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Smart grid, dumb media: Conservatives hit peak stupid over demand response

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So much for a smart grid. Or a cheaper one. The technology troglodytes on conservative media have taken less than 24 hours to have a collective meltdown over “demand response” – a new initiative to encourage consumers, particularly industry, to shift their loads to help manage demand peaks and moderate prices.

Demand response is a tool used widely in the US, Asia, Europe, New Zealand and even in Western Australia to employ a cheaper, smarter, and cleaner tool than switching on a fossil fuel generator in response to peaks in demand. It’s got nothing to do with wind and solar, or the lack of it.

Don’t tell that to conservatives. Like renewables and battery storage before it, demand response commits the crime of causing less coal and gas to be burned. And that’s just too awful a scenario for the conservative commentariat to contemplate.

Every week one is tempted to think that the debate can not get any dumber. This week though, we’ve had the AFR hit rock bottom on battery storage, and Tony Abbott evoking the flat Earthers on climate change. It’s not crap, it turns out, it’s actually really good for us.

And so, the conservatives were quick to confect misleading outrage when it was announced on Wednesday that a portfolio of 200MW of demand response, acting as a “virtual power plant” had been put together by the Australian Energy Market Operator and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

And their principal claim – that it was an attack on the poor that would force vulnerable people to turn off their air conditioning – hit peak stupid in less than 24 hours.

“It’s humiliating … it’s demeaning to people. Kids will go round to the next door neighbour’s house on a really hot day (because) the air conditioning isn’t on. It’s the poor people who are being bribed by the government,” said Rowan Dean, a columnist for the Murdoch tabloids and a talking head on Sky News.

Andrew Bolt agreed: “And remember: none of this will cut the world’s temperature. It’s all for nothing,” he proclaimed. Alan Jones was picking up the same thread on 2GB on Thursday morning.

Chris Kenny, another Murdoch columnist and TV talking head, launched into this extraordinary attack on Sky News:

“We are now looking at paying households taxpayers’ money to not use the electricity when they most need it. We will pay people to switch them off. A first world country – it is a bad as that. It is as absurd as that.

“Demand management is bullshit. It is political speak for supply stuff-up.”

Like Bolt, Kenny blamed the entire thing on renewable energy, repeating Bolt’s claims almost word for word. “We are subsiding renewable energy, and because of that we don’t have enough energy now we are going to pay us more to not use it.”

Jane Marwick a Sky News conributor based in Perth, claimed that at least things were OK on the other side of the Nullabor plane, because they are not part of the national electricity market.

Sorry to break the news to you, but W.A. has long had the only advance demand response market in Australia, long before any renewables were brought to the state.

“What concerns me when I see it – it’s going to be the elederly will take it really really seriously, she said. It’s Going to send wrong message to all wrong people. It is a disaster.”

This absurd argument was then repeated and enlarged upon by a Fairfax columnist, Mark Kenny (Chris Kenny’s cousin), a normally sane commentator who must have felt the need to conform when on Sky:

“It is encouraging people not to turn on air conditioning – it will be old people who are most vulnerable – it will be terrible thing to have people at that stage of their life making that decision because they feel they have to.”

So what was the source of their outrage? On Wednesday, the federal government, AEMO and ARENA unveiled the winners of its demand response tender, a group for 10 projects focusing mostly on industrial and commercial loads, but also tapping into consumers.

It is entirely voluntary, and in the case of households will mostly comprise using the load from battery storage, and shifting the timing of loads such as heat pumps and hot water.

Powershop CEO Ed McManus says its entirely up to the customer, and in a recent survey tens of thousands of its customers had indicated their interest. “These are small things that don’t impact their life … even with air conditioners only minor changes were involved and consumers can choose to participate or not.”

And this way, consumers get paid, unlike the informal request last summer when the NSW asked consumers to dial back their energy use, and a warning from coal-dependent Queensland that they may be asked to do the same this summer.

Audrey Zibelman, the CEO of AEMO, made it clear that the demand response program was “absolutely” not about “turning the lights off or making people uncomfortable”.

“It is not about turning the lights off or making people uncomfortable, it is actually just getting smarter about using [electricity], just like we got smarter about using water, and therefore making it efficient and cheaper.”

