When you’re anxious or even alarmed about power blackouts and surging energy bills, it can be hard to see any silver linings. But the current energy crisis provides household consumers with more reason than ever to get engaged in their electricity, and work towards a future where home energy management and smart home are united through technology (and a bit of human effort as well).
In less than a fortnight, on 1 July, energy retailers can lift their default tariffs significantly for household and business customers under a recent ruling by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).
There are foreboding rumblings – and overt supplier alerts to prepare customers for the inevitable – that some tariffs will increase dramatically, given the chaotic state of the energy market and surging wholesale electricity prices.
Whilst this is bad for our wallets and can cause real stress, especially for price-vulnerable people on low fixed incomes including age and disability pensioners, it does open up the opportunity to increase the engagement of consumers in energy usage.
The best way to do this is with Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) that allow you to see in real-time how your energy is being consumed, when it is being consumed, and where it is being consumed by what.
This then allows for the optimisation of this energy, targeting any clear waste, adopting behaviour changes, and shifting loads (appliances) to times that are most cost effective.
Solar is a natural advantage
For those with rooftop solar, who are best placed to assert more self-control when grid electricity prices go up, optimising home energy is mainly about getting self-consumption happening.
Short term, this means shifting every load you can under your solar curve. And ideally, over time, it means replacing expensive and polluting fossil fuel-powered loads, like petrol or diesel vehicles and gas appliances, with renewable energy-powered alternatives.
FIGURES 1 & 2
Figures 1&2 both show strong solar generation days for a Sydney home with a 6.6kW rooftop system. Figure 1 shows a low total electricity usage day (14.1kWh), with about 78% of total usage (11.03kWh) coming from the home’s solar (which generated a total of 36.96kWh). While this is good for the bill, it’s a lost opportunity for the solar investment because about 70% of solar is being exported to the grid (and only earns a relatively meagre ‘feed-in tariff’). Figure 2, meanwhile, shows a day with higher total electricity usage (26.28kWh) because a major load (EV charging) has been added into the mix. Total solar generation was similar to Figure 1 at 36.29kWh, but 64% of solar (23.28kWh) was used onsite and only 36% (13.02kWh) was exported to the grid, a better investment and bill outcome with nearly 89% of the increased total electricity usage coming from the home solar. There’s still room for another substantial load such as electric hot water.
As we continue to electrify almost everything – including our cars, hot water and stoves moving from fossil fuels like oil and gas to electricity increasingly generated from renewables – then understanding how this energy is allocated and set up within the house is incredibly important for managing bills and carbon emissions.
Appeal to people power
Home energy knowledge and awareness goes a long way to understanding the demands being placed on the electricity grid, such as in recent times in NSW in particular. To avoid threatened blackouts, most days last week the NSW Government was pleading with energy consumers, which of course is pretty much everyone who can vote, to reduce energy consumption in the evening peak between 5.30 and 8pm.
But this is where real engagement with energy is so important. Standard electricity bills, issued monthly or quarterly in arrears, don’t tell us much at all about what we use and when.
So how does a householder know what they’ve used during the day, what they can shift, and what they can comfortably avoid altogether? This requires real awareness of energy use patterns and appliance profiles, exactly the kind of engagement we can get through HEMS.
The reality is that anytime from 3-10pm can be peak tariff time, so ideally even under normal circumstances you’d want to avoid this period as much as possible. Except that this is exactly when most people are cooking, showering, heating or cooling, and enjoying electronic entertainment.
And looking ahead, one of the big concerns for running the electricity grid is that this also is when people will arrive home in their electric vehicles, and will want to put them on to charge as well.
Electrification will drive the future
The UK announced this week that all new homes must be built with EV charging embedded in them. That shows great policy initiative, and Australia should do the same; but we’d also like to see this go further, including all new-build homes having HEMS installed as a basic requirement.
So we don’t repeat mistakes of the past, an essential key step prior to adding more electric load – that essentially becomes unmanaged – is to make sure people have the smart tools they need to manage energy better.
We are going to see a renewed boom in solar in the second half of the year in line with the massive upheaval in energy costs, no different to the surge in demand for EVs (supply chain constraints aside) that started when petrol went above $2 a litre.
Those solar systems and EV chargers must be part of a HEMS connected operating environment, and most importantly be robustly addressable from a communications perspective – independent of the home’s WiFi, which is unreliable, unstable and linked to the person not the premises.
HEMS will intersect with smart home
There are some amazing tools available to every person in Australia based on world-leading Australian innovations (see my recent previous blog post), and I strongly recommend that everyone who has substantial energy use, with or without solar, should get HEMS and take more personal control.
A bit of effort informed by HEMS data will reduce your costs even while costs rapidly rise.
History tells us that we can’t rely on industry and governments to fix all of our energy challenges in a timely way, so everyone needs to engage more in their energy journey, set your own baseline for service and price expectations, and go on this exciting electrification journey.
Home energy management will collide into smart homes during this journey and that is where Wattwatchers is focusing considerable effort to support interactions with energy into Apple’s HomeKit platform, which allows the control and optimisation of any resource within connected homes.
Similar opportunities will open up for Google Home and other platforms as they evolve.
Gavin Dietz is Chief Executive Officer of Sydney-based Wattwatchers, which enables an expanding suite of in-house and third-party partner apps, platforms and solutions for the once-in-a-century energy transition challenges now being faced both here in Australia, and globally.