A group of Australian clean-tech innovators and entrepreneurs are putting together a plan to create a first-of-its-kind facility to act as an incubator for Australian renewable energy technology developers.
The proposal for the creation of EnergyLab from Nick Lake and Piers Grove will be loosely based on a similar innovation in California, where the Australian co-founder of US solar leasing firm Danny Kennedy created SFun Cube, now known as PowerHouse.
Indeed, Lake and Grove will be backed by the giant California pension fund, CalCEF ventures, where Kennedy now heads investment in clean energy technologies. CalCEF will be providing support in both processes and connections.
The proposal for EnergyLab comes hot on the heels of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s push for Australian innovation, one of the few obvious differences in policy direction between the Coalition under Turnbull and under Tony Abbott.
It also comes with Australia poised at the cutting edge of the global adoption of rooftop solar and battery storage, and the widespread switch from a centralised energy system to a decentralised one that most utilities see as inevitable.
Lake and Grove believe Australia has a unique opportunity to lead the world, and hopes to tap into the hunger for new technologies and innovation, and the wealth of Australian engineering and business expertise.
EnergyLab will welcome start-ups with new ideas in renewable energy power generation, storage and financial models – offering a 12-month accelerator program for business ideas and $20,000 of seed capital.
The program includes shared workspace in central Sydney, networking opportunities, mentoring, access to legal and financial advice, access to potential funders and an annual conference.
In exchange, the accelerated business will assign 5 per cent of their initial equity to EnergyLab and provide its partners with “first look” investment opportunities.
“The goal is to make these ideas investment ready,” Lake tells RenewEconomy in an interview.
“The gap we’re seeing now is that PhDs and graduates have got great innovative ideas, but they’ve got nowhere to go in Australia.
“So they are going, for instance, to a commercial solar outfit. They get a job, but there is no-one one there to support them through the incubation stage.:
The EnergyLab will have seating for around 60 people, meaning around 15 companies, plus work-space for visitors from overseas. Expressions of interest for the incubator space are now being sought.
Lake says the idea of the EnergyLab was around for a while, but it did not seem likely to get support until a change of leader in the ruling Coalition.
“Under the Abbott government we didn’t think it was a viable proposition. But the mood has changed. There is a real interest in innovation. Great innovation happens in Australia, but it seems to get stalled.
“Australia is a fantastic test market, it has a high solar penetration, and an established energy market. That is why US battery storage companies like Tesla and Sunverge are coming here. There will be export opportunities. The market is ripe for disruption.”
Kennedy is now with the Californian Clean Energy Fund and has agreed to a partnership to facilitate innovation and an exchange between Australia, California and Asia markets.
“Australia is uniquely placed to develop, test, and implement world beating renewable energy solutions for a cleaner and more sustainable world. And the world knows it,” the company says in a presentation.
“The market is going to be disrupted in so many ways. No one knows how,” Lake adds.