Richard Romanowski: Walking on sunshine
The team at Elevare are at work on solar power and batteries to solve the world’s energy problems.
From an industry warehouse in the Brisbane suburb of Enoggera, green angel investor Richard Romanowski, 56, and his co investor Dr Bevan Holcombe are working tirelessly as leading environmental advocates.
“Put simply we invest in green technology we think can make the world a better place,” Richard says.
“For humanity to survive we need to very quickly develop more economical clean energy generation and energy storage technologies and I think we’re making ground on that front right here from Brisbane.”
In 2012, along with their colleague Dale Butler, Bevan and Richard created Elevare Energy.
“We set out to develop a combined solar and battery technology which delivers a 50 per cent faster payback for batteries,” Richard says.
“Essentially we’re utilising clean energy from rooftop solar systems to reduce peak demand for commercial buildings and selling it in the form of our product Smart Batteries.”
The product is no ordinary battery.
“Each of the Smart Batteries is the size of a fridge and there are 10 commercial sites currently lined up to trial them in 2017,” Richard says.
“We allow any interested business to trial the battery for free for six months so we can prove to them that it works and after the six months they can keep the battery on a services basis and split the costs with us as the maintenance provider.”
It sounds like a simple business plan, but there’s been plenty of perseverance poured into the technology.
“We thought we’d have this product up and running within a year, but we’re now in our fifth year and have only just started the trials,” Richard says.
“The technology is very complex and hasn’t been done before so it’s been a challenge to find customers willing to be early adopters and it has cost more than we could have ever imagined.”
Richard says to get this far they have invested plenty of their own money, plus received support from Griffith University and Central Queensland University.
The venture has also received funding from the Queensland Government.
“It was timely and crucial support,” Richard says.
“The grant was confirmation this journey was worthwhile of our effort and commitment. The connection with Advance Queensland has helped to open doors and find those early adopters that were willing to install rooftop solar and trial the Smart Batteries.”
It’s a relationship that has already helped pay dividends for Elevare Energy.
“In 2016 we sold more than $7 million in traditional rooftop solar for commercial buildings and in 2017 we have a target of $15 million for rooftop solar,” Richard says.
“We are also planning to launch Smart Batteries across Australia in 2018 and open a sales office in China, the USA and Europe.”
These achievements and ambitions mean jobs for Queenslanders.
“Our head office is in Brisbane and we expect that over the next one to two years we’ll need to employ 75 people to cater for plans to expand and undertake low volume manufacturing from our Brisbane complex,” Richard says.
The business statistics are impressive but for Richard and co-investor Bevan, Elevare Energy and Smart Batteries are more than just a profit.
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“There is an estimated two billion people worldwide living without electricity so Bevan and I would love to see this technology applied to the developing world,” Richard says.
“Imagine countries like Africa, India and China installing solar batteries instead of putting in a new electricity grid, it’s a huge vision but it’s achievable.”
It’s been a labour of love for the friends; Richard, who grew up in Canada, and Bevan — born and bred in Enoggera — not far from where the Elevare warehouse stands today.
“We’ll probably get copied eventually but that’s not a bad thing to be honest as that sort of competition could make it more affordable for more people to access, which can only be a positive thing,” Richard says.
“Three of us started this venture when we should have been retired, but we did so to leave behind something for our kids and our grandkids that will make the world a better place.”