Telstra takes on energy utilities with home solar and storage plan | RenewEconomy

Telstra takes on energy utilities with home solar and storage plan

Telstra hires Powershop boss Ben Burge to lead new team focusing on solar and battery storage, and how to take on traditional energy utilities by offering home energy services as part of a data and phone bundled package.


Australian telecommunications giant Telstra plans to accelerate the rollout of solar and battery storage technologies, and is looking to offer home energy services to millions of consumers in the first sign it will take on the major energy utilities.

ben burgeTelstra has established a dedicated project team to be led by Ben Burge, the feisty CEO of Powershop and Meridian Energy Australia, which has made major inroads into the Australian energy oligopoly, and which has been a keen proponent of wireless technology and smart-phone apps.

The arrival of a giant corporation such as Telstra into the home energy market signals massive change in the industry, as new technologies such as solar and battery storage, and the “internet of things” offer new avenues to the consumer market.

Telstra is flagging the possibility of offering home energy services – including solar and battery storage – as part of its bundled services that includes internet and telephone.

“We see energy as relevant to our Connected Home strategy, where more and more machines are connected in what is called the Internet of Things,” Telstra’s head of new business, Cynthia Whelan says in her corporate blog.

“We are looking at the opportunities to help customers monitor and manage many different aspects of the home, including energy.”

Whelan – appointed to her position last October – says the major focus for the new team to be led by Burge will be solar energy and improvements in battery technology, and how this can dovetail with Telstra’s massive network, and its millions of consumers.

“As technology continues to transform the way we all work and live, new developments in solar energy and storage, software and connected home are opening up ways to make energy consumption more dynamic and efficient,” Whelan says.

telstra connected homeAnalysts have predicted for several years now that the traditional energy industry would come under attack from new players such as telcos, and IT giants such as Google.

Mark Coughlin, the head of utilities at PwC, says electricity utilities, are facing their “Kodak moment” as the emergence of rooftop solar, in combination with battery storage and smart software, shift the power from the utility to the customer.

And, he says, telcos such as Telstra are better at consumer service than energy utilities, which will struggle to maintain their right to survive. “This traditional utility model where the company controls the ‘electrons’ and the consumer has little choice is on its last legs – this model is struggling to meet customer needs,” Coughlin says.

Energy utilities have traditionally had poor contact with consumers – as highlighted by the most recent survey, why Australians hate their energy utilities more than most – and there is a view among telcos that younger people would prefer to have one provider for all services – and to connect with them through the smart phone.

In hiring Burge, Telstra have also chosen someone with a deep knowledge of the industry, prepared to use software and social media, and someone who is not intimated by the power of the incumbents. And, as he told RenewEconomy’s Disruption and the Energy Industry conference last year, consumers are ready to shift providers.

“The hatred of power companies, both networks and retailers, is so palpable,” Burge told an audience populated by senior executives from said networks and retailers. “There is a deep satisfaction the customer will get by shifting the power base.”

Burge said it was the desire to save money, and “stick it to the incumbents” – that is driving people to shift to solar, and to consider batteries even before they are economically viable. He accused incumbent energy companies of using  hidden fees, confusing tariffs, loyalty penalties and other such strategies to “enslave” the customer.

Telstra is a heavy energy user but has already invested heavily in solar, and battery storage. In fact, it was a pioneer of battery storage technology, using it for its remote telecommunications network.

Many of those battery storage installations are “passive”, meaning that they are just there on standby. But it understood that Telstra is now looking at how those battery installations can be upgraded, either through new battery technology or smart software, to become “active” participants in the grid, where they are connected.

Telstra uses solar and storage on thousands of its rural and regional exchange buildings- mostly off grid – but has recently started to install solar on city-based facilities.

telstra solarIn 2014, it installed a 12kW system at its Greensborough and Oakleigh exchanges in Melbourne, and last month installed 30kW systems at its Deer Park and Lyndhurst exchange buildings in Victoria.

All the solar on these buildings will be consumed on site, reducing grid consumption by 10 per cent. Telstra last year claims a 27 per cent reduction in emissions intensity per terabyte of data.

Telstra Property Executive Director John Romano says these are the start of a “massive” rollout of solar technology across its operations.

“This is the first time we are using solar power systems at this scale in a metropolitan area, and could very well change the way we power our network in the future,” he said in a recent blog. The company has also done some pilots with fuel cells.


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  1. trackdaze 5 years ago

    Perhaps their doing it on account that many punters might confuse teLstra with Tesla. I can imagine the call centres will be tearing their hair out.

