If you’re planning on shaking up an industry as monstrous as the energy sector, brace yourself for a full-body throttle. “Integrating more renewables into electricity grids is a welcome challenge many countries around the world are currently facing,” says green-tech company GreenSync’s founder and CEO, Phil Blythe, currently in the throes of rewiring the very life source of modern civilisation. He’s currently ‘reshaping the grid’ that, for over a century, has largely been powering Australia on fossil fuels. His goal? To get us switching on and powering up on more renewables.
“We make basic energy resources ‘smart’ by hooking them up to the Cloud – think of a big traffic intersection in cyber space – which allows us to control when and for how long they generate and discharge energy,” explains Phil. And while solar panels and battery packs are all well and good for the self-sufficient among us (and goliath, eco-conscious companies like Google, which claims it will run entirely on renewable energy before the year is out), this tech-savant says that “for wider energy needs, particularly at a commercial scale, connection to the wider energy system is fundamental.”
“If we are going to progress down a path to make renewable sources more stable, we are going to have to take some risks.”
With a background in machine learning and artificial intelligence, Phil started GreenSync in 2010, and has since worked with more than half of the country’s major energy providers. Aside from the technical complexities (“we have enough renewables to meet our energy supply, but we cannot connect them all to the grid,” he explains), another major roadblock for innovators like Phil is tight regulation.
One only has to glance in the way of a newspaper to see heated debate around carbon reduction and the role of renewables, with South Australia’s recent black outs, for example, largely blamed on their renewables-heavy power mix. “The psychological and technical shift to renewables therefore comes with some challenges,” says Phil. “[In Australia], technology has outpaced the regulations and technical standards required to coherently implement it. As such, a huge amount of work is being put into developing standards and operating procedures by a range of industry players, in order to manage risks to the security of our power system.”
After all, as Phil points out, change only comes through taking a (considered) gamble. “If we are going to progress down a path to make renewable sources more stable, we are going to have to take some risks,” he says. “It’s something we’re obviously focused on and will play a driving role in helping the big energy players improve reliability and security, while pushing them far enough to effect substantial change.” The Clean Energy Innovation Fund has his back, as does Southern Cross Venture Partners – throwing in a combined AU$10 million to GreenSync’s recent Series B funding round. A private fund saw the total tipping AU$11.5 million – a figure that Phil says took some time to secure, “so patience is definitely key.” When pitching for government funding, he stresses it’s important to focus on local value, with international traction being a secondary benefit. “I’d also advise other startups to explore beyond Australia’s shores for interested investors from across the globe… We’ve been lucky enough to strike a balance with homegrown government and offshore private investment.”
“One way to keep growing without external investment is to experiment with revenue streams. You can bootstrap for longer by having different business models early on and adapting them as you go.”
Before this hefty cash injection, like any start-up founder worth their salt, Phil was a master of thrift. “One way to keep growing without external investment is to experiment with revenue streams. You can bootstrap for longer by having different business models early on and adapting them as you go,” he says. “Raising capital is all about the timing in the market, and the best ideas can sometimes fail if you don’t have the timing right. Wait as long as possible to seek investment until the market is really burning.”
GreenSync’s software enables energy grids to operate at a whopping 80 per cent renewables, but with Australia’s 2016 renewable power percentage coming in just shy of 13 per cent, are we ready for this kind of disruption? “Globally the energy industry is undergoing an enormous transformation,” Phil says. “Whether it’s ready or not is beside the point – it’s happening already… and GreenSync is fundamentally about helping everyone in the industry adapt to these changes and create the sustainable energy business models of the future.”
We can’t wait to watch this bright spark take on the world.