Chinese-owned utility giant EnergyAustralia has invested $9.3 million in Brisbane based Redback Technologies, a battery energy company. It is the latest step in EnergyAustralia’s move into renewables, and a giant vote of confidence in one of Australia’s most impressive energy startups.
EnergyAustralia is owned by Hong Kong’s CLP Group (though you won’t find that on its website). The CLP comes from ‘China Light and Power’, historically one of Hong Kong’s two electricity utilities. CLP also has operations on the Chinese mainland and in India, Vietnam, Taiwan and Thailand.
It has been in Australia since 2000, when it acquired the brown coal fired Yallourn power station at a time when Chinese investment in Australia’s infrastructure was welcomed. Since taking over Victoria’s TRUenergy and the generation assets – and name – of NSW’s EnergyAustralia it has become one of Australia’s major energy companies.
InnovationAus.com profiled Redback back in March. It is based at the University of Queensland, with which it has a joint research partnership. Its main product, released in October last year, is its Smart Hybrid System, which integrates with new or existing solar panels and batteries.
It uses an inverter with integrated electrical switches which is contract-manufactured by GoodWe, a Chinese company which is also a shareholder in Redback.
Now EnergyAustralia is a substantial shareholder. It did not disclose how much of the company its $9.3 million bought, other than to say it is a minority shareholder.
But it is a substantial investment, and part of EnergyAustralia’s push into renewables and other energy industry disruptors, such as battery technology, electrical vehicles and digital meters and data.
In 2015 the company set up a new division called NextGen (not to be confused with the networking company or independent energy company with the same name) to provide a range of innovative energy services.
NextGen head Andrew Perry said EnergyAustralia recognises that the energy market is changing and that many of its customers are installing solar and looking at ways to get more control over the high cost of energy.
“We established NextGen to look at evolving business models in the energy industry that are disrupting the status quo,” he says. “It helps us develop a roadmap for a very different energy future.”
He says EnergyAustralia’s investment in Redback “establishes a partnership aimed at developing new technology to help Australians take control of their energy consumption, save money and reduce their carbon emissions.
“We chose Redback because of the company’s hardware and software innovations. With the Redback system the customer can make the most of the energy captured on their own roof tops – they decide if they want to use the energy right away, store that energy or even sell it to the electricity grid,” says Mr Perry.
Under the partnership, EnergyAustralia will promote the Redback Generation 2 Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System to its 1.7 million customers across eastern Australia.
Redback’s solar inverter system is claimed to be more scalable, easier to install and to offer a faster return on investment than its competitors. It can be run from a smart phone and is also battery and solar panel agnostic, which means it works with existing systems.
The inverter includes Redback’s cloud enabled system for analytics and remote control, the Ouija Board.
The system, hosted on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, uses machine learning to gather intelligence over time, learning from user preferences as well as drawing data from external factors like the weather.
Redback founder and managing director Philip Livingston says the investment will allow Redback to continue developing smarter technologies.
“It’s great having a major energy company as an investor. If it was a VC we would lose our soul, but with EnergyAustralia it’s a real partnership. It’s about collaboration.
“EnergyAustralia wants to see change in the way it innovates, and it will also make us much more rigorous in our governance and our product development.
“The investment will enable us to greatly accelerate our technology roadmap and strategic plan for leading the disruptive change required for mass adoption of renewables.
“Our mission to build infrastructure for the future grid that enables energy stability without reliance on centralised fossil generators. We are democratising access to clean energy, by shifting reliance to decentralised renewable generation.
“That allows consumers to monitor, store and control their own solar energy assets as a means of ensuring power is there when they need it,” he says.
“The investment will enable us to hire many more people – we are now planning to hire a developer a week for the next year. We really want to build a significant alternative energy company in Australia, and keep the IP and expertise here.”
Mr Livingston said that he had been talking to EnergyAustralia since early this year, when he approached a number of energy companies about possible deals. “We started talking and it sort of grew organically. We’ve built a great relationship.”