Innovation powering up New Zealand’s energy sector

“Energy today is more of a grudge purchase, people don’t enjoy paying for it and they don’t always understand the value it adds to their lives. Good innovation around energy can truly engage consumers in what it can do for them,” said Marc England, chief executive of Genesis Energy , in a video promoting New Zealand’s four-month, mentor-intensive accelerator program, Lightning Lab Electric (LLE).

Conducted by Creative HQ in Wellington and funded by Callaghan Innovation, the project, recently resulted in four innovative products being pitched to—and welcomed by!— the New Zealand energy industry.

Callaghan’s Chris Thomson, had said at the outset of the program that he expected data analysis and digital services to create the biggest spark at LLE, and they did, with some innovations laying the foundations for a truly integrated and intuitive Internet of Energy and others capitalising on New Zealand’s energy-related data surge

The country’s current smart-meter penetration of 70% of households is expected to peak at 90% in 2020. Those consumers want their early-adopter enthusiasm to start delivering greater energy value, and enable their uptake of electric vehicles, even as the energy industry battles rising costs and entrenched mechanisms.

GE joined Genesis Energy, Westpac New Zealand and Unison Networks in helping startups deliver on customer expectations throughout the country’s energy supply chain. The four sponsors provided mentorship to LLE participants who were coached through rigorous market validation processes and rapid incubation of ideas to commercial readiness.

Participants agreed that the top takeaway from the program was its demand for early market validation, at a stage when they might otherwise have been developing what they had identified as the solution to a problem.

Says Jason Baker, co-founder of Ampli (see below), “When I entered the program I thought of innovation as something where you’re given a little bit of space and maybe a shoulder rub and off you go and think of great ideas. But Creative HQ really highlighted the processes around validation, testing market sizes and working out whether an idea has legs—that there’s demand for it!”

“That process,” says Jamie Silk team member on the TG Project, “of seeing the pain point that’s really important to people, changed the orientation of where we started with our product. It was an extremely valuable experience.”

Callaghan Innovation is now enabling New Zealand’s energy industry to further innovate with and commercialise technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, cloud analytics and the Internet of Things, by establishing a Digital Energy Hub. GE’s New Zealand country leader, Kevin Hart will bring the company’s deep domain expertise to the initiative. Watch this power space!

LLE Demo Day
The culmination of the Lightning Lab Electric accelerator program included a Demo Day in Wellington.

In the meantime, Hart applauds the triumphant LLE participants: “They worked incredibly hard, alongside industry mentors, to hone their ideas to a commercial viability.” Here’s what the four leaders of visionary teams that are harnessing the Internet of Energy for New Zealand have to say about their innovations …

Brad Rooney,  business development leader, Mitton Electronet/MLabs (the company’s innovation hub)

The product: “EPaaS, or Electrical Protection as a Service, is designed to make safe electricity accessible worldwide.”

The customer: “Lines companies, known in Australia as distribution companies, which operate the medium- and low-voltage power lines and transformers that convert power to 240 V for consumption at the average power point.”

The digital innovation: We’re using existing communications networks together with our customised neural network in the cloud, and machine learning, to deliver highly responsive, reliable protection to lines companies—that’s protection in the sense of switching off circuits or sections of the grid in response to a fault (caused by a car hitting an electricity pole, for example, or a tree touching electricity lines), or a malfunction within the circuit. Protection reduces the danger to people and electricity infrastructure, and isolates the affected section of the grid, allowing operation as normal for the majority of customers.”

The benefit: “EPaaS could entirely eliminate comms expenditure for lines companies. They currently have to set up expensive bespoke communications, such as dedicated microwave links or fibre networks, for the fastest protection systems. With our technology they can use wide area networks or commercial cellular networks, and improve functionality of their protection systems. EPaaS has the potential to make safe electricity more accessible around the world and will significantly reduce set-up costs in emerging markets.”

Jamie Silk,  co-founder, The TG Project, emhTrade

The product: “The TG Project enables a transactive grid, creating value throughout the supply chain and sharing it with consumers.”

The customer: “There are two primary customers, the ultimate customer is the electricity consumer, and we’re also targeting benefits to electricity retailers and distributors.”

The digital innovation: “The consumer-facing product is an app that lets customers express their personal preferences for power: whether that’s cheaper power, greener power or local power (from community solar set-ups, for example). The app then provides them with information on the best times to use power to meet their personal aims, and feedback on their habits that helps them do more. So at the front end, user engagement and user experience are key!

“Behind the scenes are the algorithms and analytics of our optimisation engine, which helps retailers deliver better outcomes for customers: firstly in terms of delivering what they need, but also lowering costs by optimising customer demand to avoid energy and infrastructure price peaks.”

The benefit:” It’s about giving consumers real choices and control over how they manage their energy footprint, and rewarding optimised behaviours. For the industry, it reduces customer churn and delivers consumers engaged in reducing peak demand, which in turn helps avoid future peak investments.”

Paul Spence,  CEO, Polanyio

The product: “Polanyio takes the pain out of energy procurement for brokers and their industrial customers by offering a standardised-tender platform that rapidly matches consumer profiles with energy retailers.”

The customer: “Our customer is the intermediary, the energy broker, but there are significant benefits to the current market of medium- to large-sized end users, and to retailers.”

The digital innovation: “Powerful algorithms and machine learning help to aggregate and analyse customer data on a shared software-as-a-service platform, and automate customer-demand profile matching. Examples of consumer groupings might include those that have their highest usage during the day, or during the night, or that are balanced within their usage so that they represent a neutral addition to a retailer portfolio.”

The benefit: “Polanyio gives brokers the tools to enable fast bundling and can show value via transparency. Retailers benefit from a standardised tendering process and a connection to the customer via accurate profile data. And the upshot is that contractual agreement can be achieved within 10 working days instead of the current 28-working-days (or longer). Polanyio saves time, costs and frustration.”

Jason Baker,  co-founder, Ampli

The product: “Ampli is a smart-meter-analytics platform for sharing of anonymised customer data. The first stage of the product will support the electricity authority’s requirement for cost-reflective pricing of energy. But our goal is to be a key enabler of New Zealand’s smart-grid technology.”

The customer: “The primary customer is New Zealand lines (distribution) companies. We’re also looking to work with retailers and the national grid.”

The digital innovation: “Our innovation lies in anonymising data on a shared, analytical platform. High penetration of smart meters in New Zealand has resulted in the generation of 30 billion data points each year. Our platform turns that data into information-driven insights.”

The benefit: “We’re protecting customer privacy while producing insights that help distribution companies apply more cost-reflective pricing. Lines companies will get much clearer insights into what’s driving network demand at the consumer level, resulting in more transparent decisions on pricing, and informed future infrastructure spending. With better understanding of the factors influencing their bills, consumers can decide whether to invest in, say, insulation or rooftop solar, or just change their habits to lower their electricity spend.”

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