South Australian startup Ping Services has raised $1.3 million to scale up production of its Internet of Things device detecting damage on wind turbines.
The round was led by Aussie VC Artesian, and brings the startup’s total funding to date to $2.25 million.
Ping’s flagship Ping Monitor product is essentially an “intelligent listening device”, co-founder and chief Matthew Stead tells SmartCompany. It magnetically attaches to the tower of a wind turbine, and alerts maintenance staff when an anomaly in sound is detected.
Such continuous monitoring means any damage can be identified early, and repaired while its more affordable to do so, Stead explains.
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“Ping at the moment is all about reducing the cost of wind electricity,” he says.
It’s still early days for the business in terms of revenue, the founder says, but Ping has built 100 monitors so far, and is gearing up to build another 100.
Both those manufacturing batches have been funded by grants, he explains — the first through the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation grant program, and the second through a South Australian Research, Commercialisation and Startup Fund grant.
“Our aim is to have 40,000 systems in the field in the next five years,” Stead says.
Looking further ahead, there’s a massive market for the taking.
According to Stead, there are about 400,000 wind turbines in the world today. The number of onshore turbines is increasing gradually, he says.
But the key growth area is offshore, globally.
“The number of offshore wind turbines is expected to grow by a factor of seven … in the next 10 years,” he says.
Of course, Stead would love to have a Ping Monitor on every one of those, he says.
“But, realistically, our target is less than 10% of that total.”
Ping’s latest funding follows a $650,000 seed round, closed almost exactly a year ago, in July 2019.
This time, Stead originally set out to raise $750,000. But, like so many entrepreneurs, he re-thought his plans in light of COVID-19.
The pandemic has led to a slew of online panel events featuring VCs, and even a few podcasts and online interview channels. Tuning into this COVID-19 hive mind made Stead realise he might have to up his fundraising target this time around.
“Universally, the recommendation has been to raise more rather than less.
“We considerably increased our raise, just to give us plenty of runway,” he adds.
“We went from a one-year runway to a two-year runway.”
In fact, the final amount raised was just a smidge over the secondary target, Stead says.
“I’m telling people that we were oversubscribed.”
Now, the startup is focusing on scaling up production and getting its products to more regions around the world, with a focus on North America.
It will also boost the sales and support teams, to help make those connections happen, Stead explains.
And, there’s also research and development to be done, in terms of improving the algorithms and introducing new capabilities.
“We really want to improve the quality of what we’re doing,” he says
There are also opportunities beyond Ping’s initial use case. First, the startup is looking into using the tech to identify ice on the blades of wind turbines, which can be dangerous if it detaches and flies off.
In some sites, the power output of wind turbines has to be curtailed, so the site doesn’t generate too much noise, Stead adds.
“We’re able to help improve the control system around the noise curtailment so they can generate more power.”
And finally, the founder notes that Ping simply provides listening tech for machine tech. That could be applied to anything from conveyor belts to the bearings on train wheels.
While COVID-19 has seen many industries, and startups working within them, grind to a halt, the move towards renewable energy is showing no signs of slowing, Stead says.
Setting environmental sentiment, public opinion and even legislation aside, that’s because it’s just good economics, he explains.
“For any new large scale power generation, solar and wind are the cheapest forms,” he says.
“I don’t think it matters what the government says about coal and gas … it’s just economic sense to build solar and wind with appropriate infrastructure and storage.
“It’s a bit of a no-brainer.”
And, although 2020 has seen the pandemic somewhat overshadow the climate crisis in terms of media attention, the renewables sector doesn’t necessarily need that to grow.
“Renewables have momentum and they will continue with momentum irrespective,” Stead says.
And, COVID-19 has highlighted the opportunities of digitisation, he notes.
“The same thing applies to our tech — the digitisation of condition monitoring, and using a digital technique that’s there all the time makes complete sense.”
Ping has been fielding inbound enquiries from prospective customers in the US, Brazil, Denmark and Germany, he says.
Renewable energy solutions are not going out of fashion anytime soon.
“In my opinion, renewables will keep going,” Stead says.
“I’m really quite optimistic.”