Small wind spins again as NSW technology wins venture capital backing

There is renewed hope for the future of “small wind” energy generation this week with news that Australian start-up Diffuse Energy has locked in $400,000 in seed funding to scale production of its very small, enclosed-blade diffuser turbine technology.

Diffuse Energy, which is based out of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, said on Tuesday that had secured $400,000 from Australian venture capital fund, Shearwater Growth Equity.

The technology – an idea born from the PhD research of engineers and Diffuse Energy co-founders Dr Joss Kesby, Dr Sam Evans and James Bradley – spans less than a metre, its blades enclosed within a diffuser which draws air through the turbine to boost power output.

Already, Diffuse’s small wind turbines have proven themselves by continuing to power critical voice and data services for NSW Police, Rural Fire Services, State Emergency Services and NSW Health during the catastrophic bushfires that ravaged the state in late 2019.

The company’s plan is to use the lightweight turbines to plug into existing telecommunications infrastructure, enabling rapid setup of turbines onto towers in hard-to-service locations, and converting them from diesel generation to cheaper and greener wind power.

The funding, from Shearwater Growth Equity, is expected to cover the employment cost of three full-time staff to scale Diffuse Energy’s production capability to manufacture hundreds of units, should the demand arise.

Zac Zavos, the managing partner of Shearwater, described Diffuse Energy’s founding team as very strong and committed to building a generationally great company.

“Small wind is the natural complement to solar in that wind often blows when the sun isn’t shining,” he said. “We saw the potential for software-like recurring revenue from their small wind turbines.”

Diffuse Energy CEO Dr Joss Kesby said the company’s current focus is on changing the way telecommunications companies invest in and use renewable energy infrastructure.

“Our commercial model removes upfront hardware costs in favour of a monthly subscription, eliminating major barriers associated with technology uptake and deployment,” he said.

“We know small wind can solve the unique challenges of powering telecommunications infrastructure in remote locations and under critical emergency scenarios.

“The challenge has been how to deploy at scale in remote and off-grid locations in the most cost-effective manner possible.”

But the small turbines have promise beyond telecommunications, too, including remote mine operations, energy and water infrastructure, off-grid communities and tiny-home designers interested in small-format, high-output systems.

As an added bonus, parts of the small turbines are manufactured locally in the Hunter, and the controller and electronics for the technology are designed by Newie Ventures, the startup is supporting the Hunter region’s innovation and economy.

“Building a sustainable future is a top priority for our University,” said University of Newcastle vice-chancellor Professor Alex Zelinsky.

“Not only are these innovators helping to make our world more sustainable, they are contributing to job creation in our region and boosting opportunities for our students.”

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