Ideal Power Fires Founder for Ethics Violation

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Austin-based power conversion company Ideal Power fired its founder and chief technologist last week over a personal financial dealing.

Bill Alexander pledged shares of company stock as collateral to secure a personal loan, in violation of Ideal's ethics policy, CEO Dan Brdar confirmed. When the deal came to light, leadership fired Alexander on November 7. The termination for cause meant Alexander did not receive severance pay, per the terms of his contract.

"Your obligation as a director and an officer is to your shareholders," Brdar said. "If you’re pledging your shares against a personal loan, then you have an obligation to whoever you’re securing the loan from."

The matter came to the attention of the company due to a dispute between Alexander and the lender, Brdar said.

"It’s a personal financial situation that Bill has that he needs to sort out," he noted.

The development sparked concern on investor forums that Alexander might take the rights to Ideal's core intellectual property with him. Alexander's name is on several of the company's 80-plus patents, but Ideal retains ownership of them, Brdar said.

"It's unfortunate, but the impact for us is probably not much," he said, adding that Alexander already had moved to more of a technical consulting role.

Ideal Power went public in 2013, hitting a peak stock price of $11.02 in March 2014. Its price tumbled down by 24 percent over the weekend.

Between Alexander's firing and the stock price decline, the company released its quarterly earnings. Ideal posted a loss of $2.2 million for Q3 (that's $700,000 less than it lost in Q3 2016), and holds $11.7 million in cash.

That stock movement probably has more to do with impatient investors looking for results from a partnership with NEXTracker, Brdar said. Ideal is supplying inverters for NEXTracker's solar tracker-plus-storage product, but is still waiting for a major order to close nearly a year after the product was first unveiled.

The first-of-its-kind system features a DC-coupled Avalon Battery flow system that minimizes efficiency losses from extra power conversion steps, and secures the investment tax credit for the storage. It also addresses the problem of "clipping," in which generation in excess of the inverter's capacity gets lost. The storage can hold onto that extra power and push it out at a later time.

"Any time somebody does something new, it takes time to get people comfortable," Brdar said.

When I spoke with Ralph Fallant, NEXTracker's sales director for storage solutions, in July, he declined to say how many trackers had shipped so far. He did say he was getting a "huge amount of interest" from developers and EPCs.

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