5 Minutes With: Plico CEO Robbie Campbell

Close up of Plico CEO Robbie Campbell smiling
Robbie Campbell

Plico CEO Robbie Campbell tells Energy Source & Distribution how this innovative business is helping customers reduce their power bills and put an end to blackouts.

Robbie, please tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m proudly Australian, although originally from South Africa. I’ve been fortunate that my career has allowed me to live and work in some amazing places, including New York and London, and now in sunny Perth. I love spending time with my wife and three kids and socialising with friends around the barbecue. I also try to surf as much as possible. I am passionate about gardening and sustainability, striving to recycle and compost as much as possible while working towards powering our household almost entirely with clean energy.

In a professional sense, I am driven to make a positive impact in Australia’s transition to clean energy and net zero targets. Achieving scale with the Plico fleet will make a difference all while maintaining and building on our team culture to make sure we have fun and achieve our personal goals along the way.

Related article: WA’s first Virtual Power Plant activated during heatwave

You’re a numbers man by trade. How did you come to be involved in the renewables sector?

I firmly believe numbers tell a story in business and is a fundamental skill to have when growing a business. An understanding of the numbers, together with my training in audit and investment banking across numerous businesses and industries, helped me develop deep insights into how a business works and the value drivers. 

After leaving investment banking, I wanted to work in companies positively impacting society. I worked on an investment deal on a large solar farm, and I was hooked. I knew renewable energy was the sector for me and then the Plico opportunity came along. 

I enjoy the challenge and love being part of this industry.

Plico’s customers were recently tapped by AEMO to provide VPP support to the Western Australian grid. Can you tell us a bit about this?

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) contracted Plico in December 2022 to provide additional capacity, via its Virtual Power Plant (VPP), to the grid during emergency peak demand periods to counteract potential household blackouts this summer. 

Our Plico fleet currently has an aggregated battery of 10MWh and is growing. This is one of the most significant contributions ever made by an activated VPP aggregator (outside of trials) to the energy market across Australia. 

On 30 January 2023, AEMO activated the Reserve Capacity Mechanism. Plico assumed control of our customers’ batteries remotely and set them to store energy during the day, so they could export power back to the grid later in the day when it was needed most. As directed by AEMO, Plico batteries were set to discharge directly to the grid for up to two hours, between 5pm and 7pm.

Plico pays our customers double their cost for the energy stored in their battery and any power they may have purchased from the grid during the activation. Plico’s activation was a success, and we are thrilled to be part of a fundamental solution to powering Western Australian households and help support the transition to clean energy.

How does Plico’s VPP work?

Hundreds of Plico systems, through cutting-edge technology, act as one giant battery to export energy to the grid when required. Each solar and battery system communicates with a centralised platform that controls all of the systems.

I believe the future of electricity will be driven by Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), which refers to households producing, storing and using their renewable energy. We should be doing everything we can to encourage households entering the solar and battery market which is why we introduced a low weekly fee model so people don’t have a huge upfront cost. We want more households to take control of their energy usage and storage—because the more homes that have this, the greater the opportunity to create larger VPPs.  

Will Plico’s VPP capabilities expand beyond WA?

Absolutely—our east coast expansion is already underway. We recently started installing solar and battery systems on the east coast, and we will continue to build out this fleet in 2023 to more than 200 customers, enabling a VPP to be activated on the east coast as well.

What’s the biggest challenge for a business like Plico in the energy sector at the moment? 

We have all unfortunately been conditioned with the outdated model of paying for solar upfront and subjected to some cowboy behaviour in the past.

We have been working hard to fight that reputation. Plico is here for the long-haul, committed to our current and future customers that we’re a quality solar and battery provider. With global backing, we are a team families can trust to give them a powerful solution to their energy needs. We know people want to reduce their carbon footprint without reducing their energy consumption, that is also financially viable.  That’s exactly what we provide. We deliver a long-term affordable solar and battery system that helps people go beyond just putting solar panels on their roof. We are so confident in our technology and customer service that we provide free servicing and maintenance, and the equipment comes with a 10-year warranty.  

Related article: Solar Connect VPP trial launches in Alice Springs

What does the future hold for Plico and the VPP sector?

At the heart of who we are is a purpose-led business. Our mission is to lead the way on clean, affordable energy and to make it accessible for all households. We are well on our way to making this a reality.

Words can’t describe how amazing it is to be part of a team focused on creating positive change for our environment. We thank our forward-thinking customers for being on this journey, because fundamentally our greatest stakeholder is Earth. That’s who we answer to in everything we do.

What we do with solar and battery systems provides every household an opportunity to positively affect climate change, while also helping families to reduce their power bills and stop blackouts. It’s a total win-win. We aim to make clean energy accessible to every Australian household by 2040.

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