Mark Ludlow / Australia Financial Review / April 29th 2018

Main image: Zen Ecosystems’ “Smart Thermostat” allows bosses to control energy usage. supplied by Mark Ludlow

A company that has developed a “smart thermostat” to allow businesses and homes to remotely control and reduce their energy consumption has received a $5 million equity injection from the Turnbull government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Zen Ecosystems – which has developed intelligent energy management solutions that could save Australian businesses up to 25 percent on their energy consumption – will receive the money from the CEFC’s innovation fund that has already committed $55 million to nine projects, including electric vehicles and battery storage technologies.

Zen Ecosystems chief executive James McPhail said the equity injection would help the company aggressively expand their product roll-out in Australia and the US where they have already gained a foothold.

“There are huge market segments, including retail chains with large portfolios of small to medium-sized buildings, crying out for smart, simple control of HVAC [heating, ventilation, and airconditioning] systems to reduce energy, peak load and maintenance costs, and Zen HQ is a simple affordable solution to meet those needs,” Mr McPhail said.

The company’s software allows bosses to control lights and airconditioning/heating across multiple sites.

In Australia, Zen HQ is already being used by commercial customers such as the RACV, while the Zen Thermostat is part of Telstra’s Smart Home range.

Zen Eco Systems’ two main products are Zen Thermostat – that allows homes to remotely control and reduce their energy consumption – and Zen HQ, a low-cost cloud-based platform for smaller businesses trying to manage energy-intensive assets across single and multiple sites.

CEFC’s innovation fund executive director Ben Gust said the technology innovations and behind-the-meter management solutions offered by Zen Ecosystems could unlock energy reduction strategies for business, public institutions and the home. The funding will be announced on Monday.

“Demand management is a critical part of the clean energy transition. We are pleased to support Zen Ecosystems in the expansion of this innovative homegrown technology. With this new wave of innovation and connectivity, controlling your energy consumption is now just a matter of checking in on our desktop or phone,” Mr Gust said.

Zen Ecosystems chief financial officer Michael Joffe said the company had decided to expand into the US market first where it was working with about 50 companies, saying the CEFC funding would help expand their presence in Australia.

“The US is obviously a large and mature market and they are more open to demand response. In terms of smart homes, they are probably five to 10 years ahead of Australia,” Mr Joffe told The Australian Financial Review.

Mr Joffe said the Zen products such as the Zen Thermostat – which is about the size of an Apple TV modem – offered a cheaper alternative for companies rather than taking on expensive building management systems. It’s not just for smaller businesses but big companies can use it for small and medium-sized buildings, from restaurants to resorts.

The big energy saver is air-conditioning and heating as well as lighting control, which is responsible for about 40 percent of a company’s energy usage.

“It’s about being able to control a number of sites remotely from one place. That’s really valuable – that’s where the money is saved,” Mr Joffe said.

Zen Eco Systems, which was recently named one of Fast Company World’s Most Innovative Companies, is also one of 10 companies working on a demand response trail with the Australian Energy Market Operator and Australian Renewable Energy Agency last summer to take pressure off the energy network over the summer months.

As part of the project, Zen Ecosystems will deploy a network of connected, smart thermostats in commercial buildings and households in Victoria and South Australia. The network can then be controlled to reduce energy consumption when called upon by AEMO.