    Telstra ain’t exactly known for sharp pricing so early adopters are definetly best market for it to tap.

  2. PaulW 5 years ago

    Yes but is one kind of Big Company bad service any better than another?
    Having to deal with Telstra’s obsure mobile billing contract has stung me well off trusting those guys with my energy management and accounting.

  3. Reality Bites 5 years ago

    Let’s see now which do I dislike the most: Power company or Telstra?! It will be good to get Telstra, Google etc along to take some of the hits and the Utilities can get out of the headlines and get back to business. Death of utilities greatly exaggerated etc, etc…..

  4. Caroline Kelly 5 years ago

    …and utilities hit back by causing massive network outage

    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      Haha. That’s real public relations nous, isn’t it ?

  5. John P 5 years ago

    Telstra is well known for the parasitic charachter of its business model. It should fit in well with the power retailers.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      Investment in infrastructure which serves the public’s needs is not parasitism. It’s just that it’s a *public* good and the public needs to pay for it — the most efficient, equitable and sensible means would probably have more in common with taxation rather than charging users in a more-or-less random fashion for telecommunications service, but public investment in telecoms hasn’t been ideologically acceptable since the 1980s, the botched NBN notwithstanding.

      • Pfitzy 5 years ago

        It depends if they ARE investing in infrastructure – not that anyone would need to here in NSW where they’ve already blown away $45b on poles and wires, the need for which is questionable.

        If they’re just a service provider, and I can’t see how they’d knock the existing network infra guys out of the way, then they’re just looking for consumer market share.

        It will be interesting for Telstra to find themselves beholden to the wholesalers in this instance, as wholesale is the role they should have stepped back into once Singtel and others appeared in the Australian market. We would have a far better telecomms market, had that happened over a decade ago.

  6. Cooma Doug 5 years ago

    Telstra will be a leader in the shift of small and large business to renewable energy. This will include, eventually the electric cars and their integration into the major power infrastructure.

    This connection of new modern, intelligent, renewable energy grids through high tech comms systems,
    will enable high density apartments to integrate 100% renewable energy via electric cars.

    • Mark Spencer 5 years ago

      absoltue junk. After blocking every innovator and forward thinker for at least 20 years, finally, the most unworthy gets the position. Junk total junk.

      • DevMac 5 years ago

        They block progress when it suits their profits, they allow progress when it suits their profits. Jump on the bandwagon once critical mass is reached and ride the profit wave into a future that’s far less than what it could have been.

      • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

        Tell us the details. You seem to know a lot. I’m

    • Ian 5 years ago

      Now you’re thinking! EV = mobile battery. Power the home, power the car, power the camping trip. Charge at home, charge at work, charge at the shops or at the servo. Not too much ongoing intelligent monitoring required just smart electronics to enable plug ‘n play. Elon Musk is a smart guy, but I wonder if this powerful concept has dawned on him? Maybe we should send him an email. One battery, two uses. Telstra may or may not find a place for themselves in providing energy services. Kudos to them for considering this though.

      Renewable energy is cheap but it relies on the intermittant bounty from the sky, storage is so desperately needed but is expensive. The answer is partly to multipurpose batteries: Telstra with its communication hub battery arrays, EV as a mobile battery , hydro as water supply and power generation.

      I would like to throw a related idea into the cooking pot. Again this is about transportation and battery or other storage. Large ships such as container ships and cruise liners are ideal candidates for nuclear powered propulsion, especially the thorium reactor kind. These could be plugged into a Port city’s grid when in harbour and the excess electricity used to recharge large storage facilities such as batteries or pumped storage. Imagine an island nation such as Fiji could get its ” power-up” once a week from a cruise liner while it plays host to the vessel in its port. A grid that has a large number of intermittant power generators of all kinds would need plenty storage capacity to improve stability and reliability. The unintended and fortunate consequence of this would be the ability of the grid to take advantage of opportunistic energy sources. Such as a nuclear powered ship visiting a harbour.

      • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

        Close, but stop smoking the thorium. It’s good for gas lamps 🙂

        • Ian 5 years ago

          A red hot lump of thorium that never cools down yet never over heats is not a bad way to power a large ship, probably better than the fuel consumption of cruise liners today.

          These massive ships measure fuel consumption in feet per gallon and burn heavy diesel at a rate of tonnes per hour. 10 of these could power the whole of Tasmania. They make a mockery of efforts to reduce FF consumption in the electricity sector.

          Gas masks more like it, than gas lamps.

