Catlin Mattheis of Fracsun

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Catlin Mattheis (co-founder and CEO) of Fracsun, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Fracsun – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Early in my solar career, I was a PV system designer doing a lot of preliminary project work to determine feasibility and economics of future solar projects. These projects were all in the commercial sector and generally had project costs over 1M dollars, so a fairly large investment. In order to determine how the project would perform, a number of modeling techniques were used, the most common being purpose built software designed to simulate the plant using historical weather and irradiance values.

One of the largest avoidable losses in a solar plant is referred to as “soiling loss”, which is a jargon way to say that dust and dirt is settling on the solar glass, reducing performance as the sun’s rays are not able to reach the solar cell below. In the course of running these simulations, we had to make assumptions for soiling loss. There were a few numbers floating around the industry at that time as well as a few academic studies. The consensus was that these numbers were not very good even though they had such a large impact on a solar project’s future performance. At that time, we started tooling around in our free time trying to determine the best way to measure this loss. That was 13 years ago, and we tried everything. Our ultimate goal in doing all this was to kick-off an industry wide collection process where this data would become ubiquitous and readily available to improve production models, thereby taking risk out of solar projects and making it much easier to finance and deploy them all over the country.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

Financing was, of course, very tough in the beginning. Myself and my two partners bootstrapped everything for 6 years. The cost of every patent application, prototype built, software development, field deployment, etc. was scraped together by the three of us until we had an incredible proof of concept that was ready for broad field testing across the country. This meant that we had to maintain our full-time positions while working nearly full-time on this project as well. Thankfully, we were able to get into the DOE SBIR program that allowed us to rapidly develop from a POC into a commercial ready product.

What does the future hold for Fracsun?

Today we have our sensors across the United States in every major solar market, as well as 22 other countries. Our goal is to reach a critical mass of deployment in every major market in the world while we develop an AI powered database that will interpret this data into useful project planning data for all the system designers out there (who really need it to de-risk the projects they are dreaming up). Soiling loss today represents about $3B in lost dollars, and even more so the energy that those plants could have produced. Capturing this extra performance will have a huge impact on our goal of a carbon-free economy.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in San Luis Obispo?

San Luis Obispo has a fantastic opportunity to be a startup hub between LA and the Bay. We do have several local leaders pushing to make this happen with Cal Poly and SBDC being the biggest drivers. I was once a newly graduated engineer who really wanted to stay in the area and it was tough back then. These days there is much more opportunity to stay and get into the startup scene, which is great. I hope more work is done to encourage and support (ideally financially) those who want to stay here and found companies that can really grow the scene locally.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Never be afraid of failure – no one ever learned valuable lessons by succeeding at everything they do. I had to learn to persist through failures and as cliché as it sounds, that persistence has been extremely valuable in this whole journey.


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series