Antoine Saab is the founder and CEO of E24 Solutions, a company that provides solar and battery installations to homes and businesses in several countries. In this episode, Robert talks to Saab, who appeared in Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, about the “total collapse” of the Lebanese economy, why E24 uses lead-acid batteries instead of lithium-ion, Chinese-made solar panels, and why, as he said in Juice, “microgrids are the future.”

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I’m Robert rice. On this podcast we talked about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome Mr. Guan Saab. He’s the founder and CEO of e 24. solutions. And one Welcome to the power hungry podcast. Thank you for having me. Now, Anton We’ve met before we met in Beirut four years ago, and I didn’t warn you and you’re on you’re in the film juice, how LS electricity explains the world in the documentary that we produced and released a couple of years ago. So I know you but I didn’t warn you a guest on this podcast, I have them introduce themselves. So I’ve given your title. And I’ve told people a little bit about you. But if you don’t mind, imagine you’ve arrived at a dinner party. They’re in Montreal, where you are now or somewhere else. And you don’t know anyone there and you have, say 30 or 45 seconds to introduce yourself, please do so.

Antoine Saab 0:53
Yes, my name is Antoine Saab. I’m the founder and CEO of e 24. We are an energy solution company. We are basically a company that has focused on developing solar energy and storage solutions for the emerging markets in in principle, but now we’re expanding across different different countries, including Canada, and so on off with the United States. Gotcha.

Robert Bryce 1:23
And tell me just how old is he 24? Well, he

Antoine Saab 1:27
24 started back in 2010. We are about 11 years old now. And the first few years were really focused on RND. But now we’re we’re trying to grow our our market base over Africa, and different regions of the planet.

Robert Bryce 1:48
So I definitely want to talk more about e 24. And the technologies you’re using battery chemistry. I want to get the cover all of those I want to talk about solar and poly silicon and a whole lot of things. But we met in person, excuse me four years ago in Beirut. And at that time he 24 was going well, the economy in Beirut and Lebanon seemed to be on the upswing. You know, there was a there was a lot of tourism, but no longer Lebanon is in full fledged crisis. So when did you leave Lebanon and what’s going on now?

Antoine Saab 2:19
Okay, first, I have not left Lebanon, I will never leave Lebanon. I’m originally bunnies. And although I also have Canadian citizenship, you know, my heart is is the Lebanese people who are really suffering at this moment. So we still have a small operational unit that is operating in Lebanon doing extremely well, actually right now. And doing a lot of things including powering individuals, businesses, villages, micro grids, as we’ve shown you previously, and we expand that in different areas.

Robert Bryce 3:02
Just to be clear, that despite the crisis, you’re still carrying on business in Vegas and in Lebanon.

Antoine Saab 3:07
Yes, we’ve been we’ve been during the before the crisis right now we’ve, we’ve been hard to hit because the capital that we’ve raised by the banks, because the banks invested in us, they got their share of the company. And then they didn’t give us the money when they gave us the money, basically. But what happened was that there was a capital control so we don’t have access to it. So in reality, we had to unfortunately dismantle our, our, our relationship with the banks, given the capital control operations, and we’ve we’ve kind of restarted in, in, in a new a new new capital raise new approach. So the business elaborate on the initial business has been dismantle, and in process of being totally closed, given that the entire setup that we had was first exploded during the bump in the, in the board. So

Robert Bryce 4:20
I’m sorry to interrupt, but so this was a year ago. And just for a quick bit of background in juice I interviewed and toine and his office in Beirut, and then we went with your colleague, Mara Marwan koori, to Kira Zai, which is a facility of quite large installation where you have solar and batteries that are in the in the hills in south east of Beirut, if I remember. Yes, correct. So that was the background that was how we met and of course you are one of the clear and really very appealing voices in juice and was pleased to have you in the film. But you said just to back up a little bit you your business which we visited your so that building was Hurt was destroyed by the by the explosion last year destruction,

Antoine Saab 5:06
total destruction. So all our offices were completely destroyed. The only part that was still operational was the underground when we had another technical technical place where we do our assemblies and you know, pre pre site pre installation preparations that that was still operational, so I had to buy another, another office, set it up, put some more injection of personal money to, to keep to keep operation and to keep supporting the existing customers. And, and I’m really injecting money from my own pocket in restarting in different areas where I’ve diversified now I’m doing business over Africa, Canada as well. So you know, we suffered a very, very strong blow

due to the the board because we also had the battery in the port, and everything exploded, so we lost our inventory there. So really, it was a very, very difficult to operate under under financial crisis, capital control, destruction of our offices, some of our employees has had to leave because, you know, they had families that could not continue living in a in a very hectic place. So we’ve really, we’ve really suffered a lot. But we are a company that is really, that, you know, that we intend to continue, we think we have at least we have some moral obligations towards our fellow Lebanese people at least to help a lot of people who have sometimes hard problems, oxygen problems, and we have been allowed locally. It has been profitable, but we sustained and we supported our our existing projects, and we haven’t left our clients there.

Robert Bryce 7:17
So tell me if you don’t mind as I said, I want to talk about e 24. But give me the update. I know that you have colleagues and employees in Beirut in Lebanon more broadly. What’s the situation like there? I mean, I’ve been following it on the in the media I’ve written a piece in Forbes about the shortage of fuel for the hospitals at American University of Beirut Medical Center. I mean it just sounds like it complete

Antoine Saab 7:39
tonight. Robert it’s a nightmare you cannot believe what’s happening. So let me give you a rapid glimpse of the situation there’s no fuel there is no electricity at all. Most places have in some place they have zero electricity hours per day. Some of them have two hours. So on the power side that is what zero to two hours there is no the pharmacy do not have any medication anymore. Hospitals are closing they don’t have any equipment and tools to operate some of the hospitals don’t have a facility for their operation rooms these will being unavailable you know it’s almost impossible if you if you get sick you basically die so there’s no antibiotics you cannot find most of the medicine in liberal and you cannot get to the hospital because you have no fuel in your car. So that’s on the on the even now bread is missing because to bake bread you need fuel you cannot you know so it is becoming a really a nightmare to survive in this place. So what we’re doing right now we kept a team Marwan is still there all the team is I’ve kept most of the team that that is operational there. I’ve used some of my my resources available outside luminar because all the money we had in the banks is gone. So we’ve we’ve been able to keep our team as much as possible support them with private funds in order to keep those people who have been working with me for a long time as you