      • Cooma Doug 5 years ago

        In 2001 I walked through several large buildings in New York with some power industry people. This included the Empire State building. We went through the design of the energy systems and found it amazing.
        At the time I was staying in a motel which had a heated pool always on and never used, air cons on heat and cool cycles at the same time in the same buildind. It got me thinking. I worked out that the motel could cut its energy bill by 60%. They didnt listen.
        In 2014 I went to the energy industry office in New York to meet with some old friends. They took me through what had been done in several large buildings since we were last on site.
        The empire state building had cut energy use by 54%.
        The key to the latest thinking and implimentations is that switching and market shift from HV side to the consumer side of the meter, combined with load management switching in the load side in the first 5 milli seconds of a frequency drop has changed the fame completely.

    • DevMac 5 years ago

      That’s a pretty potent stash you’re smoking

  7. Smurf1976 5 years ago

    For what it’s worth, Telstra obtained an electricity retail license many years ago but to my knowledge has never used it. Not sure if they still have it now but they’ve definitely had thoughts about going into the energy business for quite a while.

    On the other side of the coin, Tasmania’s electricity distributor went into the communications business years ago and has quite a few major users connected to its network as well as their own uses of it. At one point, Hydro and Aurora Energy were even running a joint venture telco offering services over both their own and Telstra’s network. Aurora also did some of the early NBN installation work and at one point had a proposal (which never eventuated) to pretty much take over the whole thing within Tas.

    So there has been at least some interest from both industries at getting into the other for quite some years now.

    • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

      Yes, it is a matter of current electricity providers getting the fingers out and act.

  8. Mark Spencer 5 years ago

    telstra is a criminal monopoly. a company rotten to the core.

    • phred01 5 years ago

      I am not a Hel$tra fanboy

    • MaxG 5 years ago

      I disagree, however, they are a capitalist corporation, and as such, have no social conscious… it is up to you to deal with them; I don’t and never will.

    • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

      I think your remark is plainly slanderous. Unlike many overseas companies Telstra is actually paying taxes and is supplying telecommunication services to outback communities. Please get your facts.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      Telstra is not a criminal monopoly, it is a monopoly created by the public service *in* the public service, then handed over to private hands for for-profit business for purely ideological reasons. How it could have avoided some rot in that benighted process beats me.

  9. phred01 5 years ago

    When they were govn’t owned the place was teaming with scientists & engineers who knew what they were doing. To day they sub everything out not sure if it is going to work

    • Geoff James 5 years ago

      Another view is that, as a result, they’re well placed to take on energy alongside their traditional activities. I spoke with Telstra about energy services 10 years ago and at that time it was too far outside their “core” business. That is now changed and, whatever personal views and experiences may be around, this offering will be a very significant step on a world scale. Happy to see Telstra try it out.

    • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

      Yes, and we paid an absolute fortune for phone calls. I do remember that a 3 minute phone call to Europe did cost me almost a days wages. No, I don’t want THESE good old days back.

      • Brian Tehan 5 years ago

        The reduction in telecommunications costs was due to technology, not privatisation or anything else. Telecommunications control has gone from mechanical devices to fully automated, maintenance free computers in 30 years or so. Likewise, the massive network of land and sea fibre has increased the capacity and decreased the costs by orders of magnitude.

        • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

          We can argue if Telstra is evil or good until chicken grow hairs, the fact remains that it is a great idea to have more competition in the electricity market. I rather see my money going to Telstra which pays taxes in Australia then to some unknown Billionaires in France or China.

          • Brian Tehan 5 years ago

            I agree! I think that Telstra knows more about planning for future technological change than most of the existing energy utilities with some notable exceptions, like Powershop – and Telstra have been smart enough to sign up their CEO.

  10. Sean Williams 5 years ago

    Interesting initiative from Telstra executive…

    Recently, I was part of an initiative to sell demand management solutions in Australia. The #1 conclusion I took away from this experience was that consumers were very willing to begin a conversation about how to improve their electricity ‘service offering’, but that offer had to come from a trusted source. On reading the article I was going to suggest that Telstra might be challenged on this front. But I think the comments below make that point.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      after our major energy utilities, Telstra would be right up there for companies Australians have problematic relations with and cannot wait to “stick it too”. they would pay upfront to do so — I’d second that.

      • david H 5 years ago

        Yes, recently moved from Sydney to a very nice place called Bonny Hills near Port Macquarie and unable to get a reliable land line service from Telstra. “Service” is handled by off-shore call centers who work on a “computer says” basis. Quick to sign up contracts but I am still waiting for the “service.” Any they are thinking of supplying electricity????

