EnergyLab on the hunt for more start-ups

Iron Matrix building
Iron Matrix building

Just two months after launching, clean energy innovation company EnergyLab already has four clean energy start-ups hitting the ground running as part of its accelerator program, and is now on the hunt for more.

Piers Grove, EnergyLab

Under the program, each company receives at least $50,000 from Artesian Venture Partners’ Clean Energy Seed Fund, and mentoring from sustainability, finance and energy sector leaders.

The first cohort includes Iron Matrix, started by Western Australian David Morgan. A former oil and gas industry executive, he has designed and developed a modular housing concept that involves only two standardised steel components that can be put together by two people without the need for a crane.

The homes are completely reconfigurable, and designed for disassembly and reuse or recycling of the components. They are also designed to have solar PV used as part of the facade cladding and roof.

“He is just finishing the first house, which is the proof of concept,” said EnergyLab executive director Piers Grove.

Another innovator is Eveeh, previously an electric vehicle rental company that is in the process of “morphing” into a peer-to-peer EV sharing network, Mr Grove said.

The company aims to help reduce the cost of EVs for potential purchasers by enabling them to share the purchase price with other drivers.

It will also facilitate “sampling” of EVs by those who have not yet had the chance to drive one.

Mr Grove said the company is expected to launch into the public marketplace within the next few weeks.

Another enterprise in the program, Blue Volt, is the brainchild of three University of NSW PhD students.

“They aim to make solar more accessible and interesting to people,” Mr Grove said.

“Most people just stick PV on the roof and don’t know how it works or what it is actually doing until they get their electricity bill.

“The market [for PV] is currently controlled by the installers.”

Blue Volt aims to disrupt that scenario by providing the market with an iMac-sized unit that integrates solar PV, inverter and battery storage. The product is currently being prototyped.

The advantage for consumers will be it is entirely portable. Mr Grove said this means those that are currently not in a position to invest in fixed PV, such as renters, apartment dwellers or grey nomads will be able to take up the clean energy option.

The fourth startup in the first cohort for the program is Energy Panda, a new service provider that aims to address the issue of energy hardship.

“In Australia at the moment there are around 98,000 households in a situation of energy hardship. They can’t pay their bills,” Mr Grove said.

Under the energy rules in many parts of the country, the retailers cannot disconnect them, he said. That means the retailers have to carry the debt.

Energy Panda aims to work with retailers to “scoop up” those customers and resolve the hardship through processes including gamification of energy consumption and energy efficiency, and hands-on measures such as appliance upgrades or fridge door seal replacements.

Mr Grove said it is estimated the proposed measures could reduce energy use in low income households by around 40 per cent.

“Innovation for energy efficiency up till now has mainly been for rich people,” he said.

The start-up came out of a hackathon held in conjunction with WWF last year, he said.

The three-person team currently have a number of pilot sites in the Illawarra and are working on implementing their program in conjunction with the Australian Energy Regulator, which oversees the existing national hardship program, and energy retailer AGL.

Enerylab coworking space

Mr Grove said the support EnergyLab has received since it launched in February has been extensive. In addition to UTS providing a $250,000 a year building for “one dollar”, about 90 experts have committed to acting as mentors for startups and others.

The NSW government-supported Jobs for NSW also provided a $120,000 grant to support the fitout and first year operating costs.

“It is fantastic to see EnergyLab now achieving positive progress in developing emerging clean energy technology companies for what is an exciting growth industry of the future,” Jobs for NSW chief executive Karen Borg said.

In terms of ongoing financial viability, enterprises that participate in the program commit to assigning five per cent of their equity to EnergyLab. A further five per cent is assigned to Artesian.

Mr Grove said that being a registered not-for-profit, the equity arrangement is because there is an aim for the organisation to become self-funded. It also allows the successful alumni to “give back” to others that come into the program.

Its co-working space at UTS has also attracted a number of both established and emerging  enterprises, including app developer EcoLogic, Prendergast Projects, emerging peer-to-peer EV charging network Everty and community-scale solar provider Sun Crowd.

Mr Grove said the hope is to open a second site in Canberra later this year.

“We want to be able to offer a unified national program, so it doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you can plug into a network of innovators in the clean energy space,” he said.

As things scale up and those involved move into more markets, there is an aim to direct companies towards specific locations that emerge as strong centres for particular technologies or approaches.

Newcastle, for example, could become a hub for EV-related innovation, or Melbourne might emerge as the leader in the renewable energy technology space.

The acceleration program is now looking for the next cohort of participants.  Applications opened this week, with between four and six start-ups to be selected, Mr Grove said.

Successful applicants will be announced in August, and will commence in the program in September.

“The progress we’ve seen in EnergyLab’s first cohort in just six weeks is inspiring and has given us confidence that there is a real need for support tailored towards clean energy startups.

“Being in a position to see the great diversity of clean energy startups in Australia is one of the best things about this job, and we can’t wait to see who applies for this cohort.”

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