Robert Bryce 9:33
how do you even do that? I mean, the banks are closed, you can’t transfer Lebanese pounds. Are

Antoine Saab 9:37
you exactly you’re paying them to have some diversification. Robert over being Canadian, I had some money, very little money in Canada, some properties. You know, I had to start a lot had to sell my cars to get some cash. So really, we did Have a lot of struggle to get there. And right now we’ve, since we’ve which we are now having zero power 11 on clients are really lining up, bringing their their life savings just to have power. And when we’re powering them on solar with loose cash deposits, we’re doing that with almost zero profits just to just to assist them because we feel that we have some obligation, you know, humanitary obligations to words. All of those guys, all those people who have some, some of them have medical conditions. So, you know, we’ve been we’ve been working on kind of an NGO so far. However, we kept developing ourselves developing our technology, we’ve just recently issued a solution for the military, to power the military on the goal. We’ve just, we’ve been in talking with the Canadian Army about that, where we’re starting to tender for these projects, to power the military and the human emergency human assistance, crisis kind of entities.

Robert Bryce 11:27
But if I can stop you for just a second because I just want to finish talking about what’s going on in Lebanon, because when we met in 2017, he 24 just been named by Forbes as one of the top 100 startups in the in the Arab world. You were doing well. From everything that you say about what’s going on there. The shortages of fuel shortages of power that Lebanon’s on the verge of what looks to be a humanitarian crisis. I mean, just with potentially 10s of 1000s of people dying for vacation from sickness from you know, the knock on effects of lack of power. Is that is that what’s next?

Antoine Saab 12:01
Yes, what’s next is Malaria is is the trash in the in the streets, there’s nobody to collect them anymore. The country is in a process of getting in total collapse. And talking about total collapse there’s nothing anymore nothing social insurance, closed the money is is is has disappeared because of the devaluation of the currency. The dollar as you remember, the $1 used to be 1500 Robert, Lebanese pounds Today $1 is 20,000 so the Lebanese currency has been has devalued by 97 98% so if you have money at the backyard zero anyways if you live in local currency so the I cannot tell you in either is nothing to describe how bad it is you know, there is no government whatsoever the power electricity company is on the brink on the brink of total collapse so they have total power

Robert Bryce 13:14
EDL electricity dude Dooley bomb is collapsing because they don’t have any fuel oil to run their generators. Good. And what about and what about the the power ships because that was one of the things that we wrote about in my book I we talked about it in juice in the film, that the Turkish company Karen DS holdings had to power ships that were docked near Beirut to provide extra power are they producing any electricity at all? No,

Antoine Saab 13:37
they stopped being them so they backed up and they went they went out they’re done. They’re not getting paid anymore. So having no more money in the government you know, nothing is working anymore. There’s no nobody getting any money from the government. It’s a total chaos out there. So what’s kind of Mad Max? Have you seen the Mad Max here? Yes, that’s where we’re getting that this is how far we are. We are almost in a Mad Max environment.

Robert Bryce 14:09
Well then what how is this country going to be I mean, what’s gonna happen Are we really facing and potentially 1000s and 1000s of people just dying and and civil war I mean,

Antoine Saab 14:20
imagine a father that cannot find a baby milk for his baby. You know, and maybe some babies the mothers don’t have a mother’s milk. They need special milk for the babies. Now imagine those parents in what state of mind they are. where there may be is dying in their hands because they cannot feed him milk. You know, there’s no other alternative and that is no baby milk in the pharmacies anymore. So we are we are we are getting to really a phase that is beyond any Seeing has that as ever happened in any country on the planet. That’s how bad how bad it is.

Robert Bryce 15:11
I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how to respond to that. I mean, I, you know, when we were in Beirut, it was just I mean, the Lebanese people were so wonderful, the food was amazing, you know, people were coming in, and yet we’re looking at the societal collapse, and there’s no seem to be no prospects for any kind of rescue even about where’s where’s the humanitarian aid get from? Where will it come? I mean, you know, where the Saudis, the Qatari is who’s, I mean, who could possibly

Antoine Saab 15:35
nobody is doing anything, nobody’s doing anything. This moment. Some people, there are some endeavors from the Iraqi Government who’s trying to give us fuel against kind of barter agreement. You know, there there are there are attempts, but the Arabs are not doing anything really talking about the the Saudis, the morality is really that they’ve done some help. They’ve did send us some food and some medical support at the moment in time after the bomb. But at this moment, you know, we’re kind of left alone. And I’m wondering where where this is getting? And I understand, because the reason, the problem, Robert, is that the government is corrupted, right? And the international community is willing to help. They’re just they do have the goodwill to help. However, they just don’t want to engage again, and further, those politicians that are really have no limit to their to their greed that there is no limit. So it’s kind of it’s kind of stuck because there is no governance. And there is no way to get out of this situation that the French, the French president, went to Lebanon try to do something, but try to send a clear message that the Lebanese has to stop, the Lebanese Government has to change his attitude, but still the same thing and nothing is getting done.