  11. MaxG 5 years ago

    Interesting or not… there will be no benefit for the customer (as in lower prices). This is a dog eats dog affair, where Telstra or other players will grab market share from the incumbents. The distributors remain the same, continuing to dictate what goes on on the network, what can connect and what can’t.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      yep, hopefully governments wake up and start on #gridRefromNow. Community ownership of network grids and more open access and less onerous costs might make them flourish rather than get caught in a death spiral.

  12. Alex 5 years ago

    It is likely that Elon Musk’s SpaceX reusable rockets will make putting telecommunications satellites into orbit cheap enough for him to challenge the Communications industry monopolies (making him more powerful than Murdoch) and Telstra are trying to undercut him on the energy sector in a preemptive strike.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      haha cold war.

  13. Ian 5 years ago

    What do Santa Clause, China, oil, and Telstra have in common? Peak consumerism. There is not another mobile phone, computer, plastic toy ,TV, car, petrol tank, Pizza, McDonald’s burger, coke, hotel, overseas trip that can be shoved down people’s throats. It’s like walking down Lygon street in Melbourne after you have eaten and seeing menu after menu of Italian style foods – nauseating. Telstra, like McDonald’s has run out of customers, so they are trying to horn-in on other’s territory “growing their business”.

    • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

      What is your choice? Overseas companies supplying everything?

      • david H 5 years ago

        We all want to support Australian companies but not if they are second rate.

        • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

          You mean the third rate raiders from overseas are more deserving?

          • david H 5 years ago

            I thought my English was reasonably clear but apparently not.
            Australian companies need to stay on top of their game. If they don’t they will leave themselves open to attack from foreign competitors.

          • DevMac 5 years ago

            Third rate suppliers from overseas are apparently good enough for Telstra to outsource to.

          • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

            Give us examples.

          • DevMac 5 years ago

            ZTE handsets. Overseas call centres for support.

        • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

          Telstra is hardly to blame for the absurdity of its obligations and its business model. We had a telecommunications system built for the public good by public institutions, which was carelessly and half-heartedly turned over to private ownership and a for-profit business model which obliged it to seek “efficiencies” and billing opportunities. A semi-sane attempt to return to a model of infrastructure in public hands, in the form of the NBN, was nobbled in much the same way as the Telstra privatisation was.

          Telstra’s competitors are less capable, but both more overt and more flexible in their need to compete in the marketplace. They can afford to be more customer-friendly, but because Telstra got the lion’s share of the legacy infrastructure simply by default, it is by necessity a defender and extender of its monopoly. The minor telcos in Australia therefore also can’t afford *not* to be more customer-friendly than Telstra.

          Telstra is the product but also the victim of ideology and party politics. Well actually, the real victims are the Australian public.

          • DevMac 5 years ago

            Well said JonathanMaddox.

      • Ian 5 years ago

        I think you missed my point, Beat, electricity companies and telco companies cannot grow their businesses any more because there is not the population to support them. peak consumption. This country has 63 GW of electricity generation for 23 million people. The UK has 76 GW for their population which is double the size of ours. Every Man, women and their pet dog has a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, PlayStation, Xbox, in this country, how is Telstra or the other telco’s going to expand their business into an over saturated market? They can try their hand at some other, barely related industry.

        Actually their idea is not as silly as it sounds. Mobile phones manufacturers have integrated numerous other functions besides telephones into their devices making an overpriced telephone into a desirable object. The car should undergo the same integration of features. Electric vehicles have a huge battery to provide range and are the perfect compliment to home electricity. Instead of paying $20000 for home battery storage and another $30 to 50 thousand for a battery car, just pay the one amount for both functions. Reliability? I think I hear you say, just take your EV to the nearest charging station and Voila, enough charge for the home for a night.

        This move of Telstra deserves a lot more thought. One of the features of distributed power generation network would be hubs and nodes. Suburbs, towns, retirement villages, master planned and gated communities would be ideally suited to mini grids having distributed and individually owned rooftop solar arrays with either central battery storage or distributed storage with a central gateway to the wider grid. Telstra has exchanges in these sorts of dwelling clusters with battery storage, why not just dual purpose the battery and supply a mini grid Central battery storage?, Telstra with its big corporation clout can then negotiate a better energy deal with the wider network on behalf of its client community. ” brilliant Harry” Telstra would be looking for innovation initially and would not be bogged down by network costs or FF generation, and could be a good renewables ally in building a distributed electricity generation network.