In the PJM, one of the biggest energy markets in America, demand response was introduced well before any wind or solar was added to the grid, because it is a cheaper way of managing supply and demand than simply burning more coal or gas when a lot of people want to use electricity at the same time.

Ditto in Western Australia (although that scheme was badly managed). But well run, demand response is merely an incentive to encourage people who don’t need to use electricity at a particular time to shift their use for an hour or two. It saves everyone money. No one is forced to do anything.

In Australia, consumers have actually been doing this for decades, ever since the introduction of controlled load for hot water systems, when the water heating was switched on at night to give coal generators something to do.

But what’s good for the consumer in the era of coal is clearly not good for the consumer in the era of renewables.  

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  • suthnsun

    We are well beyond peak stupid, we are into “vast overshoot” territory. The crash is going to be incredibly painful.

  • Chris Drongers

    How was the WA demand response scheme run badly?

  • trackdaze

    So they prefer blackouts?

    • solarguy

      Now you have hit a nerve on pool pumps. I did the solar my for the guy next door to me who has a pool. He keeps on whinging about not saving enough from solar but refuses to run the pump during the day. This is the same drop kick that runs his A/C as well as a gas heater in winter, because he wants to get really warm.

      Brain transplant needed perhaps! Perhaps I should find out what he is smoking, as it must be bloody good.

      • Joe

        Hello my Solarguy. Perhaps you could have a chat to yourneighbour and discuss the concept of ‘personal heating’ vs ‘space heating’…plenty of dollar savings to be had.

        • solarguy

          Oh mate if only I could get through to him. I would have a more intelligent conversation with a parking meter.

  • Peter

    It’s all too predictable by the Murdoch press.
    What demand response does show is how inefficiently electricity is used in the national grid. One would think that ‘fiscal conservatives’ would like this idea of using the grid more efficiently and as such reducing costs.

    • Australia has been very slow to adopt demand response to keep electricity affordable. Power companies have preferred gold-plating and to push for ‘cost-reflective pricing’ – charging consumers a dollar or more per kWh on hot days. These power company campaigners may have financed the media meltdown on the more rational demand response policy. ‘Cost-reflective pricing’ hasn’t got far even though its been pushed for over a decade because it needs billions to be spent on smart meters before it can get started.

    • jeffhre

      Nope. More dollars in the hands of fossil fuel polluting billionaires is the only efficiency that counts!

  • Ren Stimpy

    ‘It is entirely voluntary’
    ‘It is entirely up to the customer’
    ‘Consumers get paid for it’

    Those are the key points. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

    Rowan Dean has rapidly become the type of hysterical whiney scared idiot (for hire) that he often rants about. Ditto the rest of that pack. Everybody needs to clearly understand why those ranters are doing this – it’s their business model to whine against things perceived as being lefty. They make money by convincing people to continue losing money i.e. to keep faith with the current grossly inefficient and high cost system of Soviet-era centralised power generation. That’s right, Rowan Dean is pushing a Soviet-era centralised model of government built power generation which is a huge extra cost burden on taxpayers and consumers, as compared to a distributed model. Rowan Dean is closet commie who whines about lefties. It’s fucking hilarious.

    • Joe

      …the Dean occasionally pops up on ABC’s The Drum. He always parrots The COALition and loves to go hard against anything to do with action on climate change. He loves to give Labor a bollocking on climate change policy….I think deep down that the Dean is a ‘Denier’. Whenever RE comes up for discussion the Dean takes it all to another level…Imma go Harder…to quote The Macklemore. Honestly it is embarrassing listening to the dude…just switch him off !

      • Ren Stimpy

        I can’t switch him off – I have to get new laughs from somewhere. When I’m finished watching Dean and Cameron on Outsiders I switch over to WWE wrestling – it’s not quite on the same level of bullshit and chuckles as Rowan and Ross, but almost as good.

        • Joe

          Ah, the wrestling. Entertaining, maybe but if ever there was a ‘FAKE’ something, then the wrestling is definitely tops for ‘FAKERY’ yes. A bit like Outsiders…Real or Fake…Real Deano or Fake Deano? Either way all you can do is laugh it off and wonder what fool allowed the show to even go to air.

    • Marcus L

      It sure is!