Robert Bryce 17:12
And just for people who are listening, the peculiarity of one of the peculiarities about Lebanon is a very divided society where you have the government is split between the Shia, the Sunni, and the in the in the Maronite Christians, right, that there, they split the government with one of each in each in each position, position of power. And the sectarian division has been in place for decades and is still in the wake of the Civil War has been one of the reasons why as an outsider, I see the corruption. So you were born in your native of Beirut was that were you

Antoine Saab 17:43
I was born in Beirut, I immigrated to Canada in 2001. And I became Canadian, like 20 years ago. So I’ve been really diversifying myself over Lebanon and Canada and didn’t put my eggs in the same basket. However, I’ve I’ve lived in most countries almost equally. However, you see, I’m really in a position right now where I’m very reconvening or re re repositioning the business to operate out of Canada. I’ve won a few projects inside in Africa. So the company has been doing good, but the crisis in Lebanon has affected us substantially and, you know, delayed our progression in a manner in a substantial manner. I mean, we have and we are kind of, you know, we were we feeling that we need to do something towards our fellow Lebanese, we cannot just having that, that solution that we’ve developed, you know, we have the killer. And so we’ve we’ve renamed we’ve been trying to help as much as we could, we could

Robert Bryce 19:02
be profitable, but your ability to do it is very, very, very limited, very constrained because of just the issues of logistics and capital and so on. So you’re now in Montreal, when did you move from Beirut to Montreal? Personally,

Antoine Saab 19:17
I I’ve always had an apartment here. I’ve always been a kind of living, you know, had some minimum infrastructure in Canada, even when I was in Lebanon. So I, I just arrived here a couple of weeks ago, and I’m really working online with with my team in Lebanon almost every day. So we’re doing very well. Right now. We’re we’re, we’ve we’ve we’ve we’ve done many more villages. We are in current discussion with the European Union for the funding of offer 2000 households village again. Again in the south, we’ve done two villages in, in the north. So, at the same time, we’re doing a lot of, you know, high on critical loads, like we’re powering hospitals or different critical applications. Some people who have when we’re prioritizing we were prioritizing people with health issues, people who have oxygen needs, these people need 24, seven power to to survive. So we’ve we’ve, we’ve, we’ve kind of been, we’ve been we’ve operated, we’re operating as a as an NGO, almost. That’s that’s how we’re doing business that I’ve known.

Robert Bryce 20:38
And so just a technical question on that. And then I want to move on to eat 24 because I, you know, I knew that you would be very up to date on what’s going on in Lebanon, and but how are you even your your colleagues in Lebanon, they’re charging their phones with your cell phone with your solar systems? How are they How are you? How are they having power? How are you communicating with WhatsApp? Or on zoom? or How do you do?

Antoine Saab 21:01
Yeah, so we were we, as I told you, we had some we thought about this far before, you know, when you came to us in Lebanon, like four years ago, even our offices or our offices were equipped with solar and storage. So we are, we’ve, we’ve built our own survival unit, so we do not have power problems in our offices. So our team are running, recharging their phones cetera from, from our solar infrastructure in the office. At the same time, we’ve also delivered equipment to all our team in their homes. So our employees are doing work are doing fine. They’re almost they’re only having some trouble finding fuel to commute between their homes and, and, and business. But being a small place, you know, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s so far, we’ve we’re managing fine. But we’re very worried about the issue related to health, because, you know, if pharmacies are not there, if anybody falls, if anybody has COVID, I mean, we have extremely strict COVID controls in our office, because if somebody gets sick, you can almost it’s impossible to hear him. Even though that some there was some. Now vaccination in Lebanon, people are getting vaccinated. But still, you know, we’ve got about 10 or 15% of the population getting vaccinated. So in these circumstances, if somebody gets sick from COVID, or from anything else, almost impossible to go to the hospital.

Robert Bryce 22:52
It’s It’s incredible. And, and But anyway, let’s, let’s move on, because it’s, it’s it’s heartbreaking to hear you talk about what’s going on. But let me talk about if we can zoom out now, because I’m fascinated by the growth of e 24. And what you you know, what we talked about in your office in Beirut back in 2017. And I’ve thought a lot about one of the things that you said in that, and it’s a thing that we included in the film, and I quoted you in the in my book, question of power, you said, the infrastructure, I’m quoting you here, the infrastructure that every country on the planet has is basically fixed. And it takes time, and the larger the country, the more time it takes to upgrade that infrastructure. Well, I’ve thought about that a lot. Because what I see in the United States, does this talk about oh, well, we’ll you will add more renewables, all we have to do is, you know, build a whole bunch of high voltage transmission. Well, it’s almost impossible to build that. I mean, it’s almost impossible. It’s not impossible, but increasingly difficult to build very large wind projects, because local people are saying, well, we don’t want that. So what you have been your your insight, if I can distill what I see how I see 24, is what you’re saying, well, let’s get solar and storage on premises for as many people as we can, because that avoids the need for particularly for high voltage transmission, which is incredibly difficult to build. So my question is, is how does this apply to this, this inability to expand or this this, this, the fact that infrastructure, the built infrastructure is largely fixed? How does that apply around the country now around the world rather, and how does that figure into what e 24 is trying to do?

Antoine Saab 24:28
Yes, that’s thank you for this excellent question. Let me let me actually everyone in the solar business is almost now is converging into those the same thoughts. So in reality, what’s happening right now is that don’t forget there are there is a new component which is the electric cars and those cars are are really this is this market is becoming is growing at a very fast rate. So we are on top of the Existing exponential growth in power demand, due to growth of the economy and so on so many factors, you’ve got a new component, which is a huge addition of power demand to charge electric cars. So this phenomena is going to lead to a problem. It is inevitable. It’s like in 2006, or spy when, when people were, you know, at the time, if you remember the financial crisis in the States, in 2008, there was one guy shorting the market because he knew it was inevitable. So at this moment, what I can tell you is that if you take the numbers and look at the, the way the market is growing in terms of demand, and look at the speed of growing of the electrical infrastructures, across North America, I’m not talking about only in the United States, Canada is in the same trouble. So at the speed of growth, of demand, it is by far outpacing the capability of the utility companies to grow the grid. And so what I’m what I’m expecting within the next few years is a substantial collapse of power in many areas, that could not go fast enough in investments to update the grid. So it’s inevitable even if you put the money right now, if you have all the billions of dollars, you need to actually implement the upgrade of the of the grid, it’s going to be a problem. So right now, I can tell you, I’ve been seeing things before that happen. I’m a guy who knows what I’m talking about. I believe that in the next few years, I cannot time it. But I can tell you that it’s inevitable that many areas across the entire planet, especially the States, where the grid is a quite the obsolete or austere in many areas is very old, there’s going to be there’s going to be substantial problems. So I can see that the government, the US government is doing is I seen that and they’re doing a lot of efforts to update and to to move forward, I’m not sure they’re gonna be able to avoid some substantial power problems across the entire United States.

