Collaborate with Ara Ake and 8 electricity distribution businesses (EDBs) to help transition New Zealand towards an equitable, secure, and decarbonised energy future and receive up to USD250,000 to deploy your technology with one or more of New Zealand’s EDBs.


What is Ara Ake looking for?

New Zealand is on a decarbonisation journey...

to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and a fully carbon-neutral economy by 2050. There are twenty-nine EDBs across New Zealand who are directly impacted by the inherent uncertainty of this journey, and each is a key enabler of this transition.

EDBs face the challenge of investing, managing, and operating their networks to support New Zealand towards these sustainability goals, while continuing to deliver a fit-for-purpose, safe, secure, and, very importantly, equitable electricity distribution service.

With the drive to decarbonise industrial heat, the rapid increase in distributed energy resources (DER), and the untapped potential of future flexibility services, EDBs are seeking solutions to support the optimisation of network investment and the de-risking of network asset management. They are specifically seeking pilot-ready technologies that can:

  • Forecast, visualise, and integrate the network impact of decarbonisation demand growth, DERs, and flexibility services into asset management, planning, and operations
  • Expedite DER connection process, particularly network impact assessment
  • Optimise visibility, management, and forecasting of peak demand and network constraints

Additionally, it is key that the energy transition doesn’t leave anyone behind, especially those who are already experiencing energy hardship and would benefit the most from low emissions solutions.  As such, Ara Ake and the participating EDBs are also seeking solutions that can provide accessible and affordable options to allow low- and moderate-income households to actively participate in the benefits of the energy transition.

For additional details on New Zealand’s energy transition challenges, as well as an overview of its electricity sector, click here.

What You Could Win

Funded Pilot

Up to USD250,000 in non-dilutive funding to pilot your technology with Ara Ake and participating EDBs with the goal of scaling to a commercial deployment in New Zealand.

Direct Collaboration

Leverage the deep energy expertise and local industry relationships of Ara Ake to help lower barriers to pilot deployment (e.g., technical, regulatory, industry and supply chain connections, and information).


Access to demonstrate your technology with up to 8 EDBs across New Zealand.

Eligibility Criteria

At a minimum, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Must have an operating prototype with evidence to support its successful demonstration within an electricity utility or similar organisation
  • Must be able to demonstrate direct solution applicability to the problem and evidence the ROI for EDBs
  • Technology must be pilot ready to deploy with a New Zealand EDB
  • Must be a registered company
  • Must have at least two FTEs
  • Where applicable, must be willing to work with a community-based organisation to deploy your technology leveraging Elemental’s Square Partnerships Model. Ara Ake can support the facilitation of the partnership between the innovator and the community-based organisation.
  • Ara Ake is not seeking project developers selling third-party products, companies without an operating prototype, consulting firms, marketing or PR agencies, or acquired startups.

The winner(s) will be determined by the judges below and announced at the end of the pitch event.

Questions? Please contact [email protected].

Meet the Judges

Richard Fletcher

Richard Fletcher

Chief Executive, Aurora Energy

Richard Fletcher (PhD, BEnvSc) joined Aurora Energy as Chief Executive in January 2018.

With extensive experience in engineering and management consulting, Richard has advised on energy regulation, asset management, due diligence studies for mergers and acquisitions, as well as engineering investment plans in various international jurisdictions.

Before joining Aurora Energy, Richard was General Manager, Regulation and Corporate Affairs at Powerco and before that a Senior Manager at national grid operator, Transpower.

Judy Nicholl

Judy Nicholl

Chief Executive, Counties Energy

Judy Nicholl joined Counties Energy as Chief Executive in October 2017.

During Judy's tenure, Counties Energy doubled the group's revenue through acquisition, and successfully managed rapid growth in the South Auckland and Northern Waikato regions. The group also strengthened the core network and invested in innovation and digital technology for the benefit of customers.

Prior to working for Counties Energy, Judy worked in aviation, primary processing, and education.

Nigel Barbour

Nigel Barbour

Chief Executive, Orion Group

Nigel was appointed Orion Group Chief Executive in July 2021.

