Data can help to integrate clean distributed energy, so don't cut back national ambition
On my watch: Murray Hogarth
There's a venerable political immoral wisdom that goes something like: If you're going to lie, then lie big.
Apparently that's the advice being followed by the hardline conservative critics of clean distributed energy - aka the champions of burning fossil fuels - when they try to blame renewables for South Australia's ongoing energy supply woes.
It's such a big lie because the reverse is true: integrating distributed clean energy generation and storage will provide greater energy security rather than threaten it.
You know that 'old energy' - with its once all-powerful vested interests in centralised generation, long distance transmission, poles and wires distribution, utility metering systems and bill-every-3-months retailers - is on the ropes when that's the public affairs strategy.
So what could 'new energy' do that would be better? Well, data for one thing!
But first, let's review the South Australian scenario.
Fact 1: Extreme weather takes out a major transmission line and various old energy,centralised grid infrastructure. Not surprisingly the grid fails across the state of South Australia. It's a black-out.
Fact 2: South Australia's high uptake of renewable energy generation, especially wind and rooftop solar, had nothing to do with the crisis. No less an authority than the Australian Minister for Energy and the Environment has acknowledged this.
Fact 3: Increased extreme weather events are exactly what is indicated by leading climate models, and indeed what is happening in the lived experience of the 21st century.
So the committed opponents of climate action target one of the key pathways to a low carbon economy, renewables, as being the problem rather than the solution - which is classic spin doctor diversion tactics. Look over there!
Second, what is this 'new energy' thing and how is it different?
'New energy' is not just one thing. Nor is it a right-now silver bullet solution. Indeed anyone who tries to tell you that 'new energy' can solve all energy supply problems overnight is just as deluded as those who insist that 'old energy' is still the right answer.
This 'new energy' is many things. The solar PV on many home rooftops, especially in Australia. The wind turbines dotting many skylines, especially in South Australia. The battery storage that, like solar, is set to proliferate in Australia faster than anywhere in the world. The inevitable rise of electric vehicles. Local community and peer-to-peer energy trading. And there'll be a lot more.
Even more importantly than all of these, however, the 'new energy' era is about data. Not data the way the advocates of 'old energy' esteem it, where traditional industry players exercise the power of information asymmetry over consumers. Put simply, they have more data than their customers do, and that's the way they like it.
That kind of data dominance can't and won't last in new technology times when distributed and digital intertwine, and the Internet of Things (IoT) has arrived for energy and everything else.
Third, what does all of this have to do with digital technology anyway?
The NEM, the national energy market grid, extends across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. It's one of the largest electricity grids on the planet, but it's becoming more and more expensive, and more difficult to maintain.
A key part of the problem is lack of data, meaning poor visibility of what's happening on the grid. That's not so important in an extreme crisis such as a statewide black-out, because everyone can see that the power is off, but it's vital in order to match the flexible supply from intermittent renewables like wind and solar with flexible demand on the consumer side.
Battery technologies creating a new layer of distributed storage between distributed generation and distributed consumption are going to play a huge role in making 'new energy' work. Storage, however, is expensive and will take time to come down the cost curve, and it's a highly engineered solution.
A much lower-cost, right-now solution for integrating clean distributed energy into the grid starts with technologies like Wattwatchers. Utility-grade data on energy flows down to circuit level in real-time means high level 'distributed visibility' and also the ability to control electrical loads remotely, whether automated or done manually.
Trying to run a grid or even manage a home's energy without the right data is like driving a car without dashboard instruments. You can still be mobile, but you're not exercising properly informed control.
It's no time for our national government to be cutting back on clean energy ambition, which already is below par by international standards and scientific imperative, nor badgering the states to rein in their targets.
Data enabling 'IoT4energy' will help to deliver greater energy efficiency, financial benefits for consumers, better integration of renewable energy into the grid, and greater energy security. Isn't that what we all want?
Murray Hogarth is Director of Communications and Community Networks for Wattwatchers.