Energy Policy Still a Wild Ride, But Smart Technologies Can Deliver Better Electricity Outcomes

What to make of Australia’s ongoing, now escalating turmoil around energy policy?

Especially now that the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) looks to be dead, or at best on life support with a dodgy power connection.

One immediate takeaway is this. If national policy-making for energy and climate change keeps on falling apart, and much of it has for about two decades now, then why don’t we stick to the things that have actually worked for us?

A case in point is the ‘Solarcoaster’, the apt descriptor for the ups and downs of Australia’s extraordinary-in-global-terms rooftop solar sector over the past decade or so.

It’s genuinely outstanding that Australia has 1.8 million rooftop solar systems, world record uptake in absolute terms, with 20%-plus of the nation’s homes generating clean energy from the sun compared with around merely 1% in the US.

But now, in an atmosphere of energy policy chaos, will the next cycle of the Solarcoaster plunge down, or soar up to new heights?

There’s some basis for optimism, in spite of all the policy disarray. We just need to ask the right questions, and look in the right places.

For example: Can we target a new era where the quality of solar investments rises as well as the quantity? And can we implement very specifically targeted policies to ensure that technology makes solar smarter and more effective, as well as even more prolific?

Global energy market forecaster Bloomberg New Energy Finance is projecting 92% of Australia’s electricity generation will come from renewables by 2050. Bloomberg’s track record as a forecaster makes this credible. But the path to get there needs work.

At Wattwatchers we’re unabashedly pro-renewables, especially when it comes to small-scale, widely-distributed rooftop solar for homes and businesses. Working with software partners like Solar Analytics – which makes the performance of rooftop solar systems and fleets visible, alert-ready and actionable in real-time over the internet – we can add quality whatever the quantity of renewables the vagaries of politics ultimately bequeath to Australia.

Even while the political debates continue to swirl around, the mainstream energy sector is actively preparing for a high-level of distributed energy resources (DER) future. This can be seen through initiatives such as the Open Energy Networks Consultation being led by Energy Networks Australia (ENA), representing the nation’s distribution businesses, and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), with additional support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

Australia’s energy future will likely be so much better served by thoughtful, inclusive, constructive processes like the Open Energy Networks Consultation, in comparison to the self-defeating political groundhog day playing out in Canberra.

As a practical example from the Wattwatchers experience, a chronic lack of data remains a core problem for digitising the electricity system, which in turn is vital to address a key challenge for the emerging next generation of electricity grids i.e. Grid 2.0, being: how do you simultaneously manage millions of generation points, millions of storage points and millions of consumption points, in real-time, sometimes in adverse circumstances such as extreme heat wave events?

Currently the availability of energy data is typically inadequate to support contemporary IT and IoT solutions for electricity, and what data does exist is mainly restricted to regulated markets and proprietary systems and is not widely available on the internet nor readily accessible and controllable by consumers themselves.

This is the kind of granular reform that energy policy-makers should be spending more time on. Policy-based solutions might include:

  • Require new-build homes and business sites to include accurate, real-time, cloud-connected monitoring of electricity including mains import/export, on-site generation and major loads (circuit-level). The ability to remotely control loads that are strategic for demand management (e.g. air-conditioning units, hot water systems, pool pumps) should also be considered.
  • Require new, grid-connected rooftop solar PV installations to include accurate, real-time, cloud-connected monitoring and remote export control.
  • Also have data sharing requirements to an appropriate ‘open platform’ whatever the technologies being used (e.g. smart meters, sub-meters, inverters/inverter-based solutions, IoT devices and sensors etc).
  • Incentive program for existing rooftop solar PV system owners to retrofit    accurate, real-time, cloud-connected monitoring and remote export control. An example would be a rebate paid to solar installers offering this service to householders and businesses via a range of technology options.
  • Similar incentive program for high energy-consuming existing homes and businesses, especially for low-income high-consumption homes.