Next Idea looks to treble PowerGenius numbers

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Joshua Riddiford – Tue, 22 May 2018

Next Idea hopes to more than treble its PowerGenius customer numbers during the next 12 months.

The firm has installed more than 1,100 PowerGenius devices into more than 300 homes in New Zealand.

Chief executive Mike Stobbs says he wants to push those numbers “into the thousands” during the next year. Next Idea recently secured up to $15 million of Callaghan Innovation funding, under the growth grant programme, to develop the solar optimisation product during the next three years.

Stobbs says it was nice to get the endorsement of Callaghan. The funding represents a “significant opportunity” for the firm to continue its research and development.

Next Idea’s majority shareholders – with a 70 per cent stake – are Marcus and Mary Foot. Marcus Foot, also a director of SkySolar, is a Next Idea director along with Stobbs, John Kay and Ben Stanton.

The company was incorporated in 2009. Stobbs says about two years of research and development was spent devising the PowerGenius product which has been sold in the New Zealand market for about a year.

PowerGenius aims to optimise households’ use of power provided by rooftop solar and grid-supplied electricity. The company says some users have been able to utiltise 95 per cent of their solar generation, whereas the average household with solar exports more than 40 per cent back to the grid.

Householders set initial algorithm preferences, such as their required hot water temperature and how they want to use various appliances.

If customers don’t want to set the temperature themselves then the system will automatically set hot water cylinder temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius – the heat at which legionella bacteria do not survive.

Stobbs says that once those initial preferences are set the system can then optimise solutions for customers.
He says the advantage of the system is that it is “totally set and forget”.

PowerGenius can also respond to make the most of favourable weather and switch households back to grid-supplied power on a dark day.

“It’s constantly looking at how much energy is available.”

When conditions for solar are poor and the water cylinder failed to reach the target hot water temperature or run time then the device draws grid power from the customer’s retailer. PowerGenius devices also have two temperature sensors at the bottom and halfway up the cylinder.

“That enables us to store a lot more energy into what effectively is a battery.”

While PowerGenius primarily serves the solar market, a cloud-based dashboard application to help families manage and track their energy usage has proved popular with some smart home enthusiasts, Stobbs says. Interest from some network companies in the product’s demand management and load-shifting potential is also helping drive growth.

Eyeing Australia
The firm is also eyeing opportunities in Australia where it has just begun a trial with 10 paying residential customers. Most of those units are in Queensland with a “couple” in New South Wales.

With about 1.7 million solar arrays installed on Australian rooftops – about 100 times more than New Zealand –  Stobbs says a small slice of that market could be highly profitable.

“You don’t have to win a very big percentage of it to start delivering some very big numbers.”

He notes challenges involved in developing the PowerGenius product for the Australian market.

Australian hot water cylinders are typically outside so the firm needed to build a water proof temperature controller.

Software also had to be added to manage the practice of net-metering in Australia where feed in tariffs are calculated in advance.