Clean tech start-up Wattwatchers is gearing up for expansion, with the successful conclusion of a $4 million Series A capital raising, which saw the Clean Energy Finance Corporation put in $2 million through its Clean Energy Innovation Fund.

CEFC investment development director Blair Pritchard said the CEFC’s investment would help the Sydney-based smart energy tech company lift production volumes and drive down costs.

“The Wattwatchers technology is small and very smart,” Mr Pritchard said. “The clamp-on internet device, working with a choice of cloud-hosted management interfaces, provides data that shows where and when energy is being consumed in real time.”

The devices are software-agnostic, and manufactured in Sydney. Since being launched to market in 2014, around 15,000 devices have been deployed in the field. They are being sold through partnerships with resellers.

One of the major customer segments is residential solar PV owners, who use the technology to monitor home solar and for energy use management.

A unit capable of monitoring up to six channels of energy costs about $250.

Data from the device is sent to the cloud, and then accessed by the software platform the user is connected to. Many of the Australian users have obtained the technology through a Wattwatchers partnership with Solar Analytics.

Cutting home energy bills

Gavin Dietz, Wattwatchers
Gavin Dietz, Wattwatchers

Mr Pritchard said the business would complement other technologies and help Australians understand how to consume energy at least cost.

“Equipment such as solar panels and solar hot water systems can underperform or waste power without consumers being fully aware,” he said.

“Real-time data identifies where and when consumption is occurring, and whether the patterns are economical, or perhaps excessive and therefore wasteful and overly expensive.”

Mr Pritchard said real-time data access was an important development for rooftop solar owners.

“This means they can reap the most benefits from their own energy production, as well as storage and generation into the grid.”

CEFC chief executive Ian Learmonth said high energy prices and high rooftop solar uptake provided the perfect opportunity to work smarter with energy.

“Wattwatchers represents what we expect will be the first wave of innovative behind-the-meter technologies that can provide ongoing savings for householders and businesses, while delivering information that can also improve the security and stability in the supply of energy from the grid,” Mr Learmonth said.

A confirmation of business strength

Wattwatchers chief executive Gavin Dietz said adding the CEFC to the private company’s share register provided further confirmation of the strength of its achievements and growth trajectory.

He said the technology had residential, commercial, industrial and utility service applications.

“We see it working alongside other smart technology applications, battery storage and microgrids to benefit Australian energy consumers as the new energy transformation occurs globally.”

The next step is to bundle the option of a home energy management app with the devices, Mr Dietz said. The app will include online budgeting tools to track energy use, and users will also be able to set alerts for when energy use exceeds a set budget.

Another innovation on the horizon is incorporating control technology, so users can switch circuits on or off, or redirect energy via an online platform.

International expansion underway

The company is also looking at international expansion. Trials and early rollouts are currently underway in the UK, USA, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaysia.

A second market segment that is growing is the commercial buildings and industrial sectors, where the devices can prove a cost-effective alternative to traditional sub-metering.

There have also been a lot of enquiries from strata and commercial building owners looking to implement a power purchase agreement with embedded network technology.

The company is also in the early stages of a project in conjunction with the University of New South Wales’ School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering that is looking into the barriers and opportunities for getting solar PV into strata residential buildings.

Funded by Energy Consumers Australia, there are already a number of apartment blocks signed up to the Solar Apartments Research project.

An offer retailers shouldn’t refuse

The company also threw down a challenge to the major retailers earlier this month, offering 50 devices free of charge to a retailer willing to supply them to a group of customers in a city that is part of the National Electricity Market.

Mr Dietz said each package is worth about $400 and would operate for a minimum of three years. Wattwatchers will install and maintain the trackers at no cost to the householder or the energy retailer.

He said each participating household could easily save hundreds of dollars a year on their power bills.

“Our plan is to wrap these households in energy-saving love to show the value of real-time data to empower consumers.

“Our team believes that real-time data is vital to give consumers real control over their energy, and we’re putting our technology where our mouth is.”

Bill shock a real concern, and consumers are fed up

Mr Dietz said his own mother, who is on an aged pension, was currently experiencing anxiety about the potential of bill shock when the next quarterly electricity bill arrives.

He said a lot of people were having the same experience, and feeling powerless to do anything about it.

There is abundant evidence pointing to very low levels of consumer trust in energy utilities, he said.

“Energy consumers are fed up. They’re saying loud and clear that they aren’t getting value for money from energy retailers. If the retailers want more trust and less hate, they have to really help their customers to use less energy.

“So-called smart meters, which are still controlled by the energy industry, have turned out to be nowhere near as smart as consumers were promised – and the majority of Australian homes don’t have smart meters yet anyway.

“Now the focus is shifting to what’s happening with energy behind the utility meter, inside our homes and small businesses, which is where technologies like Wattwatchers’ come into play.”

Mr Dietz said the energy industry companies could either embrace helping their customers to have money by reducing and shifting electricity use, or be “blockers”.

“Will they help lift the lid or try to keep it jammed shut, in an effort to keep control and market power by slowing the drift of energy spend from grid usage to behind-the-meter energy efficiency, solar, smart appliances and other emerging opportunities for consumers.”

At this point, none of the retailers have taken the company up on the offer.

Mr Dietz said the retailers need to “get smarter or lose out”.

“If they shut themselves out of the growing market for smart behind-the-meter energy solutions, they’ll only have themselves to blame.”

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