This Australian startup wants to see all clean energy assets live long and productive lives.
Hygrid Energy’s three cofounders – Ben Shepherd, Hamish MacFarlane and Marc Pelletier – met while working at Ecoult, which was a company initially spun out of the CSIRO to commercialise its “ultrabattery” invention. From their time working for Ecoult, the three became aware of the challenges of getting battery systems to work optimally.
All equipment degrades over time, faster in some climatic conditions than others, and performs differently under varying environmental factors. The same pressures on performance and longevity apply to other renewable energy systems, such as solar systems and microgrids.
In October 2020, the trio decided to stop talking about these issues and act on them by developing an automated battery storage asset performance management tool that functions a bit like an “engineer in a box”. They started consulting in the space with the hope of funding some software development off the back of the consulting work. Shepherd says they struggled to get momentum given the consulting work sucked up most of their time. So after about six months, they got an angel investor on board to free themselves up to “start developing our technology in earnest”.
What started out as a play in the energy management space for batteries morphed into an asset management platform for clean energy assets more broadly. Shepherd says there’s already several companies providing energy monitoring and analytics tools but what was missing from the marketplace was a good old fashioned asset management tool.
“There’s no product that’s looking at these systems as assets in the classic sense of managing the assets to maximise the financial returns.”
The team have since deliver a minimum viable product and while they are yet to have implemented the software on a project, Shepherd says they’ve been approached by several companies, including one interested in using the tool to manage EV charging networks. It’s also signed a memorandum of understanding with a green hydrogen project to provide its asset management technology for the electrolysers and fuel cells within a green hydrogen system.
“We’re starting to get our first few customers on.”
Shepherd says the tool is not aimed at the top end of the market, such as big battery projects, because those projects are supported by lifelong service contracts.
“That’s the kind of thing that we are trying to provide and make accessible and affordable to the rest of the market.”
He says there’s a big market in the middle, namely industrial and commercial scale customers, that would benefit from this type of technology. He says systems integrators, which do a great job of putting together solar systems, microgrids and other clean energy systems using invertors, panels and other componentry from a variety of vendors, could use the technology to stand out from their competitors. At the moment, he says these installations are usually “set and forget” and systems integrators tend to move onto the next project once it’s complete. However, as the market for systems integration has tightened up, Shepherd says some players are looking to provide these kinds of ongoing asset management services as a competitive edge. “So that whole market is a really good fit for us.”
Providing assurance to investors also presents an opportunity for the company. “You need to be reporting to the investors who provided you the money for those systems and prove that you’re meeting everything that was laid out in the business case.” Investors want to know that the system is meeting the revenues per quarter and, ideally, whether the system is on track to meet these targets in the future.
The intention is to be able to provide these kind of predictive capabilities by leveraging machine learning technologies. Using ML, the tool will be able to draw on past performance and other inputs such as weather patterns and load utilisation forecasts to predict future operations.
“We’re not there yet – this is all the stuff that’s in the pipeline. But it’s pretty exciting.”
Shepherd says the company is the only one of its kind in Australia but there is a Canadian company called PowerHub that is doing something similar.
The three cofounders cover nearly all bases needed to develop this kind of technology. Shepherd brings commercial and product expertise, MacFarlane is an expert in IoT and data analytics and Pelletier brings the electrical engineering nous. The only skillset missing was the software development piece, which is why they brought on a fourth team member, Mitchell Gayner.
Shepherd says the plan is to bring on more inhouse development resources after the next capital raise in the middle of this year.