Denham Sadler
April 5, 2017

Renewable tech in renaissance

EnergyTech

Renewable tech in renaissance

Philip Livingston: There opportunities for smart Australian tech are immense

Australia’s renewable energy technologies sector is enjoying a renaissance as demand for innovation reaches new heights, according to Queensland smart storage outfit Redback Technologies’ founder Philip Livingston.

It comes as the Brisbane-based firm has secured a further $1.96 million in funding from the Queensland government for a new technical team and additional resources.

With tech titan Elon Musk’s recent intervention in the South Australian energy debate, renewables and battery technology has been at the forefront of the national debate. This gives local tech players unprecedented opportunities, Mr Livingston told InnovationAus.com.

“What’s happening in Australia now is marvellous. You’ve got a real renaissance occurring here with a hotbed of innovation across the sector in both hardware and software,” he said.

“If you told me this five years ago I wouldn’t have believed it. The sheer scale at which renewables are coming into the mainstream conversation is amazing.”

The South Australian government is now accepting tenders for a 100MW battery storage facility in the state, with Musk publicly pledging to provide this in 100 days or it’s free.

While the publicity this created for renewables was positive, it’s important that local players are given a level playing field, Mr Livingston said.

A “cultural cringe” can lead to international firms given an unfair advantage, with Mr Livingston saying that he can offer a compelling case for Redback Technologies should handle the South Australia job rather than Musk’s Tesla.

Redback offers hardware and software for capturing, storing and managing solar energy. Its smart electronics and smart platform lets users to control energy usage with a hybrid battery-renewables configuration.

The company now employs 52 people in Brisbane. The near-$2 million cash injection in Redback Technologies comes from two in-kind investments.

The first is from the state-owned Energy Queensland, which has chipped in $1.42 million-worth of staff and resources for the company’s new smart monitoring initiative. Redback Technologies previously scored a near-$10 million investment from Energy Australia for its solar inverter system.

This will help the company make sure it is meeting all the industry’s requirements, Mr Livingston said.

“As Redback builds use cases for this next generation grid it’s really important that we get a level of advice from the core end users that are going to be utilising the technology. It’s a really interesting space for us, and having a partner on board that is working with us to satisfy those use cases means we’re hitting the nail directly on the head,” he said.

The funding will account for a team leader and two mid-level engineers to be “cycled” through Redback Technologies.

“That means we’ll get a fresh volume of ideas into the company and that Redback is constantly making sure that we’re building products that directly satisfy the requirements,” Mr Livingston said.

The other piece is from the state government’s innovation branch Advance Queensland, which has awarded Redback Technologies a research fellowship of $540,000 in staff and resources for the development of smart grid capabilities.

This will allow the company to recruit three data scientists.

“We’ll be working with them closely. It further rounds our story of providing greater intelligence in how to control distributed resources,” he said.

According to Mr Livingston, what sets the company apart is its focus on integration and connectivity in all its systems.

“Technology is typically designed for niche applications – they’re typically built with products individually connected together and that takes a long time. People don’t design hardware with a systems way of thinking and it’s the same with software. These are niche applications but there’s no way for them to work together,” he said.

“From the start we’ve looked at the holistic outcome of low cost energy storage solutions for consumers. We have a fully integrated systems approach - that’s why we’re getting the level of support we are.”

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