Two solar startups win the Orion Energy Accelerator Grant

Leni Maiai | Oct 29 2021

Two energy companies focused on very different parts of the solar industry won at the inaugural Orion Energy Accelerator pitch event hosted virtually from Christchurch last night.

On a night out of the set of TV’s Shark Tank, ten startups took the virtual stage to pitch their concepts to a group of energy industry experts.

Christchurch charity Empower Energy claimed the ‘Impact Award’ for its work targeting energy poverty through a new solar sharing scheme. Napier based Red Phase took the $15,000 ‘Most Innovative’ prize for its groundbreaking work making New Zealand’s solar panels more efficient.

CEO of Empower Energy, Michael Fitzgerald, says the grant will mean more people living in energy poverty will have a chance at a helping hand.

“This grant will help Empower Energy support both the climate and the community. We have so much work to do, so it’s exciting to see that others recognise how important reducing Aotearoa’s energy poverty is,” said Fitzgerald.

CEO and founder of Red Phase, Robert Turner says the prize will be a game changer for his business.

“Six months ago Red Phase was just something sitting at my house, but the accelerator has seen us go from 0 to 100%. We want to drive change in the electricity world, and this kind of recognition will help amplify this change,” said Turner.

Orion Head of Customer and Communications, Paul Deavoll, whose company along with Ara Ake and Christchurch’s Ministry of Awesome devised the event, says that the event’s success is testament to the value startups can bring to some of the knottiest issues facing New Zealand.

“In very different ways, Red Phase and Empower Energy have shown that not only is New Zealand innovation alive and well, but that it can provide meaningful answers to our most pressing problems.”

Impact award winner ($15,000) — Empower Energy

In the impact category, for the top idea challenging the carbon emissions problem with a social edge, Canterbury-based Empower Energy has taken out the main prize. Empower Energy is on a mission to break New Zealand’s energy poverty cycle, which impacts around a fifth of New Zealand homes. Working alongside energy companies around New Zealand, the charity will give Kiwis with surplus energy from their solar panels the chance to give these credits to those in need.

“Energy poverty is a real issue in New Zealand and Empower Energy has brought forward a very impactful way of dealing with it. We want to reward companies doing the best not only to make the planet a better place, but make it a better place for the people living on it,” said Jacob Varghese, Head of Innovation at the Ministry of Awesome.

Most innovative solution ($15,000) — Red Phase

Conjured up in founder Robert Turner’s garage at home in Napier to fix the problem with his own solar panels, Red Phase entered the Orion Accelerator with a prototype, and has walked out with a business, as well as the $15,000 Orion startup grant.

With at least 1 in 10 New Zealanders not getting the most efficient use out of their solar panels, Red Phase has developed a technology to convert more of their solar into energy.

“At scale, getting 10% more out of your solar panels not only saves money for consumers, but has a massive knock on effect on New Zealand’s energy footprint,” said Orion Head of Customer and Communications, Paul Deavoll.

“Red Phase’s ascension from a tool in Robert’s garage through to a fully realised technology, with hundreds of keen customers is exactly why we wanted to start the Orion Energy Accelerator.”

About the Orion Energy Accelerator

Tasked with reducing New Zealand’s carbon emissions, ten fledgling startups have undergone an intensive, two and a half month programme at the Orion Energy Accelerator. The start-ups received hands-on guidance from Orion, Ara Ake, and the Ministry of Awesome, experts in energy, technology and start-ups.

Orion Head of Customer and Communications, Paul Deavoll says that an accelerator leaning on expertise from around the industry is an ecient, powerful way to tackle climate change.

“The energy sector has a big role to play in addressing the climate emergency, and we see innovation as a central cog in bringing about these changes. Most of the eleven participants arrived at the Orion Energy Accelerator as ideas, and tonight they are living, breathing startups, tackling the biggest issue threatening the future of the planet,” said Deavoll.

The Orion Energy Accelerator is New Zealand’s first energy-focused accelerator. It was hosted at Christchurch’s city centre startup hub, Te Ōhaka, and was a partnership between Ara Ake, the Ministry of Awesome and Orion.

Marian Johnson, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Awesome, says that the accelerator provides a blueprint for how industries of all kinds should approach pressing issues.

“More than anything, the success of the Orion Energy Accelerator underlines the significance of involving industry and startups to solve big picture problems facing the world. We have helped ambitious startups with world changing ideas find their feet — this is a template for a new way for our country to be thinking about its most pressing issues,” said Marian Johnson, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Awesome.