Inside an Australian Energy Startup

So I met the blockchain guys yesterday.

I work at a pretty hip company, in a hot industry, but nothing seems to be as hot and flashy as blockchain these days. I actually found myself a bit drunk on hype and intrigued to get behind the buzzword and meet face to face with the real deal.

Like straight out of an episode of Silicon Valley, my life working at an energy tech start up is just as interesting, quirky and surreal as any HBO scriptwriter could dream up.

The blockchain office was still unpacking itself. Bustling with activity, clusters of guys in their 20s were hovering around computers, pointing at their screens and discussing the finer points of who-knows-whatever blockchain is all about. Rows of workstations were ready and waiting for the impending expansion of this hot new team, currently just too deep into debating whether to build the stack in Ethereum or Corda to bother setting up at a proper desk, instead using laptops on any available flat surface, or even just in a lap. A new neon sign of the company’s trendy logo was being installed on the wall by a lifeless sparky with a tool belt.

In the conference room several previous whiteboard sessions overlapped each other and took up the entire wall, floor to ceiling. Chaotic scribblings of wire frame sketches and process flows explained the mechanics of a new way to buy and sell energy. It was decided that first trial version of the platform will be launched as just a “spreadsheet test,” however the actual trades will still be executed “on-chain.”

Of course, post ICO, the MVP will incorporate DLT. (also how often do you want to call the API?)

You seriously couldn’t script it better.

In all honesty, the experience of working at Solar Analytics is not terribly different, I get the chance to interact in this kind environment almost every day, and I love it.

While we don’t have quite the same mystique as “the blockchain,” our reality is still just as precocious. Our whiteboard sessions are indeed lively, spanning wall to wall. We plan work in sprints and have stand up meetings (I have a stand-up desk). We set up cross functional teams and build products using design thinking methodologies. We talk about our runway, send out pitch decks, take part in accelerator programs and focus on growth growth growth.

Every day unfolds with some new angle to look at the future, full of engaging conversations about how to create a new world, and make an impact. The human dynamic is in full force, personalities, ideas, egos and energy…unbridled energy. We feed off each other while at the same time we drive each other crazy.

The team is incredible, and it is through our collective effort that the business forges on toward success.

Yep, its all about the team. And I am continuously grateful to be a part.

The energy world is changing drastically and rapidly. The 100+ year old way of making electricity at a big fossil fuel burning facility and sending it in one direction to your home is giving way to what my CEO calls “Grid 2.0.”

This is rooftop solar, distributed throughout the grid, electricity flowing in many directions, dynamic and democratised and renewable and clean.

Companies like Solar Analytics are busy looking to find ways to drive the disruption and come out on the other side in a viable position, creating value for people and hopefully leading to something better than what was there before.

With the energy revolution careening ahead at 1000 miles an hour, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels if we want to ride this wave. We have to continue to innovate and look ahead to where things are going even if we are only barely comfortable with where we currently stand. And so with the future dynamic grid in mind we are working on developing our Peer to Peer Energy trading capabilities.

The idea behind this buzzwordy concept is that if you have solar on your roof, you can sell the electricity you make directly to me (or anyone) for whatever price we agree on, without going through an energy retailer.

I am lucky enough to be project managing this effort at Solar Analytics. This is why we were meeting with the blockchain guys, as distributed ledger tech seems to be a natural fit for distributed energy exchanges.

But peer to peer is just one of the bleeding edges (to quote my colleage K.R.) that Solar Analytics is traversing. Getting to Grid 2.0 will be no easy feat, its a massive undertaking to revolutionise an industry, especially one as old and entrenched and critical to our everyday lives as energy. It will require collaboration across the industry to collectively decide how to get there as smoothly as possible. No one organisation can do it alone.

Attending a conference recently in Melbourne hosted by AEMO and SAPN, I had the momentary realisation that this group of 100 people, all leaders in the industry were there to offer advice and confer with each other on how to solve the rapidly approaching issues of an aging infrastructure. Completely re-imagining the grid’s utilisation through technology, and managing it in ways not even considered just a few years before.

South Australia is one of the densest places in the world for distributed rooftop solar, and it plans to continue leading the way in deploying distributed resources. It also has some of the greatest challenges with transitioning its grid to a new grid. What happens in SA will be a model on the international stage.

The world is watching this unassuming corner of the Antipodes.

And so who will solve these problems? Who solves these problems when the problems are at a national or even global level?

It is this group of committed Australians coming together from Government, Regulators, Network Operators, Non Profits, Consumer Groups, Big Corporate Energy and Disruptive Innovators.

All sitting together giving feedback, exchanging information and collaborating to find solutions and value in new and unexpected ways that literally could change the world.

So what is it like to work at Solar Analytics, in the New Energy Industry in Australia?

Fascinating, exhilarating, inspiring.

And its all about the team, within the company and beyond. And I am grateful everyday to be a part.