Real-time data for the clean energy transition, Net Zero and beyond

Feature image for Wattwatchers blog post by CEO Gavin Dietz

‘We love data, we have tonnes of it and we believe every carbon journey starts and finishes with data.’ – This is an edited version of Wattwatchers Digital Energy CEO Gavin Dietz’s presentation to the Climate Investor Forum at the MCG in Melbourne on March 22, 2023. His topic was ‘Real-time data to enable Net Zero’.

GAVIN DIETZ: WATTWATCHERS CEO

I join others in acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Ancestors and Elders past and present. 

Indigenous Australians lived sustainably on their lands for tens of thousands of years before colonisation, and there is much we still need to learn from them.

Wattwatchers in an Australian owned, designed and manufactured energy technology platform.

We love data, we have tonnes of it and we believe every carbon journey starts and finishes with data.  

The baseline data to begin is imperative in knowing where we started, the data shared on the journey allows all stakeholders to participate, and most importantly you need to have the improvements measured, reported and accountable.

The energy industry is traditionally ‘data-lite’. Today’s data needs are way more vast than that.  This is where the Wattwatchers journey began.

Over a decade ago, the founders of Wattwatchers built the beginnings of what we have today. Their idea was a compact IoT device that extracted energy data from the copper wires and put it into 0s and 1s on the internet. It was a great vision, like all technology startups a little before its time.  Since then we have come a long way.

The centrepiece of our development is our Wattwatchers Auditor series (shown below).

The Wattwatchers Auditor family with accessory devices for billing meter data and remote load control (switching).

Auditors are compact, secure and central to our energy meter ecosystem.  Not only does the Auditor collect data from the copper wires in real-time, it provides a two-way gateway to any premise where it is installed. It collects data from, and can control energy appliances and resources.

Today Wattwatchers devices operate in two main fields.

The first is the general distributed energy space or the grid edge, which primarily has been the solar installation space, but more recently has extended to batteries, hot water and electric vehicles (EVs).  Whilst this space is still maturing, the foundations we are laying down are paramount.

The second is Net Zero, where a perfect storm happened in 2022. Actually, several storms happened including pandemics and supply chain shortages … but I was more meaning a good perfect storm: top down corporate Net Zero commitments and high energy prices.

This means, for the first time in the seven years I’ve been Wattwatchers’ CEO, that I don’t need to explain why you need real-time energy data.

It takes an ecosystem to raise a solution

Now any piece of hardware is supported by a suite of software that brings it to life, and ours is no different.

Firstly, the firmware is all ours, designed and built in Australia.

Secondly, the first step in an energy journey is installing the hardware and we have invested heavily in a fantastic onboarding approach that continually is enhanced with machine learning to ensure the most accurate and fastest installs possible.

Thirdly, data alone doesn’t rock most people’s boats (it does mine, but I am weird like that). We have a suite of visualisation tools that range from simple dashboards to complex IoT analytical front ends that can pull all sorts of data into a single operational context.

Fourthly, and and lastly, there’s the inevitable app for your smartphone, which is our way of taking data and showing people its power, use and implementation.

As an example on the power of data, we are releasing shortly our Hot Water AI integration that will analyse a residential installation, identify the hot water system, provide real-time alerts to the owner on how it should be optimised, when it is broken and even what temperature settings you should choose.

Lastly, no one does this alone, we have a large partner network of third-party solution providers that have integrated into our data APIs, bringing their own unique skill sets to ‘solving the problem’.  The open and easy flow of data is key to these relationships.

Sustainable, clean and lean

We’ve built our approach around sustainability, the clean energy transition and a lean scale-up business model.

Focusing on profit prior to growth, we have built on the five key points seen here (slide below).

Some of these are already familiar today, and some are future facing … you will see them come into their own as we move forward.

As an example, security of the grid and how we deliver renewables and carbon reduction solutions will be mandated under forthcoming federal and state-based security of critical infrastructure reforms.

With over 60,000 devices already in the field, we have learned a lot.  When we focus in on the edge of the grid where distributed energy resides, it is complex, there are multiple stakeholders, all variety of energy resources and a wide range of building types.  

