Alex Au

Chief Technology Officer

If you think about it from a perspective of being an artist, you usually have a set size canvas. After the acquisition by Flextronics, I feel like that canvas is infinite.”

Alex Au
CTO, NEXTracker

Alex Au leads NEXTracker’s technology and engineering, driving the creation of the NEXTracker120 and SPT products and now the NX Horizon and NX Fusion. The NEXTracker co-founder has over 13 years of PV product development experience, ranging from residential to utility scale applications. As director of advanced technology R&D at Akeena Solar, he helped to invent the Andalay AC module. At SPG Solar he led the SunSeeker G3.2 tracker design, reducing cost by more than 30% compared to previous versions. Au is listed as the sole inventor for the first PV tracker designed to stow for high wind speeds up to 155 mph, and he holds design patents on the Andalay rack and framing, the SunSeeker tracker, and the NEXTrackerSPT. He studied mechanical engineering at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.

Alex Au’s NEXTracker Story

It’s cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true. As a child, Alex Au drove his father nuts because he always broke things. One good example is the drivable lawnmower that he got for ten bucks and then completely disassembled, never putting it back together. Not to destroy it, but to get to the bottom of things, to find out how stuff works.

That’s when you know you are raising a future engineer.

In high school and college, Au continued to build and break stuff, break and build stuff — and they were often related to solar energy. It just made sense to him to produce electricity directly from sunlight. Or as he would put it: It’s short-term versus long-term. It’s the sun shining on a solar panel and releasing electricity right there versus the sun shining down on plants growing. And animals eating them. And another animal eating those animals, and then it dies. And hundreds of thousands of years later we extract it and use it to generate energy.

“From an engineering perspective, there was just no efficiency in that,” says Au. “It blew me away why that would be an accepted means of energy generation.”  

After leaving California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Au went to work at Akeena Solar, at that time the No. 2 installer behind SolarCity in the U.S. “I wanted to be in a position where I could understand everything that’s required,” recalls Au. Soon he started to improve things again, ending up inventing racking systems, a solar AC module, and putting his name on patents.

When he moved on to a tracker company, Au specialized in finding cost savings. But what he really wanted was to start from scratch, with a clean sheet, not squeezing dollars out of an existing design.

That’s when Solaria knocked on his door, promising that he would have the chance to take on innovation fearlessly. Au hesitated at first because he intended to stick just to trackers and wasn’t really interested in modules, but he believed in the pedigree of the company’s leadership team.   

So he joined, and then NEXTracker grew out of Solaria — and the rest is history.

Up to this point, Au’s name is on every single patent NEXTracker has issued. “I’ve been given a great opportunity to start with a clean sheet. And not only did we reset the tracker, we’ve reset the control systems, too,” says Au.

And he is only getting started: “If you think about it from a perspective of being an artist, you usually have a set size canvas. After the acquisition by Flextronics, I feel like that canvas is infinite.”

He isn’t finished with just helping to commercialize solar for the developed world. Au wants solar power to be a global product and solution so that in a rural area in China, for example, instead of firing up coal plants there, they can go directly to deploying solar farms and storage: “We just don’t need to use dirty fossil fuels if we can scale solar and storage fast enough.”

When Au doesn’t break things to reinvent them at NEXTracker, he might be found tinkering with his electrified 1964 Lincoln Continental that had a perfectly fine combustion engine ripped out of it. Because it is cleaner and it is faster. And because somebody had to prove it could be done.

If you think about it from a perspective of being an artist, you usually have a set size canvas. After the acquisition by Flextronics, I feel like that canvas is infinite.”

Alex Au
CTO, NEXTracker

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