Installation at the frontline for consumer energy solutions

Feature image ex Canva stock for Wattwatchers blog post on installation

Long overdue? An academic team is deep-diving into the challenges of device and appliance installation for consumer energy resources (CER), portraying installers as the ‘crucial middle actors’ in the transition to renewables. With a decade in the smart energy solutions marketplace, Wattwatchers applauds this very-timely social science initiative, recognising the need for greater attention on the professionals working at the frontline for installation, integration and interoperability of technologies.  

TECHNOLOGY AT THE GRID EDGE

We all know that technology-enabled electrification is key to a successful clean energy transition, right?

For many smart energy solutions, this means installing equipment at homes and businesses, requiring electricians and sometimes other trade professionals.

With a vast stock of existing homes and other buildings, a lot of installations are retrofits, which adds to cost and complexity.

A new research initiative from Western Sydney University (WSU) is focusing on the role of the workforce at the transition frontline, with a first workshop report declaring that ‘installers are key to a distributed energy future’.

Highlights from the WSU workshop report, viewed through a Wattwatchers lens, include:

  • Growing attention to integration with home automation including the emerging Matter protocol and systems like Apple HomeKit.
  • The role of EVs in the energy transition, including vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) and Vehicle-to-Home (V2H).
  • Recognition of communications challenges between smart devices and the cloud, including the need to avoid reliance on home WiFi. 
  • The need for ‘trust’ in the solution ecosystem, with installers often being the most visible ‘human face’ in the process.

The message is clear. No matter how smart the solution technologies may be, this will count for little unless they are installed well, including effective integration with other hardwares, softwares and platforms.

Think consumer energy resources (CERs) like rooftop solar systems, storage batteries, charging for electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, and the monitoring and control devices that often accompany them (including Wattwatchers).

But then also think of home automation and ‘smart home’ solutions, cloud connectivity, and technology-enabled aggregation and orchestration via third-party solutions to help the electricity grid.

The abstract for the WSU paper says: ‘Mass electrification is a key part of efforts to reduce carbon emissions by shifting from combustion-based machines to electric technologies. While much research has explored consumer attitudes and choices regarding these technologies, less is known about the role of middle actors like installers in shaping policies and consumer decisions. This workshop report examines the role of installers in the transition to renewable energy – a crucial middle actor. Enhancing their effectiveness can contribute to the successful adoption of renewable energy as they are often the only human face to an otherwise intimidating, impersonal energy system.’

WSU’s lead researcher on the project, Declan Kuch, says that: ‘The big switch from old, combustion-based machines to new electric technologies is perhaps *the* main focus of energy and climate policy. But much policy discussion tends to overlook the installation of these new technologies.’

The WSU report also makes a useful distinction between CERs, referring to small-scale energy resources that are owned and/or controlled by the ‘consumer’ or the ‘customer’ as CERs, and distributed energy resources which are ‘network-managed’ as DERs (network-installed local batteries and pole-mounted EV-charging are examples). It suggests that a cover-all term, straddling both the current CER and DER, could be ‘common energy resources’.  

The report can be downloaded here.

FOOTNOTE: Wattwatchers prioritises ‘installation success’ and proactively supports our partners and customers, and their installers, to have positive experiences before, during and after installations. https://service.wattwatchers.com.au/