    • Ian

      When the proletariat generate their own electricity and buy their own solar storage batteries, and have the freedom to leave the grid , then they need to collectivised and nationalised with centralised demand control – for the good of the community of course. The energy of the people needs to be controlled for the good of the state. To achieve this we need sun-control and storage amnesties to cajole people back into state control.

    • mick

      just watched stan grant (the link) misrepresenting this issue in adelaide some were smart enough to see through the prodding but most took the attitude that we have put up with enough bs f— off

      • Ren Stimpy

        Exactly, Stan ‘Rant’ making it seem like it would be compulsory. The TV ratings push is eating our nation’s IQ.

        I concur, enough bs f— off.

        • I couldn’t believe it. on the abc. switched it off.

          • Cooma Doug

            It reminds me of many things. 1975. Seat belts to be compulsary.
            On talk back radio there was a think tank of stupid.
            “It will cause postate cancer and baby deformation”
            One caller to John Laws insisted both could happen to any driver who used seatbelts.

          • Ren Stimpy

            I think the difference here is that demand response isn’t compulsory.

            I hear what you’re saying about seat belts. It was certainly a good move to make seat belts compulsory. Not least because at the time those old models had sharp molded plastic trim among other things protruding from the dashboard such as custom made pointy cigarette lighters and other dials and switches. Without a seat belt, any sudden stop even without an accident would’ve been enough to propel a passenger into the punji stake pit of a car dash at 50 Mph or worse.

  • Joe

    Giles, a brilliant piece from you as usual. In your roll call of the ‘anti demand response’ opinionators there was one notable omission. At The AFR’s National Energy Summit held earlier this week Snowy Hydro Chief, Paul Broad, was quoted as saying… “you know what demand management is? Blackouts. That’s what happens – you turn it off”. I thought that Paul Broad was pretty well informed on energy matters but his view on demand response…there are no words. From Rupert’s newsrags and associated hangers on you expect this sort of looney talk. The sad thing is that there are way too many punters out there that just lap it all up as being the Truth.

  • Peter G

    Thanks Giles, Renew Economy performs such a valuable role to record this idiocy.
    Some demand response was introduced in leafy Dalkieth in WA years ago, because local transmission could not supply peak summer demand following the 90’s and naughties proliferation of airconditioning. Dalkieth is in the middle class western suburbs area that is bounded by the Swan river and has limited new high voltage transmission opportunities.
    The solution has been to upgrade the voltages throughout the western distribution area (replacing all transformers etc) – a project that will cost half a billion dollars or more… perhaps $4-5,000 per person for the 100,000 or so people who live in the area (a portion of the federal division of Curtin).

  • solarguy

    Isn’t comforting to know, that tomorrow we will all wake up in Noddy Land again and again. It would be a side splitter if it wasn’t so bloody serious!

  • Hettie

    Now that my solar system is up and running at last- yesterday at 2.00 pm – I’ve instituted a little demand management of my own
    Power outlet timer switches. One for the freezer in the garage, one for the refrigerator. Both turn the power on at 7.00 am, when the panels should be putting out enough juice for them, and turn off around 9.00pm, when it’s unlikely I will open them again until morning.
    The dishwasher will now operate at midday, peak output for the greediest appliance. Not much else I can do to shift consumption to daylight hours, but every little helps.

    • BushAxe

      Probably a tad extreme! Main issue is the 7-9am and 5-8pm peaks when everyone’s home cooking.

    • Mike Shackleton

      You’re better off just leaving them on. The energy saved by not running them will be cancelled out by the extra energy consumed from 7am onwards when the fridge and freezer come back on. They will have to work hard for the first hour or so to bring the temperature back down. Our apartment with solar installed uses about 1 kWh off the grid to keep the fridge and electronics running when we aren’t in it.

      • Hettie

        Hmm. The readout from my smart meter shows about 300 watts between the switch back on and the panels reducing usage to zero.
        I will have more accurate data once the inverter can start talking to my phone, delayed by the fact that there has been an industry meeting in Melbourne this week. The person who will set the app up should be on it today or early next week.
        I will provide updates.
        It may make sense to make both switch off and switch on an hour later. Let the sun carry the load.

        • Ian

          Nice personal story, what about your hot water system? This is the biggest household energy demand generally. If its an old resistance type heater, you could put a timer on that.

