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It’s local solar, it’s community and it’s cheaper – Networked Innovations in winning tender

Dan and Beth MacDonald
Dan and Beth MacDonald

Energy services company Networked Innovations’ recent move from Lake Macquarie down south to Braidwood seems to have paid off, with the company this week announced winner of the Southcoast Health and Sustainability Alliance’s Community Solar Bulk Buy tender.

Networked Innovations’ husband and wife team of Dan and Beth MacDonald are bringing together a network of local solar installers under the “Smart Energy Network” brand to deliver solar and battery technology to South Coast residents at cut-price rates.

Their Smart Energy Network tender came in with the best price – 60 per cent cheaper than the most expensive tender, 36 per cent cheaper than the average tender and 12 per cent cheaper than the national solar system average, based on a five kilowatt system.

What’s surprising is that the Smart Energy Network was the cheapest tender, considering it is offering Australian-made products such as Tindo solar panels and DCS batteries.

Ms MacDonald told The Fifth Estate she was “a little surprised” the company had come in cheapest on price. She said being a lean organisation had helped, as there weren’t the same overheads as larger businesses, and there was also less of a profit being made on the Australian-made products offered. However having Australian-made products on roofs, supporting Australian innovation and contributing to the greater cause of bolstering local manufacturing is an important ethos of the business.

“We’re beyond excited to offer both an Australian made solar panel and battery as part of our winning submission,” she said. “It’s our way of supporting Aussie jobs and innovation.”

Having a number of local installers rather than a big Sydney or Canberra based company is also an important facet, according to Dan MacDonald, who is head of smart energy innovation.

“It’s important to keep these jobs local and to build capacity within regional areas like ours,” he said. “Too often these opportunities are awarded to big companies from the capital cities with a workforce that blows in and then blows out.”

The tender is also being supported by Australia’s first community-owned energy supplier Enova, who will offer customers a 12c/kWh feed-in-tariff, which Ms MacDonald said was about double the going rate, and important as the large feed-in-tariffs come to an end this year.

A strategic move south

Networked Innovations has been around for about two years operating from Lake Macquarie, but decided to move to Braidwood three months ago, which is located between the NSW South Coast and Canberra.

Ms MacDonald said it was a strategic move, to position the business closer to growing community sustainability action in progressive communities along the South Coast, and the additional work generated from strong sustainability commitments from the ACT Government.

Out of the top end into the groundswell of community

The company has also had a change in business strategy, deciding to stop targeting the top end of town in favour of the “ground swell” of interest in sustainability at the grassroots.

The combination of talent from the husband and wife team make them well placed to tap the growing market.

Mr MacDonald has about 15 years experience in large-scale development of renewables, including wind farms, solar farms and district heating systems. Ms MacDonald’s background has been in “dealing with people and working in economic development”, including in local development and community building.

“We really wanted to be ourselves,” Ms MacDonald said. “We wanted to be part of the community. And we also recognised the amount of potential for skill building and making the transition away from traditional energy sources.”

There will be four open days held on the South Coast over the coming weeks for residents to find out how to access the bulk buy offers. Before October 31 there were about 300 people who pledged there support, though according to Ms MacDonald “momentum has bloomed” and calls are coming in every day for more information.

She said the project would be treated like a pilot to see how the co-op of installers works together, and will allow for systems to be refined, and to find out what customers do and do not like. If successful there’s the possibility the project could be replicated across other rural communities.

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