All-Energy Conference: Industry and academia team up on clean tech solutions

Philip Livingston
Philip Livingston

Australia’s research and development model is undergoing a revolution, with industry now guiding academics on where to focus research on new technology for the clean energy sector, the All-Energy 2016 conference has heard in Melbourne this week.

Redback Technologies founder and managing director Philip Livingston, who presented a keynote address, said the traditional university approach of developing intellectual property and then looking to see how it could be applied had a low probability of success.

Redback’s successful relationship with UniQuest, the University of Queensland’s main commercialisation company, has redeveloped that R&D model and “seeds research direction through aiding academics in understanding the leading edge of the market”.

Together with a Chinese manufacturing firm, Livingston’s team developed a prototype for its Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System, which gives householders the power to store, monitor and manage their home’s solar energy in a compact unit.

Over a two-year period, they raised $US2 million (AU$2.62m) in seed capital and brought in a range of sophisticated Australian investors to aid in the process. Redback made the Microsoft Innovation Centre 2016 cohort, and signed a contract with global electrical wholesale Sonepar to service the Australian market and get the product into 185 stores nationally. In addition, Ernst & Young came on board to help with capital raising. Since April 2015, Redback has grown from two employees to 31 employees, with 27 of those in Australia.

Livingston said the company’s innovative agreement with UniQuest was redeveloping the traditional R&D model.

“With our relationship with the University of Queensland we get access to assets on campus and that’s a great function,” he said.

Together they signed a pioneering memorandum of understanding, which provides academics with access to in-house developers, data scientists and business analysts, and rewards value creation. The open-door policy is “gaining traction”.

“As a start-up in creating technology one thing you have to do is be laser focused in what you can actually deliver,” Livingston said. “You learn to be resourceful, to exist on the smell of an oily rag, to be entrepreneurial in all aspects of the business and to only concentrate on strategic partnerships that allow exceptional outcomes.”

He advised creating rules of engagement that involve a clear digestible process of milestones for value creation.

Scott Ferraro

Scott Ferraro

Academia and philanthropy

ClimateWorks Australia, a partnership between Monash University and philanthropy, is also assisting with the transition to renewables. Head of implementation Scott Ferraro said with the Paris Agreement coming into force much earlier than expected, Australia had a lot of work to do to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and help minimise global warming to 1.5-2°C.

“I was in Samoa last week and it’s a very real issue for Pacific Island nations,” he said. “‘One-point-five to stay alive’ is the slogan they are talking about.”

ClimateWorks’ recent collaboration with the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council showed what could be done within buildings.

“We’ve seen that – based on technologies we have today – we can have zero net emissions from commercial buildings within Australia and that by 2030 we can be saving $20 billion in costs by employing these technologies,” he said.

The Low Carbon, High Performance report released in May models potential emissions reductions from the building sector, setting out a national policy roadmap to pave the way for a smooth and economically efficient transition to zero net emissions by 2050.

In achieving net zero emissions across the whole economy, ClimateWorks has outlined four “pillars” of decarbonisation:

  • Ambitious energy efficiency
  • Low carbon electricity
  • Electrification and fuel switching
  • Non-energy emissions (carbon capture and storage in industry and a shift from livestock grazing to carbon forestry)

“From a technology perspective it’s the variety of technologies across all these pillars that come into play,” Mr Ferraro said. “The modelling we have done looks at those that are available or almost commercially viable today.

“What we know is we are not seeing the maximum penetration of some of these technologies.”

Mr Ferraro would like to see barriers in the market addressed so we can see a significant uptake of these technologies.

“Some of those barriers we are seeing relate to having the right tariffs in place, the right policy and support in place, and support for R&D.”

ClimateWorks is particularly focused on connection of these technologies to the grid.

“For every proposed connection which has some element of distributed generation in it – it is treated by the network as non-standard and evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” Mr Ferraro said. “It’s treated as if it’s unique and there’s no precedents so there are some inefficiencies there.

“What we see is networks even within the same state and sometimes even within the same network, assess the connection of distributed generation and assess it uniquely and also have different requirements and standards for those connections as well.

“So if I was a business, say Redback, and I wanted make a national offering, this means I would face different connection processes and different connection standards every time I went to connect a piece of technology so it provides additional costs and addition burden on consumers as well.”

The only exception is small-scale residential solar PV, which is standardised. As we know, Australia now has the highest penetration of solar PV in the world.

“Once this issue can be addressed, it allows for greater uptake,” Mr Ferrero said.

ClimateWorks is undertaking a project to investigate barriers from the consumer or proponent perspective to get clear articulation of the costs and the imposts on the economy. They will also look at inconsistencies in potential requirements for these installations as well as issues due to reduced competition and product availability within Australia’s relatively small market. They will then work through some potential solutions.

“What we see is there’s high transaction costs for proponents in this world where we are trying to make the energy market more consumer-centric,” Mr Ferraro said. “We want to make sure that any solutions that are put forward really look at minimising those upfront and transaction costs for any proponents or businesses … we are looking at clear and transparent national access arrangements.”

According to Mr Ferraro, it’s important to keep in mind that any forecasting for 2050 will be wrong.

“These technologies are changing so rapidly so we need to have flexibility in the design processes for these standards so we can adapt to those new technologies.”

Ariel Liebman

Ariel Liebman

Academia supporting industry

Ariel Liebman, deputy director at Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute, discussed incoming technologies to support the energy transition and disrupt delivery modes and business models.

Dr Liebman described MEMSI as a “shopfront for energy-related research for industry and the community” with three areas of expertise: energy materials, energy processing and energy systems.

There are five specific application areas:

  • Transitioning Victoria to cleaner energy
  • Adding value to Australia’s energy resources
  • Smarter energy networks
  • Powering the next generation (new storage and new energy production)
  • Assisting Asia Pacific (electrifying remote communities)

“There is good news we have declining energy and renewable energy technology costs – a lot of hope on the horizon,” he said.

According to Dr Liebman, MEMSI works with industry by asking: “What are your challenges? And what can we do at Monash? What do we already know how to do at Monash that we can apply to your challenges?”

He said the institute could support industry in managing and benefitting from the energy transition by exploiting new and existing technologies to integrate renewables and utilise existing infrastructure more efficiently.

MEMSI is in the process of identifying key industry partners to do this specifically in the context of its Sustainable Microgrid Initiative.

Establishing a microgrid on its Clayton campus, in partnership with industry and the state government, will enable the university to integrate a diverse range of energy resources for generation and storage into a single, contained energy network.

This “Living Lab” will have significant operational benefits. More importantly it will enable industry research collaboration into new energy technologies, teaching and training opportunities, and provide a live integrated microgrid demonstrator to assist the energy sector.

Another major initiative is its work at the Australia-Indonesia Centre focusing on microgrids.

“Basically our work in Indonesia is understanding how you can use microgrids for generation and transmission system planning when you have a very distributed population on islands and so forth, and this is also relevant to Australia’s remote communities.”

The institute is working on an initiative around distributed management software. Other work it’s doing under the umbrella of the Monash Centre for Atomically Thin Materials includes printable solar PV (in collaboration with the CSIRO).

“You can stick it on a window and it will generate some electricity.”

MEMSI is also pursuing two different commercial opportunities for small and large scale energy storage based on novel graphene supercapacitor technology.

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