Brisbane-based company Redback Technologies went to the other side of the world last year to get some business and came back successful.
In March it signed a memorandum of understanding with Duserve Facilities Management to install its hardware and software in 20 commercial and 20 residential properties in Dubai South, an emerging city in the United Arab Emirates with ambitions for an enormous international airport and targeted population of one million.
The idea behind Redback software is that it can identify appliances or processes that are burning through power and control them via the cloud, so that solar gets priority over pricey battery storage.
The software also has machine learning capabilities to learn from user habits and control energy depending on weather forecasts.
Last time EcoGeneration spoke to Redback founder and managing director Philip Livingston he was on the road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, part of a team pushing the message for Trade and Investment Queensland. Now we know what he was up to.
It’s been a busy couple of years for the company, which is not even two years old.
“Since our existence began over the last 23 months we’ve kind of gone through a metamorphosis,” Livingston told EcoGeneration the day after the UAE deal was announced. “We initially started wanting just to do software but realised doing software alone would be hard given the economics for hardware.”
A new approach
Hardware is a competitive market, made complex by necessity for connection equipment. The software market is also busy, but providers tend to be targeting their particular niches. It becomes a very crowded space financially as costs stack up for margins for multiple companies and transaction fees for multiple trading schemes. “What ends up being something that could quite well become a transformative technology is bogged down in overall administrative and business costs, which ends up eliminating the optimal use case.”
Livingston (pictured above left with Duserve FM CEO Sam Taleb) says Redback has become “introspective” about its approach to intellectual property creation, so that its focus has expanded from smart hybrid technologies to take in metering and monitoring technologies.
“I won’t say much more on the specifics of those technologies or the economics of those technologies because that will be at a later date,” he says, hinting that the applications put in place in Dubai – which are also planned for other locations – are symbolic of a new approach for the company, “where we enable new grid outcomes through a transcendent view of integrating technologies that once were seen as being disparate due to how the Australian market has evolved.”
Faster and faster
The pace of change in the world of energy efficiency seems to be picking up, with new inventions announced almost on a weekly basis. And that’s only in Australia. Evolution is good for the common cause but it can be fatal for some of the individuals. “I think any company that were to tell you that their technology road map is static would either be foolish or dead in 12 months,” he says.
What’s fundamental about the transition to clean energy is that “intelligence is where the market is going”. Through that lens, disparate niche products are “outcomes” of a more intelligent view of the world, Livingston says, “of how to optimise, control and understand data.”
At Redback, all efforts are aimed towards building partnerships that will allow the collection of more intelligence so that the company is armed to solve the power efficiency problem: how to maximise self-consumption and optimise energy and use of efficient appliances to reduce overall carbon impact.
Livingston “couldn’t be happier” about the partnership with EnergyAustralia announced in September, which he says has instilled a level of maturity for the young business without stifling innovation.
As part of the deal EnergyAustralia is promoting the Redback Generation 2 Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System to its 1.7 million customers in Victoria, NSW, Queensland, the ACT and South Australia.
Since the deal was signed Redback has grown from 33 employees to 52, and there are plans to keep hiring.
Efficiency is king
With the daily badgering between politicians (who lack electrical engineering qualifications) over the best technological solutions to stabilise and optimise Australia’s National Electricity Market, the strategy of imposing smart ways to push down demand hardly gets a mention. But energy efficiency is an obvious route to a future where carbon emissions are lower and renewables makes up a larger proportion of generation.
Although Livingston makes efforts “not to be swept up in debates … from a matter of mental capacity” he fundamentally believes smarter energy use will be a cornerstone of a cleaned-up electricity market.
“That goes in a form of both energy efficiency but also optimised consumption and control of those devices to be optimised in times when renewables are overflowing as opposed to not producing,” he says. “It’s a broader discussion beyond energy efficiency … and not just on an individual residence basis but much more so on a residence and grid basis. IoT control and related core functionalities is imperative.”
IoT – the internet of things – will not fall through the cracks only to haunt us an embarrassing acronym in years to come, he says. “One of my pet peeves is the buzzword bingo that’s going on in this industry. But there are some core technologies that will be transformative and IoT is definitely one of them.”
Redback will be responsible for energy management and monitoring during a 12-month pilot project at Dubai South, providing data and insights into energy usage. If all goes well the parties will work on a deal to distribute Redback’s solutions in the UAE and throughout the Middle East and North Africa.