The public consciousness around climate change has never been more heightened. All over Australia, consumers and businesses are looking for alternative energy sources, and technologies like solar power are no longer niche; they’re real and viable options.
Where there’s innovation, there are startups, and of course there are businesses out there breaking new ground to help individuals and business monitor their energy use and to bring renewable energy to more Australians than ever before.
They’re not going it alone. Some have support from the government’s Clean Energy Innovation Fund, managed by the Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC), a $200 million program designed to support the growth of clean energy businesses through investment and funding.
Others have gone down the venture capital funding route, proving their businesses investment-worthy, while others have raised money through initial coin offerings (ICO) or even via crowdfunding.
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In New South Wales, the state government has also shown its hand, offering $120,000 in grant funding to Energy Lab, an accelerator and co-working hub for renewable energy startups, in February last year.
Whether it’s through blockchain technology, modernising energy payments platforms, or just making clean power sources more affordable for everyday people, bit by bit, these six startups are changing the energy game in Australia (and raising millions while they’re at it).
One of Australia’s most popular blockchain startups, Perth-based Power Ledger raised $34 million in its initial coin offering in October last year.
The raise followed a $17 million ICO pre-sale the previous month, which sold out in 72 hours.
In November 2017, the startup also bagged an $8 million government grant, partly to trial blockchain-powered distribution of energy and water in Fremantle .
Power Ledger provides a peer-to-peer trading platform that allows users to trade excess solar power, in a bid to distribute renewable energy more widely.
At the time of the ICO, co-founder Jemma Green told StartupSmart: “We want to focus on the democratisation of power and really using our resources efficiently to demonstrate leadership in that area.”
Since then, Power Ledger has launched the first commercial deployment of its platform in Melbourne, partnering with renewable energy company Greenwood Solutions on the installation of solar panels.
It has also partnered with American not-for-profit energy company Helpanswers, on a string of projects across the US; landed a trial partnership with Japanese electricity company Kansai Electric Power Co; and partnered with a Californian power company to provide an ‘audit trail’ of power.
Since raising $4 million in Series A funding in September last year, energy financing startup Brighte has gone from strength to strength, securing another $20 million funding facility from National Australia Bank in May and an $18.5 million Series B raise just weeks later.
The latest funding was led by AirTree Ventures, and saw AirTree co-founder and partner Craig Blair join the startup’s board. It also included Grok Ventures — the investment fund of Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, who led Brighte’s Series A round.
The Sydney-based startup connects vendors of renewable energy products, such as solar panels and insulation, with homeowners, providing zero-interest loans, in a bid to make home improvements more affordable for Australians.
Speaking to StartupSmart after the Series B raise, Brighte founder Katherine McConnell said the latest funding will be used for primarily for product development, with a focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
While some 85% of Brighte’s credit decisions are already made in under nine seconds, McConnell said she would be trialling “instant decisioning” using AI to try to get this to over 90%.
“We’ve achieved a lot but we’ve got so much more in front of us,” she said.
DC Power Co
In April this year, solar energy retailing startup DC Power Co completed the world’s most popular equity crowdfunding campaign to date, raising $2.5 million from more than 17,500 investors.
According to co-founder Emma Jenkin, the startup addresses a gap in the energy services market for solar panel owners, who don’t necessarily feel well served by current offerings.
“Solar home owners are prosumers, as they both consume and produce energy, much different to the traditional energy model,” she told StartupSmart.
DC Power Co aims to offer better energy deals, tailored to solar power, and the team are also looking into offering more insights on statistics and optimisation to solar panel users.
In 2016, it was estimated that 16.5% of Australian households have a solar photovoltaics system — a figure that is expected to increase to 50% over the next 25 years.
However, in 2017, research from market research company Roy Morgan suggested the number is already on the up, with almost a quarter (23.2%) of Australian households owning a home solar electric panel.
In August last year, Sydney-based startup Wattwatchers raised $2 million from the CEFC’s Clean Energy Innovation Fund, adding to the $2 million it raised in April 2017 from the Southern Cross Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund.
Through its retro-fittable energy management device, the startup allows users to see real-time energy data, and to identify which devices are consuming the most power in their home, at any given time.
The startup was founded in 2007 and for its first 10 years Wattwatchers was funded by “sweat equity” and sales, according to managing director Gavin Dietz.
Speaking to StartupSmart last August, Dietz said the energy space is a difficult one for startups, partly because of a lack of data, which he said “isn’t free flowing” as it is in other sectors such as fintech.
“I truly believe in the energy space we haven’t seen half the innovation we should [because] the data isn’t free flowing. Fintech does amazing things because that [financial] data has filtered to the top and become real time — energy still has a long way to go,” he said.
Brisbane-based startup Redback Technologies uses machine learning to help users get the best value for money from their solar panels.
The platform predicts how much power the solar panels will generate, and how much customers will use, and makes a decision on how best to allocate power to reduce the customer’s reliance on traditional energy sources, and ultimately their energy bills.
In October last year, Redback raised $9 million, including $6.4 million from the government’s Clean Energy Innovation Fund, and $2.57 million from Right Click Capital.
Speaking to StartupSmart in October last year, Redback managing director Phillip Livingston said the startup would be focusing on research and development and improving its software, with a vision of seeing an Australia “entirely powered by renewables”.
At the same time, Right Click Capital partner Benjamin Chong told StartupSmart there are global opportunities for renewable-focused technologies.
“Energy isn’t just an Australian issue, it’s an issue for many countries; the export opportunities for us and the ability to build a global business were very exciting,” said Chong.
It may not be solely energy-focused, but Internet of Things startup Thinxtra bagged $10 million from the CEFC’s Clean Energy Innovation Fund in August 2017 to bring its technology network to 95% of Australia’s consumers — and to reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
Thinxtra’s devices were originally designed to monitor water tank levels, however co-founders Renald Gallis and Loic Barancourt soon found the technology had much broader use cases.
The hardware can run for 15 years using just three AA batteries and costs as little as $2. In August last year, Gallis told StartupSmart the technology could be used for anything from monitoring cattle, to managing inventories, to keeping track of shopping trolleys.
The capital raise from last year followed $15 million raised in seed and Series A funding, and brought the startup’s total funding to $35 million.
Speaking to StartupSmart at the time, CEFC director of investment development Blair Pritchard said: “Lower-value things are not connected to the internet – right now it’s not worth doing it. These things are currently looked after manually in a brute force, brute energy approach — many of Thinxtra’s customers, for example, are operating fleets of trucks just to look after their pallets or gas canisters.”
“The economics of this [Thinxtra] solution are extremely effective in terms of both capital efficiency, and carbon reduction,” he added.