Robert Bryce 27:37
Well, I tend to agree with you. I’m, I’m a skeptic about electric vehicles for a lot of reasons. But that’s a separate discussion. But I think that it’s clear, and we’re seeing a lot more interruptions of power across the United States. And as you know, I’m in Texas, and we got blacked out massive blackout here in February. But tell me about the technology because this is the one of the things that I think is quite interesting. And that and remind me if I’m if I’m getting this wrong, but there’s a lot of momentum behind lithium ion batteries, but there’s real problems with lithium ion batteries and fires. And as you may may know, GM just recalled all of the Chevy bolts that they produced because of the problem of fires. So each 24 you’re using a different you’re using a very old chemistry lead acid batteries. You talked about that when we were in Beirut, but tell me so your the basic solution that you eat 24 is providing is, is large solar arrays and lead acid battery storage. Why did you go with lead acid instead of lithium ion?

Antoine Saab 28:34
Yes. Okay, so you see four different markets, different markets have different problems. And each problem needs a solution that is tailored to the parameters of the problem. So it acts as an example, in the States. In Canada, the United States Europe, problem is about a phenomena that we call peak shaving, which means that at the moment, during the day, for some reason, everybody is putting his AC at the same time or charging his car at the same time. So the game has a very short period of time, where there is a peak demand. And that peak demand is about 30 minutes, 40 minutes, and then it goes back down. So the technology required in the United States, Canada and Europe in the in the in the in the civilized world. You need a battery that provides a lot of power in a very short period of time. The problem in Africa, South America, Middle East liberal all of these places is the opposite. You need very little power, but for a very long time. So that’s why the lithium ion battery which is very you know Convenient, especially that it’s light, and it’s very adapted for mobility and cars, it’s compact. But for the emerging market, when you start needing to store electricity for 20 hours out of 24, then you need a substantially very large battery. And if you take a very large battery, and using lithium ion, you know, it would cost more than the apartment that you’re living in that you want to power. So does not make sense anymore. To use such an expensive technology, which is in any case, not required to be compact, you can always start in your basement, not required to be light. You know, if it’s heavy, who cares? It’s not that you’re not getting it up and running in your in your in your attic, or in your in your basement.

Robert Bryce 30:53
So what I hear you saying I guess, put it in physics terms, you’re what you’re saying is that the the gravimetric energy density of the of the battery is not as important you don’t need you don’t need the battery to be light. Yeah, and you don’t need it to be high energy density necessarily, you get higher energy density with lithium ion than you do with lead acid. But because it’s a stationary application doesn’t really matter

Antoine Saab 31:14
is what exactly if you need what you need is a battery that makes financial sense, which which is this, okay, so today you generate electricity from from panels for about two cents per kilowatt hour. So the energy from solar is becoming very cheap. If you are of course, if you amortize it on the Onyx lifetime. So generating electricity at two cents is amazing. But now, if you want to store it, and the cost of storage is going to cost you 30 cents, doesn’t make any sense anymore. So what you need, what you need is a is a is a low capex, a battery that would cost initially, no, it would have an initial low price and a long lifetime. So that when you depreciate it on its lifetime, because cost of the every kilowatt that you store in that battery becomes a comparable to those two cents. So with e 24, we’ve demonstrated and we’re still demonstrating that we are able to store electricity under eight cents.

Robert Bryce 32:25
So then roughly 10 to 10 cents a kilowatt hour then overall.

Antoine Saab 32:30
And that’s now it’s nine cents, because during the night, it will cost you eight cents for storage even less. But let’s say eight cents plus two, that’s 10 cents a night, at night. But in the day, it costs you two cents, because you go through the battery, you don’t use the solar goes through the battery. So the average is two and then it’s two and 10 is a 12 divided by two is six, which means your average of 24 hours is six cents a kilowatt hour, this is becoming cheaper than the actual utility

Robert Bryce 33:06
supply. So I want to interrupt you there because you know one of the things that you that and we went to kirs is the resort in the in the schueth Mountains, where you had a large if I remember right 100 kilowatts of solar panels and 300 kilowatt hours of storage. But the thing that stuck there with me was one that mean that the issue was that your your, your competition in that rural location because the Lebanese grid is very weak and you don’t have a lot of linemen, you know, and a lot of power poles very similar to other developing countries that the the chief competition is diesel gensets. Right diesel or gasoline generators. And when you’re competing at that with what 30 or 40 cents a kilowatt hour right. So that is that the key to the value proposition that you’re proposing then for 2014 in Africa and elsewhere that your your competition is liquid generators.

Antoine Saab 33:59
Absolutely. And when diesel sticker skyrockets like it is knowing right now, the value proposition of E 24 becomes a no brainer deal. So between running a diesel generator, it may be you, you pay less a little bit less to buy generator, but it cost you 30 cents to run per kilowatt. When you when you invest in an E 24. system. It costs you perhaps three times more initially, but then your running cost becomes 1/3 or even less one force per kilowatt hour. So typically, you recover your capital with e 2040 in about three to four years max.

Robert Bryce 34:40
And so tell me more about the lead acid because as I remember and I think what I said in the film was that you’re the design for the lead acid batteries and you use a different design. Is it a spiral? I mean, you have a different design for the for the battery itself.

