We need real-time action on the grid edge instead of more talk-fests

Stock image ex Canva for Wattwatchers blog post on grid edge

The AFR’s annual Energy and Climate Summit was on again this week, a tick-a-box for another big talk-fest for the big end of town.

There’s not a lot of action on the frontline, however. The conference rooms at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel are a long way from the mainstream homes, enterprises and community facilities paying for electricity on the edge of the grid.

Sure, relevant topics are on the agenda alongside hydrogen hype and the nuclear boondoggle, including consumer energy resources (CER), rooftop solar export control and all the problems of maintaining a creaking and struggling grid as an extreme El Niño summer approaches (again).

For at least 10 years now, the ‘energy establishment’ has been looking at every way imaginable to solve the practical problems of electricity grids that are no longer fit for purpose.

Yet we continue to not deal with the difficult solution to the problem.

Why? Because it involves coming to terms with 10 million-plus everyday households and small businesses across Australia, over a third of which now produce electricity as well as consume it. 

The solution is everyone, everywhere, all at once

The grid edge is where this gets fixed, but fixing it there is exactly what we are not doing.

Utility smart meters are still being championed as the solution, even though they’ve been around for well over a decade and have contributed very little globally.

In fact, some would say smart meters have not necessarily even created the most basic of customer benefits that were promised, which is accurate and timely energy bills.  

I personally just had nine months worth of electricity bills reissued as they were not calculating solar exports, despite the energy retailer having been informed at time of connection, and a new smart meter having been installed.

Like most other industries, technology plays an important part, and is evolving constantly and rapidly.

So-called smart meters are not by any stretch a dynamic technical solution to today’s problems on the grid edge, nor a path to unlocking opportunities for customers. At best, they are an ‘infrastructure’, the equivalent of a fixed highway built in 1980, when we really need fleets of electric scooters and light transport vehicles crisscrossing the city to transport people and goods.

Dynamic control needs data

The grid edge needs dynamic control, it needs data, and it needs real-time tools to enable all stakeholders, from the end customers through to the network and market operators.

More specifically:

  • The consumers, those who use and also often produce the energy, need the right tools to reduce and optimise. Energy efficiency will deliver a minimum 30% plus reductions and real savings.  If customers have solar, self-consumption can further reduce bills and optimise the impact of homemade energy.  
  • The networks, those responsible for delivering the power over poles and wires, need data, lots of it, in real-time. They need to be able to dynamically manipulate the network to compensate for its creakiness. They also need to move with the transition, from centralised to decentralised, and from fossilised to electrified, and they need to do it now and fast.
  • The retailers need genuine innovation, although any innovation at this point would be a start.  They need the right data, delivered the right way to aggregate, orchestrate and innovate – designing the future energy services the grid needs.  We have long outgrown flat-rate tariffs and time-of-use tariffs, and now we need fully dynamic solutions to move with the rapid electrification and decentralisation of the energy system.
  • As for the regulators, we need less talk and public handwringing, less of the same old same old that doesn’t change anything. We need real change and real technology, creating real data for grid management in real-time.  On the current regulators’ watch, we are rolling out dumb solar consumption meters, at the consumer’s cost, with no value to a better energy future. We are allowing the connection to the grid of EV chargers and other large power-consuming equipment to continue almost unabated, similar to the first two million rooftop solar systems deployed in this country, and millions of air conditioning units too. 

We need real technological change

Enough is enough. Let’s confront the problem and deal with it. The grid edge needs real technological change. It needs to be future-proofed. It needs to suit all stakeholders and it needs to start now, because this is a long journey, and we’re still stuck behind the starting line.

Crucially, with the right technologies, we can start to make and measure the change in real-time. That way we can verify as we go – what’s working and what’s not, and what’s engaging householders and what isn’t – course-correcting as we go renewable, electrify and decarbonise at the speed and scale we need.

Let’s reduce everyone’s energy consumption and costs. Let’s stabilise our expensive and vast grid, embedding CER as a major source of both generation and balance, increasing overall grid resilience in a climate change world, and empowering customers themselves. 

Most importantly, let’s get on with meeting and measuring our Net Zero commitments, whatever the target year, and beating them wherever we can. Our kids need it, demand it and it starts now.

FOOTNOTE: In case you think I’m just talking the talk too, to mix a metaphor Wattwatchers is putting its innovation where my mouth is. At this month’s All-Energy Australia – the industry mega-event combining a massive solutions trade show with a major conference, in Melbourne (25-26 October) – the Wattwatchers team will be on the ground promoting pre-order opportunities for our latest product release, the Auditor 6MW-CER, designed and made in Australia for the grid edge!

Gavin Dietz has been CEO of Sydney-based Wattwatchers Digital Energy since 2016. He is a former Global Chief Information Officer for the world’s largest smart meter manufacturer, Landis+Gyr.