In Australia, the energy industry is rapidly turning towards greener, more sustainable energy supply solutions, particularly with regard to one of the country’s most abundant resources: the sun. As of March 2019, more than 2mn solar photovoltaic (PV) installations with a combined capacity in excess of 12GW, were operational across the country. This is all as a result of a changing world. Climate change, potentially the greatest existential threat humanity has faced, is emerging as the defining crisis of our time. The world needs to change or face radical consequences. “All facets of society are aware of climate change, with the majority accepting that humankind has played its part in bringing about global warming. The energy sector globally remains a large emitter of greenhouse gasses and everyone from investors to consumers of energy are aware of this. At the same time, energy prices have continued to rise, to a large extent driven by the ageing nature of Australia’s in-situ thermal generation plants,” explains Marc Barrington, CEO of SIMEC Energy Australia.
“Operating a sustainable energy company like SIMEC Energy Australia means we can present solutions to many of these issues by enabling the transition from older – and sometimes less reliable – fossil fuel technologies to clean renewable generation, constructing renewable energy portfolios that deliver lower costs for consumers and finally delivering an environmental outcome for society.” Since 2004, SIMEC Energy Australia (originally ZEN Energy) operated out of Tonsley in South Australia, providing solar PV and storage offerings to residential and commercial customers across the region. Post-Sanjeev Gupta’s majority stake in the business in late 2017, SIMEC Energy expanded into commercial and industrial energy supply nationally with offices in South Australia, Melbourne and Sydney. Barrington has served as CEO since July 2018 and brings the better part of two decades’ experience in the energy sector to the role. Barrington shares his insight into the changing face of the nation’s energy sector, the rising tide of customer centricity and the firm’s new battery and solar farm projects.
As the leader of an agile, challenger-scale renewable energy provider and retailer, Barrington has spent the last year working to improve SIMEC Energy’s ’s internal operations in order to better respond to the challenges of a changing landscape. “One thing that always surprises me in business is, no matter how small a company is, silos always seem to exist,” he notes. “In the past twelve months, we have been able to build a more collaborative and inclusive culture internally, which I believe has delivered – and will continue to deliver – real results for the business, our people and most importantly our customers.”
A New Direction for the Market
The company’s customers, Barrington explains, are set to be a major driving force in the energy sector over the next decade. “Our customers are better informed as to the way in which they use energy now than they ever have been historically,” he says, chalking up increased customer savviness to rising energy costs. Barrington’s experience in the space means he sees this trend as one among many that constantly buffet and buoy the industry. “Whether it’s changing market structures, such as we have witnessed with the disaggregation of the market and the advent of vertical integration; the change in technology and operational efficiencies; the regulatory landscape or even the changing needs of customers and the rise of the ‘prosumer’ – the energy sector has seen it all.”
Certain that SIMEC Energy’s utility-scale renewable offerings are the future of the country’s energy market, Barrington’s generation supply priorities for the company are currently centered around two major projects: the Playford Utility Battery and the Cultana Solar Farm. “Utility-scale renewable energy can deliver prices that are substantially more competitive than the prices of new-entrant thermal generation. When delivered well and structured into an innovative retail energy portfolio, these assets can deliver real savings for customers – particularly when integrated into an active demand-side response programme. Having access to in-house built renewable generation, coupled with the means to firm it, is the foundation of our strategy for our Company,” he explains.
On the retail front, Barrington made clear that he is keenly focused on delivering globally competitive energy to customers and securing ‘win-win’ outcomes through innovative solutions like demand management. “Our customers need energy solutions that allow them to compete both domestically and internationally. I think that we have the operational capability to meet this need,” he said.
Playford Utility Battery
A utility-scale battery development that will support SIMEC Energy’s renewable energy portfolio and provide services to the national electricity grid, the Playford project will provide direct and indirect employment opportunities in Port Augusta and surrounding areas, as well as assisting in the transformation of the Whyalla Steelworks by enabling the supply of cheaper and cleaner energy. “We have undertaken substantial amounts of work to ensure the use cases for the battery, which will be a world first, deliver value to our portfolio and more importantly to our customers in South Australia,” says Barrington.
The project, he enthuses, is an industry-leading example of Australian ingenuity harnessing the latest technologies with marke-specific use cases, in order to create long-term value. “The Playford Utility Battery algorithm that we have developed with experts in this field – all of whom are Australian I am proud to say – utilises artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) technology,” he explains. “Should we be able to take this project to financial close, we will demonstrate for the first time the power of battery storage in managing the variability of renewable generation and deliver long term price improvements for end-use customers in the region.”
Cultana Solar Farm
With construction scheduled to begin imminently on land just north of the Whyalla Steelworks, the Cultana Solar Farm is a 280MW capacity solar PV facility that will contribute to the national electricity grid via the existing Cultana substation. The project is a key component – coupled with its retail objectives – of the firm’s desire to reshape the Australian energy market by providing utility scale renewable energy at rates that are competitive to current thermal alternatives, and therefore a critical priority. “Given that we are in the final stages of taking Cultana Solar Farm to financial close, I am focusing heavily on planning for the safe delivery of the project with our staff and partners,” confirms Barrington. “We have developed the farm in consultation with the local community and expect that construction will commence before the end of the year.”
Looking to the future, Barrington is confident that both SIMEC Energy Australia and the market as a whole are on the right side of history. “The era of taking pride in burning an investor’s money thankfully is well and truly over. At any time, I ensure my team can devote efforts to looking at a point just beyond the horizon, whether it’s products, systems or trading strategies. I use this approach, as it delivers an anticipatory culture that makes for a very exciting working environment,” he enthuses. In addition to completing its major projects, SIMEC Energy is working on reinvigorating its presence in the commercial and residential solar PV and battery storage market, as well as expanding its energy product portfolio. Sustainability, of course, will remain at the heart of everything that the company does. Reshaping the country’s energy industry is, Barrington admits, an ambitious goal. “It’s not without challenges, but as a father, a husband, an employer and someone who wants to see industry in our country grow sustainably, what a great challenge to have,” he concludes.