Antoine Saab 34:55
Yes, we we’ve, we’ve done something very nice was that we took it Because standard battery and we improve it by hardware and software. So our batteries are software driven in a manner to perform. We’re what we’ve done, Robert is we’ve made a lead acid battery perform was almost the same performance as a lithium ion battery was 1/10 of the initial cost.

Robert Bryce 35:26
And, and you I’m gonna interrupt for just a second. I’m talking to Anton Saab. He’s the founder and CEO of e 24. Solutions, you can find out more about him on e 24 On the interweb. He, he and I met four years ago in Beirut. He’s one of the stars of juice, how electricity explains the world. And he and his colleague, Marwan Corey are gracious and showed us around Kier. Zai, which is one of their facilities in Lebanon that I assume is still working now and doing well. But tell me the batteries, then you said you designed them? They’re designed, as I recall, they’re designed in Bulgaria manufactured in India and then shipped around the world. Is that still your supply chain? That’s still

Antoine Saab 36:09
what we’re doing? We are the one that is doing. factory in Canada actually. It’s very strange that even Canadian factories are now have wondered and checked all the technology that is in North America. And they didn’t even not they didn’t totally decide to execute their factories, the transformer factory. They did the factory with us. But now we’ve also partnered with them. We’ve built a our own factory near theirs. And we are going to start producing for the North American market equipment out of Quebec, Canada, really?

Robert Bryce 36:53
and How soon will that be? Anyone less than six months from today. So you’ll be producing lead acid batteries in Canada that are branded with the 24

Antoine Saab 37:06
I would say assembly right now we’re going to do a assembly work because our our technology has grown a lot since we’ve met Robert. So we now have a standardized container system. So we what we do is we’ve we’ve got all our technology packed in a container is pre assemble, and we deliver containers to power factor is already already made. So once the container lands, we plug it to the factory and we install solar panels on the roof. And then it takes it takes four or five days to execute a substantially large project. So

Robert Bryce 37:47
So you’re saying your lead acid batteries that you’re designed in Bulgaria they’re put together in India and then shipped on a ship in a shipping container, right to the site is that we don’t let me explain. Let me clarify.

Antoine Saab 37:59
So we’ve got about 20 to 23 suppliers across the planet, each one of these supplier manufactures its sub assembly, some some of them do do a small part, some boards, all of those sub assemblies are shipped to one place. One of them is going all of these parts are shipped to Bulgaria for the European market and to Canada for the North American market. So in these factories, what we do is we assemble those sub assemblies together in order to to make the final recipe. And this way we we make sure that our intellectual property is protected. At the same time we we add we add our software, which is also appropriately software. And we connect the systems to the day so that we have full visibility through a web web based platform.

Robert Bryce 38:57
And so can you give me an idea then what are you 24 is revenues. What do you How are you what you run right now?

Antoine Saab 39:04
Well, we just closed a $30 million contract in Nigeria to power this is our biggest deal so far into power, a telecom firm to power telephony, telephony, mobile telephony sites. So we just closed the 600 sites we’ve just shipped our first unit was actually 599 more we just shipped the first unit just to make sure the client is happy who is it and make sure we’ve customized it to the client’s needs. And next we’re going to mass produce the rest. We have another pipeline for about 3000 of those containers going to another company in Nigeria it’s it’s still confidential but it’s it’s going there soon. So our model in Nigeria is precisely for example is is an energy as a service. Where we’re where we believe fee per month, per per per site to power those telephony mobile telephony operators at the same time, where we’ve just now issuing a new solution for minds, so we’ll be announcing that soon, we have also a much bigger project we are, we’re working on it right now, for gold mines, copper mines, you know, all kinds of mines, where we deliver a massive multi megawatt system, also containerized to power minds, we stood from two megawatts to 3040 megawatts in a in a containerized, system, plug and play, and then the mind will be able to reduce substantially its operating costs, because most mines right now in Africa are running on diesel. So imagine how much they would improve their profits. Right?

Robert Bryce 41:02
So 30, or 40 megawatts, you’re talking about 30 or 40 megawatts of installed solar capacity, then that’s a very large, solar small,

Antoine Saab 41:10
but prefer a 40 megawatt power plant, you’re gonna need about 100 megawatts of, of solar panels. So typically, those mines have a lot of land around them, it’s just there’s a big space. So we start with we’re starting to enter this market. Soon, we’ll be announcing our our approach to how we’re going to do that we’re we’ve already have partnerships being discussed right now. So we’re targeting the mining industry, we’re tiny, we’re targeting also the military industry across the planet. Because we came up with a an amazing technology, which this time is lithium base. Because for when you talk mobility, when you want to move, troops, you need this, this is the only place where you need light equipment. So we’re we’ve came up we came up with a product that’s almost sewn on the on the going to be announced on our website, it’s to power the troops, the camps in a manner to avoid them to start generators, which are practical, tactically in appropriate. At the same time, you know, you generate very bad fumes and gases that are very bad for the army personnel. So that this way, you remove all the market apart from other micro particles that are very unhealthy for the for the troops.

Robert Bryce 42:42
Sure. And I know we talked about that as the air pollution issues issue of real importance in Beirut because of all the small generators. I want to come back to Nigeria, but I’m just going to repeat my question. This is what I do. So your run rate then at 24, on an annual basis, can you disclose that? What’s your what’s your what’s your revenues? I

Antoine Saab 43:00
don’t disclose my revenue, because it would affect our discussions with our different parties. So we are we’re keeping the company as as broad as private as possible at this moment. We are working on a

Robert Bryce 43:14
number of employees something like that what you know, we are about 120 people at this moment, one 121 to one, yes,

Antoine Saab 43:22
overall, overall, we are on 120. But we’re growing fast, even liberal market now we’re hiring like crazy. So I think we’ll be right now because the the fuel is no more subsidized deliver on. So we have no more competition from generators. And so the demand on our technology is like we have people lining up. Like every morning, we have like a queue in front of the Office for People coming with their bag of cash that they took from the mattress, just because they don’t want to be left in the dark. So elaborate on it is a massive product in a massive deployment. But it’s it’s not really profitable, because we’re doing that on a humanitarian basis. really sure. We’re not really making big profits out of this, also sustaining our theme.

