‘Energy tracing’ raises the bar for clean energy
When blinds maker Hunter Douglas offered employees the opportunity to buy cheap solar power from the rooftop of its factory in north-western Sydney, it relied on “energy tracing” technology to make it happen.
Technologies such as Powertracer, developed by Australian start-up Enosi Energy, are also vital to achieving ambitions for round-the-clock 100 per cent renewable energy that Google, Microsoft and more recently IBM have embraced, says Enosi chief executive Steve Hoy.
Mounting pressure on companies to reach 100 per cent renewable energy without the use of carbon offsets is playing into the hands of the Australian firm, which has kicked off a Series A funding round to take its 24/7 “energy matching” technology to overseas markets.
With US President Joe Biden last week committing the US government to go the same way for federal buildings, Mr Hoy, a former global smart grid systems leader at IBM, expects momentum is only going to grow
“All of those initiatives require traceability: you don’t know if you’ve procured renewable energy unless you’ve measured at the source your consumption and matched the two. And that’s what our technology does.”
The concept involves tracking energy produced from renewable sources in real time and matching it with consumption – perhaps on an hourly basis – to check how much power used is renewable at any time.
A typical industrial user might cover its electricity usage with a power purchase agreement from a wind farm, but in reality, because of the variability in wind energy and electricity consumption, that plant may only meet about 60 per cent of demand, with the rest purchased from the power grid and potentially offset with credits, says Mr Hoy.
Power matching will show that user’s claim of full renewables use doesn’t stack up, requiring adjustments in power usage or the addition of other non-fossil fuel purchase contracts to be overlaid on top to move towards a true 100 per cent.
Mr Hoy says using offsets or renewable energy certificates to make up the difference is clearly still a necessity for some industrial energy users needing power around the clock, but others with more flexible consumption can use energy tracing to maximise their renewables use and ensure they reach “true zero” rather than “net zero” in emissions.
Enosi has so far signed up four electricity retailers in Australia to bolt its tracing technology onto their metering and billing systems and carry out the matching. After starting initially on a small scale with Energy Locals, then Enova Community Energy, Enosi has since added mid-tier retailers Simply Energy and Hydro Tasmania-owned Momentum Energy after scaling up its platform for the mass market.
Mr Hoy says the initial purpose was “to make sure renewables are available for everyone, rather than just those with rooftop solar”, making wind and solar power from wholesale sources available to individuals.
In the case of Hunter Douglas, the manufacturer is offering 100 employees access to excess power generated by the 800-kilowatt rooftop solar system on its Rydalmere factory that would otherwise be exported to the grid outside manufacturing hours and on the weekend. Staff who don’t have rooftop solar systems themselves and who are Simply Energy customers can buy energy from their employer’s rooftop at a discount of 5¢ per kilowatt-hour when it is matched to that excess generation.
Mr Hoy said retailer Simply won the contract to supply Hunter Douglas after including the first-of-its-kind staff solar sharing scheme as part of its bid in late 2020.
That sort of scheme can be replicated all over the country, even by companies that don’t have a commercial solar rooftop which can instead take a contract with a solar or wind farm and make the same offer available to customers, supply chain partners or staff members, he said.
Meanwhile, Enosi is in talks to get more retailers on board and is also explaining to corporate Australia how its technology can take them to the next level on their renewables ambitions.
It is eyeing overseas expansion, with western Europe, the UK and Japan at the top of the list. The Series A funding – the second start of start-up financing – that will support the move follows an initial funding round that involved Artesian Clean Energy Seed Fund, whose cornerstone commitment is from the federal government’s green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.