Along with kangaroos and cork hats, Australia is world famous for its natural bounty of sun and sea. And while they may not put it on the postcards, it’s got a fair bit of wind blowing around too.
In this eclectic nation, not everyone is on board with the move to renewables, but there are businesses out there working hard to harness these natural sources of energy.
They’re plonking solar panels on household rooftops, building remote wind farms, and even extracting minerals from rock faces to power electric cars — and where there’s innovation, there are startups.
Spanning earth, wind, sun and sea, these are just a handful of the Aussie startups on the frontline of the natural-energy revolution.
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Wave Swell Energy
It’s not one of the better-known sources of renewable energy, but the sea is a powerful beast, and wave energy is more predictable and more consistent than solar or wind.
Tom Denniss, founder of Wave Swell Energy, has been working on a solution in this space for the past 30 years, but only founded it as a business in 2016.
Speaking to StartupSmart in November last year, Denniss described the technology as “a big static chunk of concrete below the water”.
It has no moving parts aside from an air turbine eight metres above the water level, he said, meaning operational costs are kept down, and there’s little risk to marine life.
In November, Wave Swell Energy raised $7.5 million in equity investment, and set out to raise another $1.5 million through equity crowdfunding.
The funding was pegged for the first fully-fledged commercial demonstration of the technology on King Island in the Bass Strait, which commenced last month.
“After that, we expect to be fully-fledged commercial and doing profitable projects,” Denniss said.
Sydney energy sensor startup Fulcrum3D is working on forecasting technology for wind and solar farms, and recently secured just shy of $1 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
The funding is for two projects. The first involves trialling technology that develops real-time models using on-site wind data equipment, to predict operational forecasts for wind turbines, regardless of their size or model.
The second project is Fulcrum3D’s CloudCAM sky-imaging technology, which monitors cloud patterns from the ground, and to submit data to the Australian Energy Market Operator.
Co-founder and chief executive Colin Bonner told StartupSmart last month that although Australia has been slow to adopt renewable energy solutions, it’s “at the forefront of integration of renewable energy into the grid”.
Australia has a huge energy grid, he said, but currently, there are issues relating to the intermittent supply of renewable energy. This is what the startup is setting about to improve.
“There is a bit of hype in the sector at the moment,” Bonner said.
Also operating in the wind-energy space, Adelaide startup Ping uses aero-acoustic analysis to detect damage to wind turbine blades.
The technology has the potential to replace drone technology used to monitor the condition of turbines, and to pick up issues more quickly. Currently, issues can be picked up by maintenance long after the damage occurs.
Earlier this year, Ping secured a $170,000 Australian Government Accelerating Commercialisation grant, to trial, scale and launch the device.
The latest product will be solar powered, and sits either on the turbine pole, or on the ground next to it.
Ping chief executive Matthew Stead said at the time the device can also be used for surveillance, “listening for aircraft or drones you don’t want to be there and monitoring for the presence of predators such as wild dogs on farms”.
However, for the most part, it’s about preventing lasting damage from lightning strikes, hail and general wear and tear.
“We’ve seen some sites where they’ve got damage that they didn’t know about for a year, or another site hadn’t been inspected for three years,” Stead said,
“You don’t really want the damage getting worse over time.”
Headed up by founder and chief executive Katherine McConnell, Brighte is a digital payments platform that connects homeowners with home-improvement vendors, offering zero-interest payment plans for solar panels.
In May last year, the startup raised $18.5 million in its Series B round, led by AirTree Ventures, and also including the investment funds of both Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, and retail entrepreneur Naomi Milgrom.
Just weeks previously, the startup secured a $20 million funding facility from NAB.
At that time, McConnell noted environmental issues are front-of-mind in the public consciousness at the moment.
If they have affordable access to equipment, they can reduce their utility bills and feel good about their environmental impact.
“For the families, you can’t get better than that — helping yourself and helping something a bit bigger than yourself,” McConnell said.
Pure Battery Technologies
Finally, Pure Battery Technologies is a startup using minerals dug out of the ground to make a core component of electric vehicle batteries.
It may not strictly be working on harnessing renewable energy, but it does make a case for how mined raw materials can play a part in reducing carbon emissions.
The startup enables the nickel and cobalt minerals required for making batteries to be more easily extracted from raw materials, before they’re converted into the components required for batteries quickly and cheaply.
In November last year, the startup raised $1.74 million from the University of Queensland and several high-net-worth individuals.
The funding was intended to allow the team to commercialise the technology and construct a demonstration plant in Brisbane.
It will also be used to build a manufacturing facility in Townsville, which chief executive Bjorn Zikarsky said will be able to process 25,000 tonnes of nickel per year, and create 100 jobs.
As electric vehicles become more mainstream, Australia may not be able to compete on costs when it comes to building the actual batteries. However, it has the raw materials and the processes required to extract them.
“In the middle of the supply chain, we’re actually really good,” Zikarsky said.
“We can make this more effective, we can create more value, and then we can licence [the technology] or work with big companies so they can have the cheap power and the cheap manufacturing capabilities to do that. That’s where I think we fit in.”
This article is part of our spotlight on climate change. You can view the full series here.