There are no single solutions that solve this, but there are principles which we believe are critical, these being:

  1. Always on, users cannot turn it off
  2. Guaranteed communications, if you cannot communicate it no point doing it
  3. Real time data, why settle for anything less

People, team and shared beliefs

Putting aside our technologies, I think it has always been our beliefs and the beliefs of our team that matter most.  Whenever you are solving large social/environmental issues, a team that believes in that is critical … and that is the case with our team. 

We also believe in consumer data rights, and we have executed a large project with this front of mind (I will mention it a little later in detail.) 

However, I know I have used data as a word many times, but it is truly what we believe in, and it drives the renewable energy revolution. The rights behind it, how to access to it, and the interactions with it are key.  We believe in its openness for solving problems, but done in a way where the owner of the data does not get screwed on the journey.

And finally security. We have built security in from the ground up, it is not an afterthought.  Security is non-negotiable, and vulnerabilities like relying on the home’s WiFi for an always-on uplink to the cloud just won’t cut it!

Monitoring is a first strike capability!

Working with experts in their various fields, our technology will go in first and measure the performance of an asset, it will identify large consumption and generation opportunities, the owners and operators of the premise will make changes.  Their contractors, consultants and engineers will make changes.

Experts will then advise capital improvement opportunities with swift financial, energy and carbon paybacks.

We continue to measure the improvements and the ongoing health of the building for the rest of its life.

Our data stream becomes a real life heartbeat for the building, creating actionable insights.

Large-scale strategic pilot projects

This leads me to two fundamentally strategic projects we have undertaken over the last 3 years.

The first one was the MEM – My Energy Marketplace – an ambitious project to deliver 5,000 connected homes, 250 schools and a leading edge app ‘marketplace’ and responsible data repository. 

Originally pitched to ARENA several years ago, at the same time as the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, we were keen to pitch a solution that treated data in the opposite way.  And we have achieved this: we have simple customer facing terms and conditions; opt in data use policies; clearly defined rules of engagement and use; and a commercial model where the consumer (whose data it is) gets financially rewarded.  We are extremely proud of having fostered Australia’s ethical energy data repository.  

The historic timber town of Heyfield, near the brown coal heartland of the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, was another strategic project for us, called MyTown Microgrid.

Using Wattwatchers devices and data to engage the community, we’ve supported bottom-up modelling by researchers, evaluating the feasibility of a microgrid or community battery or other local energy solution.  

Both of these projects use the same Wattwatchers technologies, and when merged together both are foundations to what will happen in every community in every part of Australia over the coming years as the new era of electrification unfolds.

A time for scaling change

I have already mentioned the collision of change in the last 12 months, Net Zero combined with higher energy costs creates action in people’s minds.  And energy prices needed to rise for people to care.

There are three target areas for us that we believe will change the face of scale in Australia.

Firstly, grid innovation. The changes required in the edge of the grid are substantial, it needs data visibility, circuit and appliance control, individual resource billing just to name a few.  

Secondly, security goes hand in hand with this. Today we have built a grid on home wifi with APIs nested in other countries.  Optus and Medibank have taught us what could possibly go wrong here.  A step up in security will remove the toys from the space and allow engineered, scale solutions like ours to thrive.

Lastly, scale manufacturing locally.

We have domiciled our manufacturing to Western Sydney. However, it needs automation scaling, logistics improvements and even less dependence on foreign imports of components.  Following the global computer chip constraints of 2022, we re-architected our product to be completely Australian designed, manufactured and firmware programmed.

We made it chip independent and built an energy hardware platform that is by far the most future-facing available. Watch this space for our upcoming product announcements.

The last word

In conclusion, for electricity we see Net Zero being reached and exceeded way before 2050. More like within a decade from now. And abundant and accessible-but-secure data is crucial to achieving this.

Gavin Dietz has been CEO of Wattwatchers since 2016, leading its Series A ($AUD4 million, CEFC/SXVP 2017) and Series B ($5.8 million, Kilara Capital/CEFC 2021) capital-raising rounds.