Robert Bryce 44:17
Right? So let me ask about Nigeria, because I was just looking at Nigeria, in fact, earlier today because of the issue of standby generators and small generators, which are very well familiar with in Beirut and those sales of those generators in the United States are booming, right, because we’re seeing more blackouts right in Texas, California, across the country, more extended blackouts, severe blackouts. Nigeria is the prime example of this, right, where there’s a country of 200 million people, depending on whose numbers you believe between 20 and 60 million small generators, which is just incredible. And you made this point when we interviewed you for juice about the issue of air pollution and so on. But the question here I’m getting to Anton is is the issue of micro grids, and your your But he is pushing micro grids that are solar and storage with with poly silicon PV panels lead acid batteries and maybe some lithium ion batteries. But she said, I’m quoting you said micro grids are the future because it will be this is what you said when we talked in Beirut, it’s inevitable because utilities will not be able to upgrade at the same speed is the demand and power. Is that is that it sounds to me like your your thesis is exactly the same today as it was when we talked for years.

Unknown Speaker 45:27

Robert Bryce 45:30
micro grids with liquid fuel, but not micro grids using combustion engines.

Antoine Saab 45:35
Now, I don’t believe in in diesel, Robert, because, you know, the equation is simple. I mean, the it’s for me it’s it’s there is a you know, it doesn’t take gray in Einstein to figure it out. It’s obvious. If you look at if you take a any generator, and you look at how much litres of fuel does it consume per hour, you multiply that cost of per liter multiplied by the cost of the of the of the fuel and you calculate how many kilowatt hours would that generator give you you will figure out your row, you will realize that you’re about 30 cents in almost everywhere on the planet, even in in places where the fuel is actually being taken out of the ground. So actually, since you have immediately you compare that to the solar power being generated at two cents, so two cents versus 30 cents, there is something to be done there. And if you are able to store electricity with a reasonably cost effective technology that is reliable, that same as what we are doing, the only problem you have to execute that and to become a kind of widely spread process is the funding mechanism. So the problem right now is that in these poor countries, they don’t have enough cash to pay for the initial costs. And so what I’m seeing that, I mean, the reason things are getting delayed, is that these, these companies that do the actual funding of these infrastructures are really starting to grow and to operate and to understand the business. And that’s what takes time, because deployment of capital is lagging, the technology is there, the capital is not understanding yet how to address that and how to how to manage the risks. So this is getting a little we’re dealing now we have a special person in the company that handles relationship with investors, but it’s a hugely profitable for the investor because we can get empty, at least 70 10% return on on investors money, you know, you know, in the blink of an eye, in a kind of continuous return every year on year seven, it’s almost a an unbelievable yield. But that’s an opportunity that is there today. And we are waiting for the financial market to start developing the tools. And once this is done, you’re gonna see a a massive deployment of storage and microgrids. You name it across all over the world, once this the capital can can

Robert Bryce 48:44
follow. But they’re in that key challenge. And you alluded to this earlier, which is that that upfront capital cost is significantly higher, right. And the operating cost is lower, but that you need that upfront capital similar, I guess it would be to hydroelectric project or something like that. Overall, sir, all the costs are front loaded. But let me challenge you on a couple things. And I do do silver in friendly way. Obviously, you know, we’re friends from a short time ago. But what about the lead? I mean, this is one of the things that you know, it’s a very stable element right and lead acid batteries are much more stable, less far less prone to fire than lithium ion batteries. As we you will know. What about the recycling issue? Talk about that.

Antoine Saab 49:25
Exactly. This is another reason why we’re going led Robert because you see there is a there are a couple of factories across the planet that really recycle lithium. However, I can assure you that in every country on the planet, there is multiple recycling plants to recycle car batteries already. So lead batteries have already the channels of recycling and then they’re being recycled. And the Li the the yield is 98%. So a car battery today gets it cycles and you get plastic lead and then there is a process by which you do that. And that process is available in each country on the planet is competition. So, even eliminar that is three or four recycling factories for cars. So this is why he 24 uses the same recycling local recycling facilities, this way we save on shipping those batteries back to some factory in Canada or the states that recycles lithium. So, this is one very, very, very important point in favor of, of lead acid. At the same time, it is impossible to burn you cannot even if you throw a battery in the fire, it will melt. That’s it, you know it will make it will make some smoke because the plastic will. But it is not a fire hazard explosion hazard. Imagine a container full of lithium batteries compared to your iPhone that used it, some of them exploded in the in the initial times. Imagine a 40 feet container when there is an explosion of one of the cells. That’s another mob. It’s not bad. Now, I understand that lithium has done a lot of they’ve done a lot of controls, and they’ve done but it’s still lithium and lithium by itself is it hasn’t. So that’s why i’m in favor of lead acid there are today other companies including American companies were producing other technologies that lithium, we are looking at possibly adding to our portfolio, depending on the size of the projects, we are looking at integrating also other possible technologies then lead acid that are currently being developed across the world once the cost benefit is starts to be reasonable.

Robert Bryce 52:02
So then let me ask you about the poly silicon because lead of course highly toxic, but you’re right, I mean that one of the things that’s remarkable about about lead acid batteries is their recycling rate there, you know, 98% 99% are recycled and turned into new batteries. Whereas if memory serves less than it’s in the single single digit percentages of lithium ion battery, so there’s a huge waste issue that’s looming for the for the lithium ion producers. But what about poly silicon? Because this is one of the things that just in the last few weeks, last few months, we’ve seen where the Chinese government has subsidized the production of poly silicon and Jin Jang and the use of Uyghur labor, something like half of all the polysilicon in the world was coming out of shinjang. And much of that was using slave labor from the Uighur and Muslim minorities. Yes, that’s, that is a very, it’s a bit that’s not good. It’s a huge black mark against the entire solar industry. So how do you I know when we went to cures I the panels? They were from China? They were I looked at them. So yes. How do you how do you surmount that? And how does the solar industry deal with the issue of poly silicon in the supply chain because slave labor is a bad thing. And we need industry, but particularly for an industry that comes in it’s green, clean, lalala, you know, zero carbon?

