As of 2022, countries representing 78% of global GDP have pledged net-zero emissions by 2060. At the same time, energy from fossil fuels still accounts for 70% of global emissions.
To move towards a net-zero future, we have an immense task ahead. The world has to replace trillions of dollars worth of fossil-fuel powered energy infrastructure with something more sustainable.
One might picture a greener future powered by large wind and solar farms, replacing today’s coal-fired power stations. However, this will only be part of the story. Increasingly, power will be generated and stored locally - where it’s consumed. Energy will shift from being primarily generated by ‘bulk’ generators to ‘distributed’ generators and storage facilities - such as rooftop solar projects and EV charging stations. As Gridcognition puts it, the shift will be from big and dumb machines to smaller and smarter ones.
Distributed energy systems can take many forms - depending on location, scale, and usage needs. Modelling out the right system for the right project, and ensuring energy needs are met while unit economics are profitable, is a complex process.
Co-founders Fabian Le Gay Brereton and Peter Tickler founded Gridcognition make planning and tracking multi-site, multi-asset decentralised energy projects easier. Their software helps their clients determine the optimal site to deploy projects, select the best possible combination of energy assets, optimise control strategies, explore market participation options, and forecast and track commercial and environmental performance.
What we loved about the opportunity
We’re at an inflection point - the transition to renewable, decentralised energy generation is inevitable
There is a pressing imperative to transition to decarbonised and decentralised energy generation. It’s not only motivated by environmental concerns; traditional energy assets are reaching the end of their lifecycle, with coal-fired power stations such as Hazelwood already decommissioned and Lidell soon to follow. There is little public support for the construction of new coal-fired power plants; in fact, influential figures such as Atlasssian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes has been incredibly vocal about the need to accelerate away from coal as a means of energy production.
Furthermore, developments in solar and storage technology means it makes far more economic sense to invest in decentralised and renewable energy generation, rather than commission more traditional forms of bulk generation. The economic benefits of such investment in distributed energy project is immense. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates that the efficient use of distributed energy resources could realise savings of more than $100 billion by 2050.
Renewables already represent a significantly more cost-effective way to generate electricity - the biggest barriers to widespread adoption are now operational - for example, understanding the reliability and feasibility of new distribution models. Gridcognition is tackling this problem head on, with its software that allows for the planning and tracking of distributed energy systems. This enables clients to build business cases around the environmental and commercial benefits that stand to be realised by their proposed projects.
Supporting projects from inception through to operation
Building a decentralised, renewable generator involves many moving parts; many solutions already support the efficient, complaint, and safe operation of an asset.
By contrast, Grigcognition is supporting the inception and planning of new projects, positioning themselves as a go-to tool for the planning of multi-site, multi-asset decentralised energy projects. With major and consequential infrastructure investment decisions at stake, Gridcognition acts as the trusted gold-standard in project planning, reducing the uncertainty and risk associated with the planning stage.
Gridcognition is replacing ad hoc models built in Excel. These once-off analyses may have sufficed when projects are infrequent and sub-scale, however complex and multivariate projects require more sophisticated tools that come pre-loaded with information, best-practice templates, and benchmarks. Gridcognition simplifies and streamlines analysis, rapidly creating optimised models that provide a comprehensive summary of both the energy impact and economics of any given proposal.
Through embedding themselves early into the decision making process, Gridcognition earns the opportunity to guide their clients through inception to operation of distributed energy projects.
Experienced leaders in CleanTech
Gridcognition is lead by Fabian Le Gay Brereton and Pete Tickler. Both are seasoned operators in the industry, having previously co-founded another CleanTech startup - Greensense. Greensense provided real-time monitoring and feedback on energy and water usage for residents - helping them reduce consumption, and in doing so, their utility bills.
Through the investment process, we were inspired by Fabian and Peter’s deep domain knowledge, relationships across the industry, and passion for CleanTech. In addition, we were impressed by the speed at which the team brought a product to market and grow their community of customers in Australia and abroad. We believe this team represents a confluence of domain expertise and technical talent and are well-placed to evangelise the potential of decentralised energy projects.
The challenges we saw
As yet, it’s unclear who the major players in distributed energy will be
As discussed above, a broad transition to distributed energy is all but assured. However, as yet it’s unclear who will drive the construction of these projects - property developers, traditional energy providers (e.g. AGL and Origin), specialised project developers and financiers, local governments, or large energy consumers (e.g. Coles, manufacturers).
Currently, Gridcognition is working with a broad range of clients - from traditional energy providers to renewable project developers to energy consumers themselves. Along the way, Gridcognition is working closely with the energy consultants and advisors also working on these projects.
For the time being, Gridcognition is targeting large energy providers via direct sales, while also acquiring a long tail of smaller players who are organically seeking out Gridcognition’s tools. The challenge ahead will be continuing to hone go-to-market strategies and product propositions as the market evolves and different kinds of players enter.
Could we be too early?
As we discuss in our investment principles, timing is crucially important. Early stage startups only have a short window to achieve momentum, and so launching at the right time can be make-or-break for a startup’s success.
While the amount of interest in distributed energy is growing, we’re not yet at a juncture where the majority of new investment in energy production is in distributed projects. However, we’re seeing strong examples of early investment, and experimentation in distributed assets from both new and legacy energy businesses. The economics of projects are positive and continue to trend in the right direction - driven by improved efficiency in renewable generation through better photovoltaic systems, cheaper storage, and the proliferation of electric vehicles changing both capacity and load requirements on the network.
Although we might be early in the inflection towards a distributed energy future, we believe this team is iterating towards strong product-market fit with its early customers. Like all great venture investments, we believe a huge wave is about to crest - and we have confidence Gridcognition are setting themselves up to catch it!
How we built conviction
Gridcognition have a clear job-to-be-done: provide confidence to those who are investing in the next generation of distributed energy systems. Today, renewables account for only 20 - 30% of the energy mix, but it’s likely to increase exponentially as we move towards net zero emissions.
Navigating this transition will require collaboration from many players - developers, builders, operators, regulators, and financiers. A key step in this process will be
equipping players with the tools that help them plan and make decisions with confidence. Being able to provide customers with confidence in the business and environmental impact of their distributed projects is a key unlock - and we’re excited to support Gridcognition to play this important role in ushering in a greener future.