Melbourne Energy Hack winners develop marketplace to open underutilised rooftops to PV

This weekend more than 100 engineers, economists and renewable energy professionals attended the second Energy Hack at the University of Melbourne. A joint initiative of the Melbourne Energy Institute and Powershop Australia, Energy Hack was founded to promote entrepreneurship and develop innovative solutions in the renewable energy industry.

After forming teams on the Friday evening, attendees benefited from access to mentors over the weekend to develop their ideas. Participant Etosha Milner, who works for an Australian renewable energy consultancy,  said “everyone is really excited to be here and the mentors have been really helpful. We just had an energy retailer explain how tariffs work and why things cost the way they do. This exercise has been just as much about communicating ideas as coming up with ones.”

The $5000 First Prize went to Ruqayyah Merchant, Patrick Blain, Kieran Sullivan, Kristoff Dippl, Vignesh Arunachalam, Danny Bui of team XsSpace. The team came up with the idea of a marketplace that connects investors to home owners who have spare roof space for PV panels.

“We came up with the idea because we are all renters and we are paying too much for our energy, and we don’t have another option”, PhD candidate Kieran Sullivan from the Australian-German Climate and Energy College said. “We can’t install panels on our roof but we still want to invest in the renewable energy market.”

“Community energy is still in its infancy in Australia and we wanted to develop a marketplace for community funded project that works a bit like Air-BnB. That way low-income earners, renters and young people will have access to the same opportunities as home owners”, Sullivan said.

Monash University MBA student Vignesh Arunachalam said XsSpace would make a return through capturing a percentage of the up-front investment, a percentage of the power-purchase agreement, and retaining ownership of the system at the end of the project.  “Occupiers would see cheaper bills because they would receive discounted electricity and no network charge; and landlords would get a cut of the PPA. Investors then get paid a return based on the proportion of their initial investment,’ Arunachalam said.

A total of 17 teams presented to a panel of judges that included energy entrepreneur Simon Holmes à Court, Australian Energy Regulator Michelle Groves and Energy Consumers Australia’s Sabiene Heindl. Powershop host regular Labs at their Melbourne headquarters to foster early stage start-ups in renewable energy.