Antoine Saab 53:23
So I’ll tell you about about the dispro you’re putting your finger on a very, very important worldwide problem. So yes, so first, this is a I believe this is a governmental issue. So basically, each country on the planet needs to take action in regards because you see, the problem is that on only 24 level, if the entire market is buying solar panels at 21 cents the kilowatt, the 21 cents the word, obviously we cannot import solar panels at twice that price, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to sell it at all. So we need to in countries that do not have a mechanism of of you know, tackling this issue, it’s very difficult for us to do anything else but to to do our share of the work which is to make sure at least that our Chinese suppliers are are not doing me so we deal with very serious suppliers who have a serious governance and we make sure that you know suppliers that are supplying us panels are not using kids or any any on the illegal illegal labor. However, I believe that it is the task of the governments to to put the proper protection mechanisms and the task of the companies to Make sure they control their sourcing. And there are software to do that, today, the United States have with the new policy, which I applaud, have done a lot of good work. I applaud that in the United States. If when we start, I mean, we’re going to be starting in the United States, hopefully soon. I will be definitely buying American made solar panels locally, if possible. So, you know, I believe this is the right policy, but you see if your competition is selling half your price, because they have, you know, no morals. Or, you know, they’re the country doesn’t doesn’t prohibit that there’s no tariffs to protect against this, then you cannot do anything, basically.

Robert Bryce 55:51
Yeah, so you need an international agreement, you need an levelized baseload agreement that we’re not going to use this polysilicon version Jang and or they exempt that. But in the absence of that, what you said, I’m paraphrasing here is that it’s almost impossible for you to do business or to avoid using those commodities. Is that is that fair?

Antoine Saab 56:14
Absolutely. Because the client has another alternative, you know, and then you’ll be out of business. The only thing you can say is that promo to clients that, you know, he 24 uses properly sourced material from from, from quality suppliers, who is who is whose morals and we’ve gone to control their governance. So we do we do deal with very serious Top, Top firms who do not play was the I mean, it’s not everybody that does that in China, you need to look at who’s the supplier there are serious people and not on serious ones.

Robert Bryce 56:52
Sure. So let me back up because it just says we’re talking about international trade and this has been where your your your business for a long time. You said you have roughly 120 employees, how many in Bulgaria, how many in Lebanon? How many in Canada? How does that break out? And did I did I hear incorrectly that your some of your your batteries are coming from India, but now you got

Antoine Saab 57:11
it we manufacture we’ve got a part of the US is a substantial part of that battery there. So yes, we are we’re spread, we are a very small firm still. We are now in working on executing that big project in Nigeria that is going to hopefully give us substantial revenue, and will be will once we do that we’re in the process of restructuring ourselves in, in, in a business where we will be able to raise based on our infrastructure and our know how the need of capital to become a any lead international firm. So we’re in the process of doing that. But you know, we have this issue of Lebanon has differently the ladar substantially.

Robert Bryce 58:05
But you’re domiciled in Canada, then now is that is that fair? Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, but the majority of your employees, are they in Bulgaria? Or are they in Lebanon still,

Antoine Saab 58:16
we’re all over the place. I’ve got people in Nigeria, I’ve got people even in South Africa right now. I’ve got people in. In Canada, I’m hiring in Canada right now. Area liberal, even in UK, I have a couple of people working out of the UK. So it’s, it’s, it’s a, it’s not anti smoking. It’s like, one day, you’ve got 30 employees there the next day, they just moved 20 out of them to another place. So you know, the company is still after 10 years, unfortunately, because of those delays. The ghosts of these turmoil is live and on has substantially delayed our progress. But I think we’re gonna get back on our feet. And we’ll we’ll do very well when we’re doing great.

Robert Bryce 59:05
Well, I can only imagine having your office actually physically flattened would be quite a quite a blow. Sure business. Well, so just a few more things in my guest, again is Anton Saab. He’s the founder and CEO of e 24. Solutions. You can find out more about them at E 24 Okay, so tell me about Nigeria. How do you protect yourself from the political risk? It’s a notoriously corrupt country, maybe on par or worse than Lebanon, how do you protect yourself from the political risks in that country?

Antoine Saab 59:37
Okay, so they’re about I’m dealing with what we call tower companies. Okay, so basically the model is simple of the cell

Robert Bryce 59:47
phone. So the cell phone tower guys,

Antoine Saab 59:50
yes, it’s there are there are companies who are very serious and top top international firms actually, who what they do is they they buy the land Or they buy a 10 by 10 meter land, you know, it’s a, it’s smaller, and they install a tower. And then they lease that tower to multiple operators. So those businesses are international businesses that have 2000 3000 20,000 50,000 sites, whether in Africa or in South America or in the States. And so these are our customers. So we are putting our equipment on their site, on their land, the equipment is, in effect, fenced. The tower is fast, the equipment is extremely rapid, because we’ve, we’ve armored it. So we’re actually shipping a container, which has been Armand and it is connected to is a very sophisticated security system to a cloud. And so we can control, we can control even, you know, there is no more theft of fuel, everything is in that container. So it’s almost impossible to break into it or damage it or break it. So there is a very sophisticated Alarm System and Security System to prevent.

Robert Bryce 1:01:14
Hit you have that connected to a solar array that’s on site as well, no, yes. And how much what’s the capacity on that solar on the solar array, then

Antoine Saab 1:01:23
we’ve got about 20 kilowatts of solar power per site. Okay. Okay. So you know, it’s a lot of power to make sure our, our, our, these towers do not, do not have a power cut, or they have enough sun to operate. Or they you know, there’s enough batteries and solar panels to operate for a week, even if there is no sun, so very serious material.

