A University of Newcastle-based startup is attracting large commercial investment to improve remote and emergency telecommunication access in bushfire prone areas.
Diffuse Energy’s small wind turbine innovation has secured $400,000 in seed funding from Australian venture capital fund, Shearwater Growth Equity.
The fund will be used to scale production of its promising renewable energy option.
The project proved the value of its technology in 2019 as the turbines powered critical voice and data services for NSW Police, Rural Fire Services, State Emergency Services and NSW Health while catastrophic bushfires raged throughout the Mid North Coast and Coffs Harbour region.
An idea born from PhD research, Diffuse Energy founders and engineers Dr Joss Kesby, Dr Sam Evans and James Bradley are reimagining wind energy.
Unlike a traditional open-blade wind turbine which can be as large 160 metres in diameter, their invention spans less than a metre.
The model achieves this by enclosing the blades within a diffuser, which draws more air through the turbine to boost power while taking up less space.
Diffuse Energy Chief Executive, Dr Kesby said they were changing the way telecommunications companies buy renewable energy infrastructure.
“Our commercial model removes upfront hardware costs in favour of a monthly subscription, eliminating major barriers associated with technology uptake and deployment,” he said.
Suitable for the toughest off-grid environments, the scaled-down, lightweight turbines plug into existing telecommunications infrastructure, enabling rapid setup of turbines onto towers in hard-to service locations.
It converts them from diesel power generation to cheaper, more environmentally friendly wind-power.
“We know small wind can solve the unique challenges of powering telecommunications infrastructure in remote locations and under critical emergency scenarios,” Dr Kesby said.
“The challenge has been how to deploy at scale in remote and off-grid locations in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
He added that the idea began when he, Dr Evans and Mr Bradley were engineering students at the University.
The funding will cover the employment of three full-time staff to scale Diffuse Energy’s capability for production so that a potential of hundreds of units can be manufactured if there is demand.
Managing Partner of Shearwater Growth Equity, Zac Zavos, said they invested in the startup because they were operating in an unambiguously large and growing renewable energy market.
“Small wind is the natural complement to solar in that wind often blows when the sun isn’t shining,” he said.
“The founding team are very strong and committed to building a generationally great company.
“We saw the potential for software-like recurring revenue from their small wind turbines.”
With parts of the small wind turbine manufactured locally in the Hunter, and the controller and electronics designed by Newie Ventures, the work is supporting the Hunter region’s innovation and economy.