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Sparking innovation in New Zealand's electricity sector

Posted: 26 September 2017
James Muir, Callaghan Innovation's Business Innovation Advisor - Energy & Environment, shares his thoughts on Lightning Lab Electric, energy sector disruption and launching a Digital Energy Hub.

Lightning Lab Electric Teams

“Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger.” 

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US President.

Eisenhower's comments were echoed by New Zealand social entrepreneur Derek Handley, in his 2013 book, Heart to Start. But more on that later.

Early in September four Lightning Lab Electric (LLE) teams huddled in groups at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre, sharp suited and witty, waiting for Demo Day to start. Those set to deliver the all-important pitches stood apart, focused on distilling three months of intense work into five minutes on stage. An hour later, it was all over - the teams stood on stage, rightly proud of their achievements and the audiences' applause. 
The LLE teams were:

Ampli which provides analytics to assist lines companies with cost reflective tariffs
Polanyio whose platform streamlines the tender process for commercial energy consumers
MLabs which applies cloud based computing to revolutionise High Voltage electrical protection 
emhTrade which rewards consumers for personal electricity goals and reducing demand peaks.

For more information, see:

How big were the problems that teams tackled?

Each targeted significant issues. Moreover, they and LLE’s sponsors and supporters, demonstrated that even in the highly competitive New Zealand electricity sector, there is still considerable scope for innovation with a strong technological twang. LLE showed the value of having teams, particularly established businesses with start-up ideas but also true start-ups, stepping away from the day-to-day for full innovation immersion. Time will tell how the LLE teams fare but the Demo Day gave us a glimpse of the opportunity for customer-driven innovation. 

It is great to see such innovation in the New Zealand electricity sector whether LLE-related or not. Against the backdrop of real and perceived issues around incumbency, complexity of regulations, timescales for change and diversity, there are many promising signs including international perspectives on access to and the value of end-customer data, the ongoing uptake of new hardware (e.g. solar photovoltaic, energy storage and electric vehicles), the development of new business partnerships, better understanding of customer problems in developing countries and strong agreement on the significance of digitalisation. 

On the last point, we at Callaghan Innovation believe that there will be significant opportunities for New Zealand businesses over the next two years due to disruption in the energy and adjacent sectors from five digital technologies - Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain, Cloud Analytics and the Internet of Things.

As a result, we are creating the Digital Energy Hub which from October to July 2018 will offer events and access to digital content. It will feature video and audio recordings from international and domestic experts as well as case studies, infographics and papers. The Digital Energy Hub is an illustration of our commitment to connecting businesses with the capability, funding and networks they need. It will play a part in developing new products and services not just for the niche that is New Zealand’s highly competitive electricity market but as Dwight D. and Derek suggested, products and services that have truly global potential.

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