Sydney renewable energy sensor startup Fulcrum3D has secured just shy of $1 million in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) for two projects focused on forecasting for wind and solar farms.
In partnership with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), ARENA has issued a total of $9.4 million to 11 projects, each trialling technology to improve short-term forecasting on renewable energy sites.
The aim is to reduce penalties for inaccurate reporting from energy generators, and to help better integrate energy into the grid, thereby improving stability and reducing costs.
Speaking to StartupSmart, Fulcrum3D co-founder and chief executive Colin Bonner suggests the funding follows a change in AEMO rules, which allows energy generators to self-forecast.
“ARENA is providing the cash to make it happen.
“Arena is bringing the chequebook to the table and saying ‘make this happen and do it smarter’,” he says.
The trial will involve at least 45% of the National Electricity Market’s registered wind and solar capacity.
That “speaks volumes to the market’s needs and its desire to do better”, Bonner says.
Fulcrum3D was awarded $500,000 for its wind project, trialling technology that develops real-time models using wind data from equipment on site. The technology is turbine-agnostic, designed to develop accurate operational forecasts for any size or model of wind turbine.
The startup has also received $490,000 for a solar project and its CloudCAMs sky-imaging devices.
The technology uses ground-based devices to monitor cloud patterns, allowing solar farm operators to submit self-generated data directly to AEMO’s market dispatch system.
“We’re paying our bills”
Fulcrum3D was first conceived in 2009, and released its first operational unit in 2011.
Now, the startup has a team of 15, and has recently made its first commercial sale in China, winning out against both local and international competitors. And Bonner says it has a few more deals in the pipeline.
The business has seen about 30% revenue growth over the past three years, and that’s continuing steadily, Bonner says.
It’s “reached the point where we’re paying our own bills”, he adds.
However, while Fulcrum3D isn’t actively seeking investment, Bonner says he’s “certainly open” to the possibility.
“We’re in that nice position where we don’t need funds, but we’re also in a position where we’re having a lot of growth,” he says.
If the team did decide raise, that funding “would be used in an effective manner”, he adds.
This ARENA funding will be focused on “installing our existing tech onto windfarms and demonstrating that it works”.
Once that’s proven, “it will help us grow in Australia and export globally”.
A scientist at heart
According to Bonner, it’s a good time to be a startup in the renewable energy sector.
Although Australia has been slow to adopt renewable energy solutions, according to Bonner, it’s “at the forefront of integration of renewable energy into the grid”.
The country has a huge grid, he says, but currently, there are issues around the intermittent supply of renewable energy.
“There is a bit of hype in the sector at the moment,” he says.
“But there’s also a lot of scope. If you do have something that addresses a real need, it’s a good market for people to take a risk on something,” he adds.
Fulcrum3D, for example, is very focused on utility scale and bankability of energy.
But “there are lots of startups trying to do interesting things”, he says.
A big part of the startup journey here is identifying real problems.
“It’s not coming up with a solution and finding a problem. It’s addressing a real problem and coming up with a good solution,” he advises.
“Clarity is important,” he adds.
“Understand what you want to achieve, understand how you want to achieve it, and stay true to your goals.”
Finally, Bonner maintains he’s “very much a scientist at heart”.
The founder started developing Fulcrum3D’s technology while he was finishing his PhD, and never really saw himself becoming a businessperson.
“Business acumen is something you pick up by necessity,” he says.
“It’s been a lot harder than you would ever expect, to take something from an idea to something tangible that works,” he warns.