Last week, Hannah Heath, Chief Strategy Officer at Australia’s newest energy retailer Nectr was awarded the Clean Energy Council’s 2020 Women in Renewables Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) scholarship. She says having the clean slate of a start-up has already enabled Nectr to form a gender-balanced management team of the best talent from energy and other industries.
“You get so much value from bringing diverse experience to the table. The more of us who are in a position to employ for diversity, to mentor and train, and can help build that pipeline of expertise and confidence, the better off consumers and the energy industry will be,” Heath told pv magazine.
The young executive has been involved in the Australian energy sector since she arrived from Canada with a degree in History and Applied Economics and in 2002 entered the NSW Treasury Department graduate program.
“I was on an exponential learning curve, but that first role sparked a passion in me to take the physics and engineering of electricity and combine that with the economics to deliver something meaningful for customers,” she says.
Heath has since fulfilled roles including Senior Advisor at the Australian Energy Market Commission and as Manager of Future Energy Policy at Origin Energy. Over nearly 18 years energy, she says, she got used to being the only woman in the room. “When I was in the gas market, I was not only the only woman, but I was probably 25 years younger than most of the men in the room. So it’s been a constant journey of learning how to get heard and how to share my different perspective.”
On awarding the AICD scholarship, Clean Energy Council Chief Executive, Kane Thornton, said it was obvious to him that Heath would “harness the learnings from the course to further the cause of women in our industry,” and that “The benefits in creating greater equity in leadership will go beyond the renewable sector.”
From retailer to distributed-energy player
In joining clean-energy retailer Nectr, Heath has not only been involved in forming a new diverse company culture, but in anticipating the needs of consumers who want access to renewable energy at a competitive price and who are eager to embrace new forms of distributed energy but don’t know where to begin.
Heath tells pv magazine that two things attracted her to Nectr in the first instance: “the knowledge and expanse of our backer Hanwha — Nectr is owned by Hanwha Energy, a subsidiary of Korea’s global Hanwha Group which operates in the solar-energy (Hanwha Q Cells), construction, chemical, aerospace and financial services industries; and being able to build something new.
“We’re at a pivotal point in the energy sector. To be able to take the advances in technology that we’re seeing and deliver really innovative solutions to consumers is super exciting,” she says.
Just three months into its retail journey, Nectr is broadening its focus into the distributed-energy realm. “We’ll be an integrated party in that space,” Heath says, maintaining the mystery, but adding that the company will launch a distributed-energy pilot in coming months, and, “We’re working to integrate the retail and distributed-energy pieces.”
Part of her strategic role is in looking forward to the time when Nectr provides trusted advice to customers on what configurations of solar system — panels, inverter, battery — will suit their needs. Hanwha Q Cells products are set to feature in these options.
In October 2019, in the lead-up to the soft launch of Nectr to friends and family of its employees, Q Cells, Marketing and Key Account Director, Myung Shim told pv magazine, “I think the Australian energy market represents by far the most exciting opportunities globally, in terms of energy options, energy products, policies, consumer commitment.”
She pointed out that three of the 58 Hanwha Group affiliates already play in the Australian market — Hanwha Q Cells, Hanwha Energy and Hanwha Energy Retail. And said, “All of Hanwha energy businesses are extremely strongly committed to ensuring that we speak to the hearts and minds of Australians, and give them the opportunity to create clean renewable energy from home.”
Kraken on with digital transformation
Digital transformation of the home energy sector is at the heart of enabling a seamless experience for Nectr consumers. Customer relationship management, billing and other digital interfaces, as well as big-data functionality designed to source and deliver the cheapest available energy, are provided on Kraken, a scalable platform developed by British-based energy entrepreneurs Octopus Energy.
As a result, Heath says, from the first point of customer discovery the Nectr experience is different: “Type in your address and within a couple of seconds you’ll get a quote that’s personalised for you residence.”
Nectr offsets 100% of its Green customers electricity with energy certificates generated by solar, wind, hydro and bio-mass-generated power. Its parent company Hanwha Energy Australia is also an investor in the 25 MW Barcaldine solar farm in Queensland and the 110 MW Bannerton Solar Farm in Victoria, and has an interest in the proposed 47 MW Gregadoo Solar Farm, near Wagga Wagga.
Starting up in the work-from-home COVID environment
When Nectr officially launched to the NSW public on the AusGrid network in February this year, on the premise of bringing “different”, streamlined and simple energy packages to consumers, it had no idea of how different and complicated being a startup under COVID-19 restrictions would be.
“It’s been amazing how quickly the business has been able to pivot to maintain customer service,” says Heath. “Much like many other companies, we have reviewed our business plan in a COVID world, and identified the additional paths we need to take and how we’ll continue to grow.”
She says the scholarship, which includes the AICD three-day Foundations course — which may itself be digitally hosted in the virtual realm — and 12 months’ access to resources on the AICD online portal, will help her to “support the Nectr board in meeting its governance, management, and strategic opportunities and obligations in a more practised way”.
Heath looks forward to using the AICD learnings in her day-to-day work and believes it will provide a platform from which she can “champion the diversity in thinking that women in renewables can offer the industry as a whole”.