation and energy storage. 

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Lee King

Hayk Vasilyan, our CTO, and Aboozy Ghaly, our systems integration and IT director, are both working on the development of our products. We have a pretty large team of engineers led by Donald Naylor, our chief technology engineer. Maryam Hassani is in charge of our strategy. She serves as a chief innovation officer. Every single one of our team members has been crucial to get where we are. Dennis Nwatu has been particularly helpful in writing grants to help us gather more funding. Finally, I come on board with my experience working in an investment fund specialized in energy and desalination technology in Abu Dhabi. 

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How does OceanHydro Omni compare to offshore wind turbines?

Lee King

This technology will significantly improve how we access and turn wind offshore into a usable form of energy (electrical energy). Globally, there is a challenge to cost-effectively access and harness wind offshore in deep waters where 80% of the world’s wind energy resources exist. This technology will open up the ability to exploit offshore wind in deep waters, cost-effectively and simultaneously providing a solution to the problem of energy storage. The technology is a combination of a form of pumped hydro storage and wind power. It is a hybrid system that combines wind and subsea energy storage. We’re using the same principles as pumped hydro storage, but instead of using a dam, we are using sea depth and gravity-based blocks to obtain the same results. 

The potential of this technology is that it could be a game changer for the 21st century in terms of developing a renewable energy system that can outcompete fossil fuels on power density, energy density, cost, and scalability while also providing dispatchable and reliable power generation to the grid. In addition, it’s ultimately wind power, which eliminates carbon emissions entirely from power production. This technology can rapidly accelerate the transition to renewables and worldwide electrification, lowering the cost of energy and increasing security of supply. The main objective is to provide unsubsidized, reliable electrical energy. The technology is extremely disruptive from the current state of the art yet utilizes existing and proven technology in a new area.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How is SubSea RO Wind transforming the desalination industry?

Lee King

Our technology focuses on providing low-cost fresh water. Conventional seawater desalination technologies are prohibitively expensive, energy intensive, and primarily powered by fossil fuels with significant environmental impact. Solar-powered desalination cannot meet the volumes that are required for our ever-growing consumption needs. 

We have developed an extremely disruptive yet simple technology to desalinate seawater into fresh water using offshore altitude wind kites, reverse osmosis membranes, and subsea pressure, eliminating entirely the need to use fossil fuels for water desalination and reducing desalination costs by 95%. This technology has the potential to alter the entire dynamics of the global water challenge and permanently alleviate the world’s water shortages in the short term. It is sustainable, scalable, zero-carbon emissions technology; provides significant volume capacities at negligible costs versus all other desalination technologies; and has the potential to transform the lives of billions of people around the world.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What is Quench Sea’s commercialization process, and what are the results that you expect, both in terms of revenue and impact?

Lee King

We are preparing ourselves for growth and scale and are in the process of launching QuenchSea, the world’s only low-cost, handheld seawater desalination device, on a global scale. We have $500,000 in pre-orders already with an additional pipeline of 10,000 orders. The first 5,000 units of QuenchSea will be delivered in June 2022. Following this, we will be scaling QuenchSea to more than one million units through to 2023 to generate revenue in excess of $50 million. Our aim is to scale QuenchSea to 100 million units over the next three years and impact the world’s water crisis at a small scale. 

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What are some of the key partnerships that are helping you grow your company?

Lee King

We are a Techstars-backed company, which gives us access to a large network of amazing founders and brought an advisor on our board. Techstars also invested in our company. In terms of the product, we are using SunPower-Gen’s workshops to build our larger size systems. Finally, we were selected into Amazon Web Services’ Clean Energy Accelerator program. 

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

How do you manage growing your business with minimal cash flow?

Lee King

We were very fortunate that we have had funding from the start. At this stage, as we build the company, many people are contributing their time and experience to help us achieve certain milestones, and in return we give them shares to provide the incentives and loyalty we need (share option pool). The core team is working in exchange for stock options. More options in terms of working engagements will be offered to everyone once we secure a significant equity funding round with the involvement of human resources. We are trying to build a mobile and agile tech culture that offers flexibility to our team members to choose their level of involvement and contribution but that also manages risks and rewards. We want team members to be part of our success. 

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

What are the risks associated with your business?

Lee King

In terms of risks, the most significant are operational and technical risks of building systems that operate in the ocean. This is a complex project with lots of moving parts and inputs, so ensuring perfect project management and execution is key. With a project of this size and potential, there are of course lots of risk factors. We are more concerned now with short-term risks over the next 12 months than with long-term failure. In the long term, the project will succeed. It is just a matter of whether we can align all the factors to make it happen within the next year and in the desired location. We are taking steps to mitigate all the technological, financial, and legal risks that we will inevitably encounter along the way. We have a fantastic team (and growing) behind this project with lots of experience and are confident that we can overcome the challenges we will face.

Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Lee King

We are actively moving toward a listing with a signed commitment of $57 million from an institutional investor for an initial public offering (IPO). Our exit is definitely an IPO. We could also run a Regulation A raise with liquidity to get us there.

We look forward to seeing where Lee and his team take the company. Hydro Wind Energy is currently raising on Republic.

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About: Léa Bouhelier-Gautreau

Léa is passionate about impact investing and sustainability. Prior to KingsCrowd, she worked for Stanford’s accelerator, StartX, helping to select the most promising entrepreneurs. She also led the first award-winning study on the Malawian startup ecosystem. In her free-time, she volunteers to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Brazil and Colombia. Léa holds a degree in Anthropology from France and is currently enrolled in the UC Davis MBA program.

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