The four-year Smart grid program of Ausgrid has come to an end, with several conclusions that could affect the energy sector in Australia.
The Ausgrid, Smart Grid project was backed by a $100 million funding from the 2009 Federal budget. Ausgrid’s goal was to create a more efficient energy network, one that would allow electricity consumers and utilities to track their electricity consumption and pave the way for a more efficient use of the energy grid.
The concept was heavily supported by various stakeholders of the energy sector like a consortium led by Ausgrid, which was then called EnergyAustralia, IT industry giant IBM, AGL Energy, GE EnergyAustralia, Sydney Water Corporation and Hunter Water Australia.
The Smart Grid project was launched by Ausgrid in five sites in Sydney and the Hunter area in New South Wales and was the first commercial-scale smart grid in Australia. The technology allowed electricity consumers like homeowners to view a real-time analysis of their power consumption. The goal was to help the residents make better decisions regarding energy efficiency in their households as well as to enable them to minimise the environmental impact of their power consumption.
During the Ausgrid Program’s four-year run, more than 17,000 homeowners were able to monitor their energy use through smart meters and other advanced devices that tested the usage patterns of the electricity consumers.
Findings of the Ausgrid Program
One of the key findings of the trial was that Australia could gain more than $28 billion in economic benefits over the next two decades if the smart grid technologies that were tested were to be adopted on a national scale.
According to the proponents of the trial, Australians can use technology to alter their electricity usage patterns so as to lower the demand for energy during peak periods, and thereby reduce the capacity requirements in the long run.
The project handlers say that a smart grid is attainable in Australia but it would mean investing in new infrastructure.
The AusGrid project, however, also revealed that there is a risk for Australia to overinvest as much as $10 billion in funding to distributed generation. This is possible if the country continues to use the current electricity tariffs utilising out-dated meters.
Impact of Smart Grid Discontinuation on Solar Industry
Another key recommendation of the program is the introduction of a dynamic tariff arrangement to control the growth of distributed generation like rooftop solar photovoltaic systems and storage.
Energy Networks Association chief executive officer John Bradley said that tariff reform is needed to prevent users who have onsite generation and storage capacity to be cross-subsidised by those who don’t have the said technology.
But this could also discourage people from installing their own solar photovoltaic panels at home. Proponents of solar energy say that tariff reforms should not penalise early adopters of solar power and battery storage, but also to address the legacy costs of power grids.
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Renewable energy backers add that Australian network operators would have to lower their costs if they are to compete against new and renewable sources of energy, and not just use measures like the dynamic tariff system as proposed by Bradley.