  14. Roger Brown 5 years ago

    Telstra ! Ha ha ha Ha ha

  15. BsrKr11 5 years ago

    A logical move….

  16. Solar Sparky 5 years ago

    One has to wonder if their energy services would be any more reliable than their phone services? Yesterday’s “technical hitch” where one technician made a single mistake that took out Telstra mobiles across the country is a case in point.
    And that’s before I make any sort of comment about their so-called customer service.

  17. Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

    The Telstra of today is a different Telstra 10 years ago. It is a global communication company and I have nothing against an Australian company based in Australia with Australian shareholders paying taxes and dividends in Australia . I rather see Telstra do well instead an offshoot of overseas corporations. It seems that Telstra want to become an organisation pushing for 100% renewable energy. If the solutions offered by Telstra are not competitive and fair, customers will go or remain with other suppliers. I think we should support any push for more renewable energy.

    • DevMac 5 years ago

      Telstra don’t have a good reputation for competitive offerings. Telstra are the ‘default’ provider for communications because most people don’t do the research. Telstra even had a series of TV ads saying “just get Telstra to do it”.
      The monopoly position Telstra has, and their behaviour as a result, removes much of the polish provided by all the Australian-ownership facts you mention. This is not unexpected behaviour for a private company with a monopoly, however, so whilst I find it frustrating, it’s entirely predictable and the reality we find ourselves in.

      • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

        If you ever travel across Australia you will find out that in many places there is only Telstra. Most other companies are “eye picking” the business in urban location. Competition is fierce in the telecommunication industry and Telstra has massive global telecommunication conglomerates chasing its heels. The only true monopolies we have are electricity distribution companies and they need competition.

      • Beat Odermatt 5 years ago

        You have a choice. In many areas of Australia you may have to use pigeons for communication but nobody forces you to use Telstra.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      Rose-coloured glasses much? Telstra’s infrastructure, its expertise and its customer base are 80-90% the same as it inherited from the public service businesses Telecom Australia and OTC of 30 years ago. Things went very sour quite smoothly and quickly as it transitioned to private hands and the for-profit business model in the 1990s; perhaps there has been a *slight* improvement in management and technical efficiency in recent years, but I find that doubtful on the whole, especially given the sheer corruption evident in Telstra’s blatant political interference with the attempt to bring a new generation of public-service infrastructure into existence wholesale in public hands — all of which has happened in just the last six years.

      Perhaps even the threat of real competition from public-sector NBN infrastructure has been a catalyst for real reform within Telstra? I have no idea.

  18. Chris Marshalk 5 years ago

    Whatever product Telstra comes out with, it won’t be cheap or competitive.

  19. Pfitzy 5 years ago

    Telstra have traded for years in the telecommunications sector on being trustworthy and having superior support and coverage for the people who need it. That’s why they have higher prices for everything, firstly to justify that support, and secondly because they can.

    As a technical person, I didn’t need their kind of help, so have never used them. My wife prefers them for her 4G service because of coverage, and the pricing has become better than what it was, but their internet plans for home are still overpriced rubbish.

    It will be interesting to see if they have learned their lessons in bundling these services together have been learned, particularly as the technical expertise they need to take on configuration of inverter, battery management, and storage systems is not straightforward “out of the box” like e.g. a DSL modem or Foxtel box.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      “they have higher prices for everything … because they can.”

      Because they inherited a near-total monopoly on infrastructure and customer contracts from the public service, they can, yes.

      “inverter, battery management, and storage systems is not straightforward “out of the box”” — oh, it will be before you know it 🙂

      • Pfitzy 5 years ago

        Yes, and effectively the name “Telecom” which so many of us grew up with as the only way to speak to someone distant!

        I have no doubt there will be acceleration towards streamlined systems and installation BUT at the moment, like early Windows PCs, there are still too many manufacturers out there spruiking gear.

        The installation of my Powerwall with SolarEdge inverter and battery manager still required a few tweaks, for example, and was an interesting process. A lot to be learned in the next 12 months, and a lot of skilling up for the sparkies who know solar, but don’t know IoT.

        It could be that Telstra’s decision to go with a specific brand of gear will tip the market in that direction. Hopefully their overpricing sets up other providers to capitalise on the market growth and everyone benefits.

  20. Andrew Pedler 5 years ago

    Can anyone advise me what type(s) of batteries Telstra: a) is currently using, b) is planning to use; in its solar-storage systems? e.g. Pb-acid, NiH, NiOH, Li-ion ? et al ??

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