Robert Bryce 1:01:54
I see. So just for reference, so I live in Austin, I have eight and a half kilowatts of solar on the roof of my house. So it’d be a little more than what two and a half, almost two and a half times the size of my residential consumption here, or my residential array here, here in Austin. So let me ask you about just a couple of other things, because we’ve been talking for nearly an hour and I want to keep it at about that link. What do you think of Ilan musk? amazing guy, amazing guy. He’s a big battery producer was he has a good vision.

Antoine Saab 1:02:26
I did start before even though I did start in 2010. He started in 2014. But I love the guy is he’s developing amazing technology, great vision. I hope one day I’ll be able to meet him and see maybe we can do some collaboration on some things.

Robert Bryce 1:02:44
So who do you look up to? asked you about musk but so who are your heroes? Who are the people that you admire either in business or in society? What Who do you think is Who do you Who do you look up look up to

Antoine Saab 1:02:57
I admire people who did not lose themselves to the to the to this tendency of work more, make more there is there are people who also have kept they bear their humanitarian side, where you know, they think of, of doing good at the same time. And so there is no nobody in particular, but I when I assess someone or I look at somebody I looked at Well, okay, you can make a lot of money and you’re under always under pressure from shareholders to make more money and drive the stock up, etc. But at the end of the day, we are human beings. And that rush to to corporate profit is not the is not the purpose, we need to be happy. And so I look up to people who have created that balance in their lives, to at the same time put to work their talents, obviously, the Elon Musk’s of this planet have a lot of talent the day, you know, definitely to put your your time and work for people. But it is important and I look up to those people who have kept a is some portion of their, of their of their endeavor of their or their efforts into keeping in mind that, you know, we need to be happy. We need to do good. And money is not the end. The End The End purpose.

Robert Bryce 1:04:36
You mentioned something and it’s print something. So I know we’re gonna draw this to a close in just a minute. But one of the memorable things you said in the interview that we did in Beirut and it’s one that we have on the in that came out in the movie was you said that electricity is a human right? That it means I’m remembering now you said electricity means you’re a human being. And there is still yet in the world as you know. And it’s a point that we make in the film but There are 3 billion people in the world who are living really in electricity poverty and roughly a billion who are living with no electricity. So is that part of what motivates you this this that that desire to bring? Figure actually people out of the dark and into the light is that was

Antoine Saab 1:05:17
absolutely you, you’ve nailed it. Robert You know, I’ve been quite successful in my lifetime I’ve worked in many different Dianna 35 year career so I made money for myself, perhaps I could have stopped working and retired right now. So but this is not what what drives me today is definitely there is a drive to start things and to do business, this is always very exciting. But really, what what drives me today is what is this to see the look on the face of a child who has been living for almost all his life without power, and one day he’s got power, and this look in some child’s face and the face of their parents, when when when when they have their house being now even if they have a light, you know, maybe they have one lamp and they get your TV or something, you know, this, this feeling is you cannot imagine the happiness it brings me to see people being you know, being you know, getting their human rights basically getting that what they need to have it 2021 where people are going to the moon and soon to Mars, I am having difficulty thinking that a billion people do not have power when others are going to Mars. This is a this is what transmit today.

Robert Bryce 1:06:48
So what do you what are you reading? What are the books that you have on your desk or your your shelf? What what books are you reading now? Well, I I do I do not read a lot? I

Antoine Saab 1:07:04
I did the books I want to tell you, you probably won’t know them. Because it’s been I have books that I read since perhaps 20 years. I’ve read the definitely the art, The Art of War. This is I think business is a is war and you need to know how to play it. But I read on the internet was happening. And I definitely look up to and try to see really who’s doing things at the same time profitably, but at the same time humanely. I think this is a this is a point that is becoming very rare right now to see leaders, you know, doing some some good things that are not so profitable, but very worthy on a on a human level on the humanitarian side. So yeah, I mean, it’s church, I’m in the quest to see who’s doing good. Steve Jobs is definitely one of my gurus, many others.

Robert Bryce 1:08:15
What gives you hope?

Antoine Saab 1:08:19
I think that the problem is mainly in education. The problem the reason why there are wars and problems and corruption is a lack of education and a lack of wisdom. And I believe that you see, for example, let me give you an idea 11 on has moved, maybe they have they have at least their progress, although they are in the ditch right now. But they progress because before they used to, to kill themselves, or kill each other, and kill themselves by the way and kill their children that will be used in stupid wars, at least today, it’s an economical war, they moved up from actual actual war to something because they have a little bit more wisdom. Still many, much more wisdom to realize that if you don’t have a collective consciousness, if you do not think as a team, if you do not think as a country, if you don’t think you cannot, you don’t know how to reunite and forget if you are Sunni, Shia or whatever your religion if you cannot understand that first you are Lebanese and second you have your own religion. As soon as you you realize that and I think they will realize that. So it gives me hope that when people struggle that much they think they start thinking that perhaps it’s not the right way. And maybe that that difficulty though all the countries that are going in struggle and wars are it’s perhaps a way for them. them to mature, get more wisdom and try to love each other and work for the best of their collective benefits.

Robert Bryce 1:10:10
I think we can leave it right there then. And Trump. I think that well stated in a good place to stop. My my friend and one Saab is the founder and the CEO of e 24. Solutions. He is now in Montreal. He’s Lebanese businessman and doing some interesting very interesting work. You can find more about him at E 24 And one thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast

Antoine Saab 1:10:39
over time, I really thank you for the amazing efforts you’re doing and for for coming to Lebanon as well I look forward to hopefully welcoming you soon but after everything is hopefully in a better position,

Robert Bryce 1:10:54
I will buy the beer my friend and do all of you in podcast land thanks for tuning into this episode. They’re more coming. If you’re on your your various platforms, give us a good rating on the on the podcast and until then I’ll see you on the next episode of the power hungry podcast.

Contact Robert

For information on speaking engagements or other interviews.