Big fish Organic Response getting out of the small pond
Cameron Jewell | 7 September 2015
Australian lighting control tech company Organic Response is planning on busting out of the local market and into the US and Europe.
Its technology is an example of biomimicry, with algorithms that imitate the way in which decisions by an individual in a swarm – such as in a school of fish – can shape neighbours’ decisions and the entire swarm’s collective behaviour. What this means in practice is the removal of an often complex and costly component of office lighting – a centralised control system.
Instead, Organic Response works by fitting an occupancy sensor into each light fitting, which detects human presence and with an infrared signal sends this information to surrounding lights. Combined with light level sensors, the most efficient level of lighting can be produced.
It’s a process the company calls “distributed intelligence” and the energy efficiency potential is huge, with case studies showing energy savings of between 56-78 per cent.
Nature was the inspiration for the technology, chief executive and co-founder Chris Duffield told The Fifth Estate.
“When [co-founder] Danny [Bishop] and I were looking at the lighting control space, the biggest hurdle to buildings adopting lighting control was the complexity of delivering these systems,” Duffield says.
“We focused on solutions that eliminated complexity. We identified the concept of using autonomous algorithms. We knew straight away it was a very powerful idea. It had been working in nature for millions of years.
“The challenge was mapping it into a building environment.”
It’s a challenge that was ultimately successful, and the company was incorporated in June 2011, and has gone from strength to strength over the past four years.
They’ve won a number of awards, including at the Australian Cleantech Comp in 2013, and have been growing at about 300-400 per cent a year for the past two years. While this is admittedly off a low base, Duffield expects the trend to continue over the next two to three years, especially considering upcoming expansion plans into Europe and the US.
A partnership with global energy company E.ON is part of the European expansion plan.
E.ON late last month announced Organic Response as part of its “strategic co-investment” program, which sees the company partner with start-ups at the forefront of the energy efficiency market to fast-track expansion.
“We see a strong value proposition for the Organic Response product being taken to our 30,000 commercial building customers,” E.ON senior vice president for technology and innovation Susana Quintana Plaza said.
“Organic Response is a natural fit with our strategy of investing and partnering with companies that deliver cutting-edge technologies that will help shape tomorrow’s markets.”
Duffield says E.ON has some “very aggressive targets” for the technology, which it will soon be launching across a number of European markets.
While the “size and maturity” of the European and the US markets are the next step for the business, the company is not forgetting about Australia.
“We’ve had a terrific reception here in Australia,” he says. “Our ambition is still very focused on becoming the number one lighting control company in Australia. We’re by no means losing focus on the Australian market.”
Australia’s poor policy environment for energy efficiency and sustainability hasn’t had a significant effect on the company’s growth either, Duffield says, as there is “a strong appetite here for smart buildings”, and the technology also offers an “occupancy comfort” element.
And it’s not just the Premium and A-Grade market that are picking it up; the technology is applicable on a range of project scales. To prove the case they currently have a project in a school in the mountains of Fiji.
“The technology works in remote, off-grid communities as well as it does for hospitals in Queensland or high rises in Sydney.”
Australian examples include AGL’s 6 Star Green Star head office in Melbourne, DEXUS’s Grosvenor Place in Sydney, Sunshine Coast University Hospital (a 165,000 sq m Lendlease hospital with 13,000 sensor nodes installed), and a number of universities.
There’s a New York fit-out in the works too, commissioned by a client that uses the tech in its Melbourne office, however it’s too early to discuss.
There should be more international examples soon though, with a venture capital raise planned over the next few months to fund the global expansion.
“The funding is very much expansion capital to accelerate our push into Europe and the US… and to accelerate our R&D roadmap,” Duffield says.
“A key thing we’re looking for is finding an equity partner who shares our vision and can assist us in getting access to global property markets, similar to what E.ON has brought to the table.”