University of Newcastle-based start-up Diffuse Energy has secured $400,000 in seed funding from Australian venture capital fund Shearwater Growth Equity to scale production of its small wind turbine.  

The Hyland 920 turbine, only 920mm in diameter, is offered as an alternative to diesel generation used in remote and emergency telecommunications facilities.

Each unit weighs 18.5kg and can produce 440kWh a year at a wind speed of 4.5m/s, Diffuse Energy says. The enclosed designed allows more air to be drawn into the turbine to boost power while taking up less space.

The technology was developed as a PhD research project by engineers James Bradley, Dr Joss Kesby and Dr Sam Evans (pictured, left to right), the co-founders of Diffuse Energy.

The unit has been designed for “the toughest off-grid environments in Australia,” the company says.

The turbines can plug into existing telecommunications infrastructure, enabling rapid setup onto towers in hard-to-service locations.

The model removes upfront hardware costs in favour of a monthly subscription, eliminating major barriers associated with technology uptake and deployment, says Kesby, the company’s CEO.

“We know small wind can solve the unique challenges of powering telecommunications infrastructure in remote locations and under critical emergency scenarios,” Kesby says. “The challenge has been how to deploy at scale in remote and off-grid locations in the most cost-effective manner possible.”

The funding covers the employment cost of three full-time staff to scale Diffuse Energy’s capability for production so that a potential of hundreds of units can be manufactured if there is demand.  

Shearwater Growth Equity managing partner Zac Zavos said the investment in Diffuse Energy meets the fund’s objectives to operate in a growing renewable energy market. 

“Small wind is the natural complement to solar in that wind often blows when the sun isn’t shining. The founding team are very strong and committed to building a generationally great company. We saw the potential for software-like recurring revenue from their small wind turbines,” Zavos says. 

Forged in fire

Diffuse Energy proved the value of its technology for Vertel, a provider of mission and life-critical telecommunication network services, during last year’s bushfires when the turbines powered critical voice and data services for NSW Police, Rural Fire Services, State Emergency Services and NSW Health. 

Vertel executive director Andrew Findlay said the turbine provided alternative power to key communication sites when many were affected by mains power failure.

“Not only could we monitor energy production and consumption remotely and in real-time, but we were able to keep our sites and network services running for our government and the emergency services customers when they needed it most to support communities,” Findlay says.

The inventors say each little spinner will save about $165 a month in diesel reductions, thanks to a design that makes it 42% efficient.

Diffuse reckons its tech can be put to work by remote mine operators, utilities, off-grid communities and even tiny-home designers interested in small-format, high-output systems. 

What goes around

The company is based at the university’s Integrated Innovation Network Hub in Williamtown and has supervised three final-year project honours students and offered intern opportunities to students. 

“The whole idea for our small wind turbines began when Sam, James and I were engineering students at the University of Newcastle, so it’s rewarding to be able to help support students on a similar trajectory,” says Dr Kesby, a conjoint lecturer with the School of Engineering.

Fellow co-founder Dr Evans is a conjoint senior lecturer and James Bradley a professional officer with the School of Engineering. 

With parts of the small wind turbine manufactured locally in the Hunter, and the controller and electronics designed by Newie Ventures, the startup is supporting the Hunter region’s innovation and economy.