RedEarth CEO Charlie Walker on Personal Power Plants and the internet of energy

There’s a new way for consumers who generate electricity to store it and make an income out of it. The infrastructure comes from a company called RedEarth. 

We started RedEarth in 2013 and we were conscious that last century you produced coal, you burned coal and produced power and sent it down a long wire. This century is going to be intermittent generation from renewables. We didn’t quite know the detail, but when we set the company up, we set out to build systems that would help customers and businesses and residences make use and store their own power.

We spent five years of our own money and time not selling anything and just making systems that we knew would empower customers to do that. In that time we had a tech change from lead-acid batteries, like in your car, to lithium batteries, like in your phone, which are just a better battery and in 2018, we started selling systems off-grid primarily. We made them super strong and that’s the name RedEarth, is to put systems in the outback that don’t stop working despite all the Aussie environmental challenges coming at them. Since 2018, we’ve been selling, and have been increasing sales by about 30% per quarter.

We’re now in a place where we still spend quite a bit of money in R&D. This latest release is the next level. It enables people to make use of and store their own power on their terms. So, if you have a roof on your house that’s enough to fill your car up with energy, to drive all of the household needs, and more. This is a way to give consumers independence about how they make use and store their own energy, not on the terms of the utility, but on their terms. There is enough energy hitting the roof of the average hours every day to do anything you need, including sending it to grandma. This is our latest product that is along the lines of empowering people.

Trust goes a long way in this game. A lot of cowboys out there, I hate to say it. Being Aussie owned and made, having onshore call centers and tech support 18 hours a day, basically engenders trust. 

One of the things you talk about is wanting to be the dominant player in the internet of energy market, which you put at a $19 billion market. Can you take us through that and just explain what you mean?

It’s analogous to what happened to the internet and I’m old enough to know that we used to have telephone lines to make telephone calls and it evolved into using telephone lines to do entirely different stuff. Set up a network to share photos and all that sort of thing that the internet brings is exactly analogous to electricity. The electricity grid was set up to generate electricity in one place and send it down the wire to another place. And it was one-way traffic.

The internet of energy comes with empowering people to make their own electricity. Now people can make it in their household and they can send it to other places and do other things with it. If one suburb goes down because there’s a cyclone and that suburb needs electricity and the other suburb’s very sunny, you can send it over or you can send it down to Tasmania or what have you.

What we see is the existing infrastructure is going to be used differently. It’s not going to be used for sending electricity one way. This is one use that we’re putting it to, for example, trading your own energy. If you’re away on holiday, set it to sell and you come back and you’ve made some money.

There’s going to be 1,000 different uses. And we think of it as the internet of energy, but it all comes from getting hardware into people’s houses that work to their benefit, not the benefit of the utility. Utilities are trying to make last centuries’ infrastructure work for them. And this is the next century.

The concept of the virtual power plant, which is part of this, how much do you think that will roll out over the next decade to become a dominant part of the model in energy production?

It’s definitely going to roll out and we call it the Personal Power Plant (PPP) because the Virtual Power Plant (VPP) is set up to help the utilities make money using last century’s grid. So it’s really a thing to help them manage the grid, which is now outdated. Virtual Power Plants are orientated around utilities, fixing their transmission problems and voltage rises and that sort of thing. Ours is more about the customer because it’s clear the customer doesn’t need to pay big companies to use electricity when they can make it themselves. It’s going to definitely be widespread, mainstream adoption. I think this is just the way that we help the customer exploit it to their own ends, not the ends of the big company.

Do you think the amount of income that they can generate for their own households through this really has the potential to grow this market to a whole new level?

Yes, it does. I think income is great after first you’ve saved money. Saving money is the best thing you can do because of course, that’s after-tax money. If like a lot of our customers like me, I have a $1,000 a quarter bill, it’s dropped on you at the end of three months, you’ve got to find $1,000. And so your number one job is to save that expense, which is easy enough to do. Then the second job is to make some money on top of that.

The average household roof can mean you have no electricity bills, which in my case would save you $4,000 a year after tax, which is $6,500 pre-tax. So you’re giving yourself a $6,500 pay rise. And if you can make more money on that, then even better, the returns go up. If you can also save money on not going to the fuel station by powering an electric vehicle from your roof, which is big enough on average to do that, I spend $100 a week on fuel. That’s $5,000 after-tax, that’s $7,500 pre-tax. I just worked out a $15,000 pay rise from buying a pretty ordinary system that’s set up to work for the customer and not the grid.

The government sees an outdated grid that’s breaking. Companies are screaming about it and wanting the government to bail them out. It’s these new technologies, which are cheap and economically driven. It’s not driven because we want to do the right thing. It’s driven by economics. They see that, and that’s why we have these government incentives and rebates are in place. It’s a magic solution for governance to push along solar, push along battery, push along the Personal Power Plant. The best part for the government is that it’s paid for by the consumer, they don’t even have to foot the bill. They’ve just got to put a bit of policy in place and they will enable people to grab that economic benefit from using a RedEarth system.