A major decarbonisation initiative is being facilitated by Ara Ake, Aotearoa New Zealand’s future energy centre involving 11 electricity distribution businesses (EDBs).

The goal of the initiative is to find innovative solutions to the challenges that EDBs face as New Zealand transitions to a low emissions energy future.

“Our EDBs play a very important role as enablers of a low carbon future, and collaboration is crucial to ensure this transition is a successful one,” says Ara Ake Chief Executive, Dr Cristiano Marantes.

“If we can clearly articulate the collective challenges of our EDBs, then we can front foot it with innovative solutions to accelerate their transition,” says Dr Marantes.

The initiative kicked off with a workshop in June to collaboratively agree, define and articulate the big challenges for New Zealand EDBs, and there were a number of challenges highlighted.

“The workshop was a great demonstration of collaboration across EDBs, and it was positive to acknowledge that we all face similar challenges,” says The Lines Company Acting Chief Executive, Mike Fox.

“It’s great to see Ara Ake looking across the sector for collective ways to attract global innovation that support EDBs on their decarbonisation journey, while maintaining affordability, particularly for those in energy hardship. We look forward to seeing how a collaborative approach can spur global technology adoption to reduce emissions and inequity,” says Electricity Networks Association Chief Executive, Graeme Peters.

One of the challenges New Zealand EDBs are currently faced with is how to most effectively and efficiently integrate distributed energy resources (DER) (such as solar, wind, battery, and electric vehicles) into their asset management planning and processes.

Linked to this asset management challenge, there is a shortage of skills and experience to support the decarbonisation journey, particularly in network demand forecasting and assessing the increasing volume of DER connection requests, in an efficient and timely manner.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in DER connections from our customers, and coupled with our own transitional strategy to sustainably enable integration of new energy technologies, developing smarter energy management solutions that give our customers the freedom to be active participants of the low carbon transition is becoming an increasing focus for us,” says Counties Energy Group Chief Digital Officer, Moonis Vegdani.

Electricity demand in Aotearoa is forecast to increase, which will require significant investment to support this growth. Whilst investing to enable decarbonisation, electricity prices must be affordable for consumers to minimise the inequity between those who can afford to invest in energy saving optionality and those who cannot.

“There is no doubt that our nation needs to transition, but we need to maintain affordability for electricity customers, particularly for those experiencing energy hardship, and to ensure no one gets left behind,” says Waipa Networks Chief Executive, Sean Horgan.

Following on from identifying the challenges, Ara Ake is working with US-based Elemental Excelerator to attract a pipeline of innovators with the relevant technology to apply and pitch their solutions to EDBs to address these challenges.

“Our partnership with Ara Ake enables New Zealand’s energy sector to have access to some of the world’s most innovative climate-positive start-ups,” says Elemental Excelerator’s Head of Corporate Partnerships, Saritha Peruri.

“We look forward to learning about the variety of challenges facing the group of EDBs, and with a pipeline of opportunities and potential customer depth demonstrated, we expect a number of global innovators to be attracted to New Zealand,” says Ms Peruri.

A pitch event is scheduled to take place in late 2022, and from there, finalists will be supported to pilot their technology with at least one EDB, with the goal of scaling deployment across a number of EDBs.

“We look forward to seeing a range of global solutions that can help address the challenges of our EDBs,” says Dr Marantes.