Ten hours northwest of Mt Isa on the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory is the town of Biddungu, a remote community that’s home to 30 people.
This small town just had solar panels installed by AllGrid Energy, an Indigenous company that provides energy solutions for remote Indigenous communities that are off the grid.
AllGrid Energy CEO and Director Ray Pratt says, “I guess we saw the bigger opportunities and the greater requirement for energy independence were out in the remote regions.”
These towns rely on diesel generators for their power supply – an expensive and unreliable source of energy.
By replacing the generators with solar energy systems and battery storage, these small communities can make big savings.
Director Dean Stehling says, “Typically diesel, if you think about your own bill, so it's roughly five times what you pay…If we can reduce 50% plus costs, and give them a better way of life as far as not having to go get the diesel all the time, makes life a lot easier for everyone.”
Solar energy isn’t the only sector AllGrid works in. They also look into water purification systems, and have been in talks with a Canadian telecommunications company in providing phone coverage for various communities.
Pratt and Stehling had been working in the energy sector for years before they decided to join forces. Pratt, as an Indigenous business owner himself, brought his knowledge of Indigenous communities together with Stehling’s industry experience to create AllGrid Energy.
What started out as a side-business from the duo’s other energy businesses has expanded to 12 fulltime staff eighteen months later.
With Pratt often working out of Darwin and Stehling manning the AllGrid Energy headquarters in Brisbane, strong communication with each other has seen them weather the company’s growth pains.
“Doing your own thing in your own business is one thing, working with a partner - completely different. It's kind of like a marriage - you really have to have that open communication and trust with each other,” says Pratt.
The distance between Brisbane and Darwin may be tough, but working in communities hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town has its own set of challenges.
“Stupid things like getting the stock out to a place that doesn't have a very good road, and you require trucks to get out there. Every aspect you would normally look at, it's just 10 times harder when you're in the middle of nowhere.”
As a result, AllGrid Energy also trains locals as contractors to install and maintain their services. Not only does it remove the need for the AllGrid team to constantly be on the road, but it provides huge career opportunities in communities.
The rewards clearly outweigh the challenges. One of the most significant town regenerations they pioneered was that of the Munungurra community, a town that grew from 2 people to 40.
“They've now got 15 kids doing School of the Air. And as a result of that they've now got two full-time teaching positions out there, and now they're looking at doing some farming as well. So that community really has - it really has had the chance to regenerate,” Pratt says.
“It's really positive when you head out to community and see the look on people's faces, and/or hear the positive stories of inspiration from out in these regions.”