The Greenstage dream: a more collaborative, sustainable future

The Greenstage dream: a more collaborative, sustainable future
From solar roofs to electric vehicles, Greenstage is placing all its bets on a more sustainable future.

 From solar roofs to electric vehicles, Greenstage is placing all its bets on a more sustainable future.

Corporates and innovation aren’t mutually exclusive. But often incumbents don’t have any incentive to do so, and it takes a start-up or two to shake things up.

Greenstage hopes to be one of those shaker-uppers in the renewable energy sector, and in more than one area. It’s hard to sum up what they do in a sentence or two, because they’ve got so many things on the boil.

philip court and john gorman greenstage idealogPhilip Court and John Gorman of Greenstage. PHOTO: Tony Nyberg

For starters, there’s SolarNetwork, its smart-grid software platform used to monitor solar power storage and electricity consumption in real time via web, smartphone or tablet, used by enterprise, governments and consumers. Most of us know very little about our energy use, but this enables, say, your electrician to drill right down to pinpoint an old appliance that’s sucking up the kilowatts (according to the US Department of Energy, your typical commercial building stands to save up to 20 percent on its electricity bills simply through maximising efficiency).

The technology is all open source and hardware agnostic, so it plays nicely with a range of devices. Chief executive Philip Court says while business has traditionally kept proprietary software under lock and key, open source is not “impinged” by regulations or NDAs, leaving them “free to do what needs to be done”. While that makes it both efficient and cost-effective, it does throw up challenges around valuing the IP.

“Because everything is open source, venture capitalists don’t want a bar of it,” Court says.

With data as valuable as gold, though, Greenstage is well-placed to offer services to power providers, especially in regard to demand-side response – that’s levelling out usage and incentivising or rewarding consumers who shift their usage to off-peak times. As Court puts it, if you know a period of high demand is coming up and the energy supply coming up from the South Island won’t be enough to meet it, then you can at least call up Huntly and tell them to burn more coal.

Electric cars make up another piece of the Greenstage pie, one that it’s increasingly taking public through events like its recent vehicle showcase. Fostering a nationwide community of EV owners is the aim, with the idea being that registered members can connect with others around the country and make use of their charging pedestals when they’re in the area (with permission, obviously). All EV owners have a charging mechanism at home, so this is a step toward creating a kind of national charging infrastructure.

This is founded on a free Android app that can wirelessly activate the charger (as well as do things such as monitor your performance while driving) ahead of your arrival and could even be set up to require a Paypal payment beforehand. A public charging station has been set up outside Greenstage’s Auckland office in Newton, which anyone with the app can access. And if that hasn’t got you convinced, here are three words: electric race cars – yep, green supercars are on the agenda, too.

Greenstage’s energy management platform also underpins Energyshare, a newly-launched solar PV co-op spearheaded by Auckland entrepreneur Chris Olson, providing both rooftop power generation systems for installation and energy monitoring systems.

Energyshare will operate alongside existing electricity companies with members purchasing their grid supply energy from retail suppliers and benefiting from the renewable solar power they generate from their own roofs. Members will own shares and get a say in how the co-op operates, and benefit from the data being collected – imagine benchmarking your consumption against your neighbour’s, and being able to duplicate their configuration for yourself.

The prospectus is now out and solar strategist John Gorman says they hope to build a membership of 6,000-plus in Auckland. They’ll also look to collaborate with other regions, either through subsets or separate co-ops, with interest coming from Dunedin, Christchurch, Tauranga and Hamilton.

The message is both price-positive and environment-positive. Avoiding the doom and gloom associated with hardcore climate change nuts was a deliberate choice. Everyone at Greenstage is genuinely passionate about the technology, Gorman says.

In short, it’s about business, but it’s also just as much (if not more so) about community and educating people. The company is only five years old, but they’re in this for the long haul.

“It’s very much a long-term play,” says Court.

Greenstage aspires to be the “Xero of energy management”, a company Gorman has been following from the beginning. He says the accounting start-up took a real gamble but is proving itself as a New Zealand platform with export potential, something they’d like to emulate. And industry insiders are already taking notice. On the back of SolarNetwork, Gorman was recently invited to the White House by the US Department of Energy and Stanford to attend the first-ever Energy Datapalooza, a gathering of entrepreneurs, developers, policymakers and energy experts in the name of open data in the energy sector.