There is no better time to reflect on the recent past, and to wonder about the future, than the beginning of a new year. For the energy market, talk of disruption gets louder every month. In 2015, this is what we can expect:
- Battery prices will start their freefall sometime this year. Do you remember June 2011? Solar power prices still hovered above $4,500/kW in much of Australia, it was considered eco-bling and an marginal annoyance for energy companies. You did solar, because there was free money in it from Governments. I remember June 2011 well. I finished one job and started another, and over the next four months, I had to update my financial model on a zero emission housing project three times as the price of solar kept plummeting. Once I had quotes for $3,000/kW after rebates, I knew something had changed forever. I knew solar power would be the cheapest form of electricity supply for residential and small business customers. All the talk from wholesale suppliers of batteries are that prices are coming down in 2015, and we are not talking about 10% discounts when you buy in bulk. The battery-price-freefall is coming.
- Consumer concerns about stranded energy market assets affecting power prices for those left on the grid will hit the mainstream and mass media on a regular basis. Julia Gillard was forced to weigh in on peak demand and rising network costs, using the harbour bridge analogy to explain bottlenecked grids. Turns out the bridge was just tinted gold and not blocked at all. At a minimum, in 2015 state government premiers will be forced to allay the fears of consumer groups and citizens, to convince them a plan is in place to equitably, and efficiently, manage the transition of energy markets. Tony Abbot will probably try to blame the greens.
- One brave network company will decide to sell off a regional network asset, probably at a loss, as they attempt to stay ahead of the utility death spiral and protect the market position of their more viable assets in the suburbs, repeating the well worn historical path of market incumbents retreating to their strongholds when competition gets tough. They will maintain a role in managing and maintaining that asset, but ownership will switch hands either to an overseas buyer with money to burn, or locals who are serious about their community and ensuring energy infrastructure serves their needs. The project will entail switching to a locally managed micro-grid, and may get funded through the demand management incentive scheme, or may just stack up on its own
- The innovators will continue to stir the pot.
Happy New Year Australia, your energy market is changing, may energy democracy be on your side.
Tosh Szatow is director, Energy for the People