Aboriginal-owned energy company one-upping Tesla

The renewable energy storage game is about to be disrupted, with Australian Aboriginal-owned company AllGrid Energy announcing the launch of WattGrid, a new 10kWh solar energy storage system it says is around 30 per cent cheaper than the Tesla Powerwall.

Customers also don’t have to wait until 2016. Spokeswoman for AllGrid, Deborah Oberon, said the company expected to be making its first deliveries in the next two to three months.

The $11,999 WattGrid unit comprises an aluminium cabinet containing tubular lead acid gel batteries, and a hybrid 5kW solar inverter with battery management system that has load share capability with the grid and uninterrupted power supply capability.

The unit is also accompanied by a software app, WattsHappening, that allows users to view real-time information and interface with the system.

Beta testing has shown the unit can help solar owners maintain an energy supply profile that can be matched to the demand profile, potentially rendering drawing grid power unnecessary.

The Queensland-based company is also releasing another product it has developed, the PortaGrid. This is an independent unit comprising solar panels, storage, UPS, inverter and outlets that is suitable for remote and off-grid locations, as well as emergency situations.

The units can be supplied with an inbuilt weather station that will automatically close up the panels in the event of a severe weather hazard such as a cyclone.

The AllGrid company is an alliance between two established firms, Consolidated Industrial Holdings, which operates across the energy efficiency, engineering design and technology sectors, and DICE Australia, an Aboriginal-owned and Aboriginal-operated company in the electrical contracting and general construction services sector.

DICE founder and director Raymond Pratt has taken up the role of chief executive of the new combined entity, which currently has 20 full-time staff across engineering, design, management, manufacturing, sales, administration and business development.

Staff numbers are due to increase in the very near future when assembly of the units commences, Ms Oberon said.

The products are being launched at Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural centre in Adelaide on Wednesday 2 September. Ms Oberon said Adelaide was chosen for the launch because of the council’s Sustainable City Incentive Scheme, which provides up to $5000 towards the cost in installing solar PV storage across the residential, business, education and community sectors. Funding for the program also has financial support from the South Australian government.

“We felt it was important to acknowledge the South Australian government and the City of Adelaide for such a forward-looking and innovative scheme,” Ms Oberon said.

The company is also hoping other state governments and councils will be encouraged to take up the idea of supporting the uptake of renewable energy storage.

The company’s core mission is based on the fundamental Aboriginal approach of stewardship of the earth and its resources. This means needing to shift out of high-emissions fossil-fuel derived energy.

“It is so important for everyone to shift to renewable energy,” Ms Oberon said.

All the intellectual property involved in the products is owned by the AllGrid business.

Currently the company has one manufacturing facility established in Brisbane where the various parts, some of them manufactured offshore to AllGrid’s specifications, will be assembled by a predominantly Indigenous workforce.

Ms Oberon said if demand in South Australia was great enough, the company would also look to establish a plant in Adelaide.

The PortaGrid product is already attracting interest, she said, with the company in discussions with National Parks about supplying the units for remote sites that currently rely on diesel generators.

“The applicability worldwide of the technology is just enormous,” Ms Oberon said, “particularly in developing countries.”

Talks are underway with a number of groups that are currently running leadership programs with Indigenous people in other nations and setting up training programs in renewable energy for the local peoples.

The company is also investing heavily in research and development.

Innovations currently in the pipeline include WattGrid12, a 12kW system battery storage system using saltwater batteries that will have up to 100 per cent longer life than lead acid batteries, and BioGrid, a biomass digester that uses food and household waste to generate a replacement for LPG gas and also produces compost.

Commercial-scale systems that can power an entire remote Aboriginal community and replace expensive and high-emissions diesel generators are also on the horizon.

“This would create energy wealth and energy autonomy for those remote Aboriginal communities,” Ms Oberon said.

The company has recently been accredited under the federal government’s Supply Nation scheme. This is an Indigenous Procurement Policy that came into effect on 1 July this year, which sets minimum benchmarks for procurement from Indigenous-owned suppliers and for indigenous employment and traineeships for all government contracts.

“We are very proud to keep our Indigenous profile front and centre and Supply Nation certification helps us to do this,” Ms Oberon said.

“It also creates the opportunity to consolidate our commitment to establishing Indigenous traineeships, community development initiatives, employment opportunities and Indigenous business opportunities.”

AllGrid has committed to directing a percentage of all company profits into creating and supporting training and employment programs for Indigenous Australian young people.

This story was published with permission from The Fifth Estate.

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