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April 15, 2016

Small Business Survey: Renewables

These firms are applying their experience as early-adopters to make the most of a steadily growing renewables market.

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  • Words: Max Opray
  • Pictures: Andrè Castellucci

Zen Energy

With an ambitious goal to re-shape the way energy gets delivered and the technology to match, SA company Zen Energy is keeping pace with international industry giants.

Zen Energy founder Richard Turner gestures towards a set of lamps illuminating part of the enormous interior of the Tonsley Park Sustainable Industries Education Centre, laughing that the facility’s staff once asked him to switch the lights off and stop wasting energy.


This story was originally published in CityMag Issue 12 alongside our Business Profile on the Wind Prospect Group

Given the copious natural light that floods into the former Mitsubishi factory and the eco-conscious priorities of the businesses now housed here, the request seemed reasonable enough – except that “wasting energy” was exactly what the 51-year-old entrepreneur was trying to do.

“They didn’t quite get at first that I’d connected those lights to our battery systems to test how long they would stay on,” he said.

One of the original tenants of the high-tech industry hub in Adelaide’s southern suburbs, Zen Energy is a local small business with an implausibly big agenda – to reshape the entire energy system as we know it.

 The goal pits him against…  the international businesses driving the energy storage revolution globally, such as American behemoth Tesla.

The plan is to roll out battery systems that enable communities to generate their own renewable power, store it and share it around locally on demand.

The goal pits him against not just the giants invested in maintaining the status quo in Australia’s power grid, but also the international businesses driving the energy storage revolution globally, such as American behemoth Tesla.

To realise its lofty goals Zen Energy has had to grow fast – less than a decade ago the company, known then as Zen Technologies, was little more than Richard at his dining room table dreaming up ideas, but today the head office houses roughly 40 employees, with a further 100 workers and contractors associated with the company.

In a significant rejig of the business structure last year, prominent economist Professor Ross Garnaut, who authored the Federal Government’s climate change review, became chairman and announced the push towards community-scale storage networks.

Richard isn’t intimidated by the idea of swimming with the big fish, saying that Zen Energy has scoured the world for the best component manufacturers in the industry and is operating in a region that will be demanding energy storage systems sooner than most.

South Australia is set to end all local coal power generation this year and will soon shut down a major gas power plant, meaning the state is to depend on wind and solar like never before – both technologies that have struggled to provide baseload power in the past due to their irregular output.

Advances in battery technology are set to make reliance on the wind blowing or the sun shining irrelevant, says Richard, as excess energy during times of high output can be stored away for when it is needed.

If Zen Energy’s plans come to fruition, soon all of us will be able to leave the lights on without getting in trouble.

Tindo Solar

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Operating since: 2011
Number of People: 20
Specialty: Solar panel manufacture and installation

Founder Adrian Ferraretto says vertical integration is the key to Tindo Solar’s ability to compete on price with the mass-produced panels flooding in from China and Germany.  The competition’s products need to pass through the manufacturer, importer, wholesaler, retailer and installer, with each “taking a bite of the cherry along the way”, whereas Tindo Solar make and install their panels themselves – a setup that offers advantages for customers beyond lower prices. “There’s only one neck for them to choke if there’s a problem,” Adrian
notes dryly.

Consolidated Power Projects

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Operating since: 1996
Number of People: 80 (head office)
Specialty: Electrical engineering for wind farms

Adelaide-based CPP has been involved in the majority of SA’s big wind farm projects, capitalising on their geographical proximity to project sites and good relationships with local industry, says Renewables Manager Anton Theron. The company sees large-scale solar as the next growth market in renewables and is jumping on board.

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