          We get Queensland’s legacy FiT and obviously want to consume as little of our own electricity as possible, shifting loads to nighttime. We have a resistance type water heater with a roof mounted solar thermal collector. This is an incredibly stupid design because the resistance heater is very quick to heat the hot water tank whilst the rooftop collectors are slow and only marginally effective after a full day of sunshine. My solution was to put a timer on the resistance elements so that these only operate at night. Whilst in the day the solar collectors do their slow thing.

          If you have a wasteful resistance type water heater you can at least use the day’s solar generation to heat your water. ie shift your water heating load to the day.

          • Hettie

            In 2011 when I built this house, gas was the way to go, so my water heating is instantaneous gas, and space heating is also gas.
            What a difference 6 years makes!
            As a pensioner, I must consider all expenditure with care. So much as I would like to change to RC air con for heating, and to boost the cooling efficiency of the ceiling fans as the summers, even in Armidale NSW, get ever hotter, that will have to wait. I use very little hot water, showers only, and during the summer months when that is the only gas use the cost is low, perhaps $25/month. Not enough to justify changing to electric. That may change, and I have not researched it yet.
            The panels went up this week, and I have calculated that paying for them over my 4 year green loan will be a net $22 / fn. Not much, but there are always unforseen expenses, and I have no idea how long it would take to save for air con. Maybe a year, maybe 2….

    • Scottman

      Every little bit helps, agree. I fill my 2 batteries (thermos’s) with boiling water when my monitor indicates the export is producing more than what the kettle draws (2300 watts).
      That is about the extreme I can think of to date for saving solar power.

  • Craig Allen

    I’m curious about how this will be done technically. I have a split cycle Daikon air conditioner that is very similar in appearance to the one in the photo at the top of this article. My landlord helpfully agreed to install it earlier this year as a replacement of my dodgy old gas heater. But there is no internet connectivity capacity mentioned in the manual. And annoyingly every time I turn it off and then back on I have to manually switch it to back economy-mode (which is slower to heat or cool but more efficient).

    So how would I participate in a demand response program? Would I have to chuck this unit out and buy a new one? Same deal with my old washing machine? Will we have to wait until manufacturers bring out new models of everything and then send all our existing otherwise functional white goods to the dump? What is the CO2 emissions implications of such a massive turnover of goods?

    • nakedChimp

      It’s probably a hard wired extra device in your switchboard – if they go for tamper proof, with a new subcircuit – that supplies those appliances.
      Nothing will be dumped due to this – afaik there is no standard the manufacturers could adhere to/implement into their gear that would do this.

      PS: alternatively either install solar (or more of it) or invest in some outside of town.

    • BushAxe

      Either Wifi equipped appliances or wall plugs to switch the load be a possible future, or someone will invent something we haven’t thought of.

    • RobertO

      I beleive its called ripple control same as Off Peak Hot Water (OPHW) meter in Australia (one signal to turn the OPHW on and another to turns the meter off. In the Air Conditioner there is a small control box that responds to a signal in the mains power network to reduce the power available to the compressor. The air conditioners are sold as retail units at a discount to WA buyers so that the networks can reduce the power at peak times. The buyer saves about $700 on a $5000 unit, and it work like a normal unit most of the time. Most people do not know and can not find out when the power is reduced (about 15%). It has no effect on the equipment (think of it as eco mode where you choose to reduce the power). The buyer save money by using less electricity, the networks use less capacity for the 10 to 20 days a year so they save money. A study in the USA by one of there networks found that Demand Management would cost them $15 Billion to install on all homes (devices such as Air Condition, Pool Pumps, Fridges and Freezers) would save the average annual consumer about $1000 a year but would save the network about $75 Billion annually.

  • Nick Thiwerspoon

    Con Ed says that 30% of its overall capacity is used for just 6% of the time. It seems entirely sensible to use demand management.

  • Nexusfast123

    This country is being thoroughly ruined by these profoundly ignorant clowns. Add this to the neoliberal economic nuttery they spout.

  • Roger Franklin

    Giles – it appears Political bus with media on board has arrived at destination #PeakStupidity !!

    Now do we we leave them there while the rest of us move onto #PeakLogic or not?