How to tap the power of many homes ... in real-time!
On My Watts: Murray Hogarth
Buried in this month's Finkel Review blueprint for the future of energy in Australia is a powerful opportunity to make electricity more secure, cleaner and affordable.
At the heart of this opportunity are many everyday household consumers, whose homes need to be equipped with new technologies like the Wattwatchers real-time energy monitoring + control prototype pictured left.
At page 146 the report says: 'For residential consumers, the key challenge is how to coordinate millions of solar panels, storage systems, load management devices and other technologies in a way that best utilises the multiple services they can provide to improve reliability and security, and reduce costs.'
Yet for all of the 1.7 million Australian homes that have PV panels on their roofs, about 20% of all households, that still means about 80% don't have solar.
With battery-based energy storage systems, meanwhile, estimates for home installations by 2020 range from 100,000 - the number cited in the Finkel report - to highly bullish numbers from 500,000 up to 1 million. But even if the most heroic of these forecasts is achieved, say a million homes out of 10 million in Australia, then 90% still won't have batteries, and more likely that will be 95%-plus.
The point is simple. While uptake of so much distributed energy technology in so many homes is inspirational, the overwhelming majority of homes will still be more old-tech than new-tech. Most will still take their electricity from the grid and will have no on-site generation or storage capability.
That doesn't make all of these millions of homes useless or irrelevant to the near-term and longer-term future of the energy system. Quite the opposite, they are vital!
These homes can still save on energy consumption - through both efficient appliances and behaviour change. They can buy their electricity better, saving themselves money simply by being smarter, but also potentially helping progressive energy companies that could help to transform the system in positive ways.
They can take more control over their time-of-use of electricity, which also might benefit them financially while also helping the system (aka 'the grid'), and conversely they could lose money - and the system could suffer - if they are careless or even just ill-informed about their time-of-use.
So what to do about all of these people and their households?
They are the important, grid-connected majority who still may have solar and storage in their future, but not yet.
The answer is pretty straightforward. Everyone needs more data on electricity in their homes.
Not the very bare bones data they get in a quarterly or monthly electricity bill from their energy retailer. People need lots more data than that, real-time data tracking whole-of-home and also major loads and energy flow trends, allowing them to accurately plan for energy efficiency, optimal time-of-use, buying at the best rates, and sizing solar PV and energy storage systems.
The whole electricity system also would benefit from similar data.
So where will such data come from? That would be Wattwatchers!
Murray Hogarth is Wattwatchers' Director of Communications and Community Networks.