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The Ara Ake

New Zealand Decarbonization Challenge

Collaborate with New Zealand's future energy innovation center, Ara Ake, and 8 electricity distribution businesses (EDBs) to help transition New Zealand towards an equitable, secure, and decarbonized energy future and receive up to USD250k to deploy your technology with one or more of New Zealand’s EDBs.


What is Ara Ake looking for

New Zealand is on a decarbonization journey

to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and a fully carbon-neutral economy by 2050. There are twenty-nine EDBs across New Zealand who are directly impacted by the inherent uncertainty of this journey, and each is a key enabler of this transition.

EDBs face the challenge of investing, managing, and operating their networks to support New Zealand towards these sustainability goals, while continuing to deliver a fit-for-purpose, safe, secure, and, very importantly, equitable electricity distribution service.

With the drive to decarbonize industrial heat, the rapid increase in distributed energy resources (DER), and the untapped potential of future flexibility services, EDBs are seeking solutions to support the optimization of network investment and the de-risking of network asset management. They are specifically seeking pilot-ready technologies that can:

  • Forecast, visualize, and integrate network impact of decarbonization demand growth, DERs, and flexibility services into asset management, planning, and operations
  • Expedite DER connection process, particularly network impact assessment
  • Optimize visibility, management, and forecasting of peak demand and network constraints

Additionally, it is key that the energy transition doesn’t leave anyone behind, especially those who are already experiencing energy hardship and would benefit the most from low-emission solutions.  As such, Ara Ake and the participating EDBs are also seeking solutions that can provide accessible and affordable options to allow low- and moderate-income households to actively participate in the benefits of the energy transition.

For additional details on New Zealand’s energy transition challenges, as well as an overview of its electricity sector, click here.

What You Could Win

___ Up to USD250k funded pilot

Up to USD250,000 in non-dilutive funding to pilot your technology with Ara Ake and participating EDBs with the goal of scaling to a commercial deployment in New Zealand.

___ Direct collaboration

Leverage Ara Ake’s deep energy expertise and local industry relationships to help lower barriers to pilot deployment (e.g., technical, regulatory, industry and supply chain connections, and information).

___ Access to scale-up partners

Access to demonstrate your technology with up to 8 electricity distribution businesses (EDBs) across New Zealand.

Eligibility Criteria

At minimum, applicants must meet the following requirements:

  • Have an operating prototype with evidence to support its successful demonstration within an electricity utility or similar organization
  • Be able to demonstrate direct solution applicability to the problem and evidence the return on investment for EDBs
  • Be ready to deploy a pilot with one or more New Zealand EDBs
  • Be a registered company
  • Have at least two full-time employees
  • Where applicable, be willing to work with a community-based organization to deploy your technology leveraging Elemental’s Square Partnerships Model. Ara Ake can support the facilitation of the partnership between the innovator and the community-based organization.

Ara Ake is not seeking project developers selling third-party products, companies without an operating prototype, consulting firms, marketing or PR agencies, or acquired startups.

Meet the Judges

James Kilty headshot
Powerco logo

James Kilty

Chief Executive, Powerco Limited

James was recently appointed Chief Executive and will be joining Powerco in October 2021. He was previously Deputy Chief Executive of Contact Energy. In addition to his Deputy CEO responsibilities, James’ role included specific responsibility for development and demand growth, helping to drive the decarbonisation of New Zealand’s economy. James was Chief Generation and Development Officer from October 2014 and was responsible for commercial end-to-end activities of development, fuel, generation and trading. Prior to that James held leadership roles across the full range of Contact Energy’s business activities. James has been part of the energy industry for over 20 years and has a unique set of skills and capabilities that have demonstrated strong leadership in our sector.

Judy Nicholl headshot
Counties Energy logo

Judy Nicholl

Chief Executive, Counties Energy

Judy Nicholl joined Counties Energy as Chief Executive in October 2017. During Judy's tenure, Counties Energy doubled the group's revenue through acquisition, and successfully managed rapid growth in the South Auckland and Northern Waikato regions. The group also strengthened the core network and invested in innovation and digital technology for the benefit of customers. Prior to working for Counties Energy, Judy worked in aviation, primary processing, and education.

Unison logo

Ken Sutherland

Chief Executive, Unison

Ken Sutherland has extensive experience and leadership within the utility, infrastructure and electricity sector in New Zealand. Ken is Chairman of the Board of the Electricity Networks Association and a member of the electricity sector’s Chief Executive Group. He is also a member of the following organisations; the Business New Zealand Major Companies Group CEO Forum, the Energy Networks Association CEO Forum in Australia, the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants and the New Zealand Institute of Directors. As Group Chief Executive of the Unison Group, he is Chairman of Unison subsidiaries UnisonFibre Limited, Unison Contracting Services Limited, Unison Insurance Limited, and distribution transformer manufacturer, ETEL Limited. Ken is also Chairman of ETEL Limited’s Australian domiciled subsidiary, ETEL Transformers Pty Limited.