He leads the Orion Group which comprises Orion’s Central Canterbury electricity distribution business and its wholly owned subsidiary, Connetics.

Prior to joining Orion Group, Nigel was Chief Executive of Powerco, New Zealand’s second largest electricity distribution business, based in New Plymouth. He was with Powerco for 19 years in a range of executive management positions including nine as Chief Executive. Nigel has an economics and legal background and previously held roles with Transpower and the Bank of New Zealand.

James Kilty

James Kilty

Chief Executive, Powerco

James was recently appointed Chief Executive and joined Powerco in October 2021.

He was previously Deputy Chief Executive of Contact Energy. In addition to his Deputy CEO responsibilities, James’ role included specific responsibility for development and demand growth, helping to drive the decarbonisation of New Zealand’s economy. James was Chief Generation and Development Officer from October 2014 and was responsible for commercial end-to-end activities of development, fuel, generation and trading. Prior to that, James held leadership roles across the full range of Contact Energy’s business activities.

James has been part of the energy industry for over 20 years and has a unique set of skills and capabilities that have demonstrated strong leadership in our sector.

Mike Fox

Mike Fox

Acting Chief Executive, The Lines Company

Mike has 18 years’ experience in the electricity industry with 15 of those in senior management roles. He has extensive experience in leading large teams that provide great service to their communities and customers while being responsible for long life critical infrastructure.

Mike is currently Acting Chief Executive of The Lines Company, the company that provides electricity lines services to around 18,000 customers in the King Country and Ruapehu regions.

Ken Sutherland

Ken Sutherland

Chief Executive, Unison

Ken Sutherland has extensive experience and leadership within the utility, infrastructure and electricity sector in New Zealand.

Ken is Chairman of the Board of the Electricity Networks Association and a member of the electricity sector’s Chief Executive Group. He is also a member of the following organisations; the Business New Zealand Major Companies Group CEO Forum, the Energy Networks Association CEO Forum in Australia, the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants and the New Zealand Institute of Directors.

As Group Chief Executive of the Unison Group, he is Chairman of Unison subsidiaries UnisonFibre Limited, Unison Contracting Services Limited, Unison Insurance Limited, and distribution transformer manufacturer, ETEL Limited. Ken is also Chairman of ETEL Limited’s Australian domiciled subsidiary, ETEL Transformers Pty Limited.

Sean Horgan

Sean Horgan

Chief Executive, Waipa Networks

Sean is the CEO of Waipa Networks Limited, based in Te Awamutu.

He has extensive and successful business development, strategic management, M&A and operational leadership experience within the New Zealand and international energy sectors. Sean is also passionate about alleviating energy hardship and was the foundation trustee for an energy trust that warms homes in the King Country.

As well as Chief Executive, he is an industry representative on the Utilities Disputes Energy Complaints Scheme Advisory Committee.

Greg Skelton

Greg Skelton

Chief Executive, Wellington Electricity Lines Limited

Greg has been CEO at Wellington Electricity Lines Limited (WELL) since 2009 and entered the industry in 1991 completing a variety of engineering, management and leadership roles across the distribution sector.

Greg completed a transitional director role at UDL, on behalf of ENA and ERANZ and recently completed two terms as a member of the Security and Reliability Council, which provides independent advice to the Electricity Authority.

Timeline v2

The Fine Print

  • Funding will be distributed directly to the winning startup(s) in two milestones: 50% upon execution of a commercial agreement between at least one EDB and your company and 50% upon successful pilot project completion.
  • Applicants are responsible for the submission of the project, supporting evidence and materials, and, if chosen to present, the pitch.
  • Travel arrangements to attend the live pitch event in New Plymouth, New Zealand will be the responsibility of the applicant, however, Ara Ake will subsidise travel and accommodation costs of up to USD5,000 per finalist organisation, to be reimbursed at the conclusion of the pitch event.
  • This challenge is being hosted by Elemental Excelerator in collaboration with Ara Ake and is unrelated to Elemental’s Cohort 12 application process. If you are interested in applying to Cohort 12, please stay in touch here.