Ed McManus, CEO of Melbourne-based online electricity retailer Powershop Australia, tells GovInsider about peer-to-peer energy trading and how to be smart about your solar energy consumption.

How is technology changing your organisation?

The energy industry is at a turning point in Australia, and we think that the way it is generated, how it travels to our homes and how we pay for it is going to change dramatically in our lifetime.
It is important to utilise technology to provide choice and control where it has not been available before, to enhance our customers’ experience and stay ahead of the competition.

At Powershop, we love trying new things; we’ve recently launched Your Community Energy, an initiative that utilises our digital platform to enable customers to pay a premium on top of their electricity purchase, which is then pooled and distributed to support local community energy projects.

So far, Powershop customers have collectively contributed approximately $150,000, proving that there is great demand to support community energy projects that contribute to the small-scale renewable energy mix. However, customers just need an easy way to do it. Without our investment in technology to develop our digital platform, this program wouldn’t have been the success it has been so far.

What is the greatest challenge that you overcame in 2016?

In 2016, the concept of peer-to-peer energy trading was a hot topic amongst industry professionals and something we wanted to create a solution for. So, in August we launched Your Neighbourhood Solar, an initiative that gave our customers an opportunity to pay a premium which was pooled and distributed to their ‘neighbours’ who had solar and were exporting to the grid.

Now, we aren’t saying we solved peer-to-peer trading, but we were able to send a message to the market that rooftop solar is valuable; reward our solar customers for the energy they export to the grid; and make the first step towards what might be the energy trading of the future. The trial was super successful—we sold out of the product in 48 hours. Both Your Neighbourhood Solar and Your Community Energy have proven that people want choice.

What is your top priority for 2017?

In January this year, we launched into South East Queensland and one of the most disappointing things we’ve seen there is that most energy customers are on a standing or expired market offer with their current provider—meaning they’re paying too much for electricity. That’s not fair and the big retailers are getting away with it.

We’ve been able to save South East Queenslanders money on their power bill when they switch to us, mainly because we don’t discriminate in our pricing based on how long you’ve been with us or whether you have solar, unlike some of the other power companies. Continuing to provide a fair and transparent offer to customers, as well as encouraging the energy market to do the same, will remain a top priority for us in 2017 and beyond.

Which tool, technology or technique do you think will make the most difference to your industry this year?

Convergence of digital technology and a changing energy generation mix allows us to create a platform-based business that gives customers both information and choice, where neither one had never existed.

What has been the best advice that you have received in your career?

My mum once told me to always keep your options open, and that’s why I’ve become a generalist in my career. Mum died a few years ago but if she was here now, I think she would say her advice has served me well.

And finally, which restaurant should we visit for lunch when we are in your home town?

The Powershop office is in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD and we have a big balcony that overlooks the city. Every month or so, we have a team BBQ on a Friday afternoon, so next time you’re in town you should come along to a BBQ on our balcony. It’s nothing fancy, but a lot of fun.

This series is run in partnership with our colleagues at Asian Utility Week – the expo for digital innovation in the energy sector.