Mike Fox headshot
The Lines Logo

Mike Fox

Acting Chief Executive, The Lines Company

Mike has 18 years’ experience in the electricity industry with 15 of those in senior management roles. He has extensive experience in leading large teams that provide great service to their communities and customers while being responsible for long life critical infrastructure. Mike is currently Acting Chief Executive of The Lines Company, the company that provides electricity lines services to around 18,000 customers in the King Country and Ruapehu regions.

Orion logo

Nigel Barbour

Chief Executive, Orion Group

Nigel was appointed Orion Group Chief Executive in July 2021. He leads the Orion Group which comprises Orion’s Central Canterbury electricity distribution business and its wholly owned subsidiary, Connetics. Prior to joining Orion Group, Nigel was Chief Executive of Powerco, New Zealand’s second largest electricity distribution business, based in New Plymouth. He was with Powerco for 19 years in a range of executive management positions including nine as Chief Executive. Nigel has an economics and legal background and previously held roles with Transpower and the Bank of New Zealand.

Aurora Energy logo

Richard Fletcher

Chief Executive, Aurora Energy

Richard Fletcher (PhD, BEnvSc) joined Aurora Energy as Chief Executive in January 2018. With extensive experience in engineering and management consulting, Richard has advised on energy regulation, asset management, due diligence studies for mergers and acquisitions, as well as engineering investment plans in various international jurisdictions. Before joining Aurora Energy, Richard was General Manager Regulation and Corporate Affairs at Powerco and before that a senior manager at national grid operator, Transpower.

Waipa Network logo

Sean Hogan

Chief Executive, Waipa Networks

Sean is the CEO of Waipa Networks Limited, based in Te Awamutu. He has extensive and successful business development, strategic management and operational leadership experience within the New Zealand and international energy sectors. Sean is also particularly passionate about alleviating energy hardship and the foundation trustee for an energy trust that warmed homes in the King Country. As well as Chief Executive, he is an industry representative on the Utilities Disputes Energy Complaints Scheme Advisory Committee.

Wellington electricity logo

Greg Skelton

Chief Executive, Wellington Electricity Lines Limited

Greg has been CEO at Wellington Electricity Lines Limited (WELL) since 2009 and entered the industry in 1991 completing a variety of engineering, management and leadership roles across the distribution sector. Greg completed a transitional director role at UDL, on behalf of ENA and ERANZ and recently completed two terms as a member of the Security and Reliability Council, which provides independent advice to the Electricity Authority.


September 7, 2022

September 7, 2022

Application window opens

September 28, 2022

September 28, 2022

Live Q&A session
6:30pm ET

Watch the recording

October 4, 2022

October 4, 2022

Application deadline
11:59pm ET

October 31, 2022

October 31, 2022

Finalists notified

November 17, 2022

November 17, 2022

In-person pitch event / Winners announced
New Plymouth, NZ

January - March 2023

January - March 2023

Co-create pilot scope of work

December 31, 2023

December 31, 2023

Projects and all final deliverables must be completed before December 31, 2023

The Fine Print

  • Funding will be distributed directly to the winning startup(s) in two milestones: 50% upon execution of a commercial agreement between at least one EDB and your company and 50% upon successful pilot project completion.
  • Travel arrangements to attend the live pitch event in New Plymouth, New Zealand will be the responsibility of the applicant, however, Ara Ake will subsidize travel and accommodation costs of up to USD5,000 per finalist organization, to be reimbursed at the conclusion of the pitch event.
  • This challenge is being hosted by Elemental Excelerator in collaboration with Ara Ake and is unrelated to Elemental’s Cohort 12 application process. If you are interested in applying to Cohort 12, please let us know here!


Please contact AraAkeChallenge@elementalexcelerator.com.

About Ara Ake

Ara Ake is New Zealand’s future energy centre. They work to harness the potential of global energy innovation to solve the big challenges facing New Zealand in achieving an equitable, secure, and decarbonized energy future.

Ara Ake facilitates and supports the demonstration and commercialization of new and emerging technologies and shares knowledge from across the energy ecosystem to connect industry decarbonization problems with innovative solutions.


Learn more

Ara Ake logo

There's More!

We are currently accepting applications for this challenge and two more! Click the link below to learn more about our other challenges with Amazon and NextEra Energy.