Ausgrid looks to community batteries, getting “closer” to consumers

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Networks have gone from raising the drawbridge to lowering it, inviting new technologies and ideas on to their platform. Soon they’ll be competing for the consumer.

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The NSW-based distribution network Ausgrid says it is looking at building “community-style” battery storage facilities as it looks to get “closer to consumers” and help usher in the next stage of the energy transition.

CEO Richard Gross, in an interview with RenewEconomy ahead of a presentation at the AFR Energy Summit on Monday, says the network operator is investigating how “community storage” – installed in the network’s subs stations – can serve the needs of both the networks and consumers.

“I see a world where I am sitting at home with an app, seeing opportunities to trade, to arbitrage price movements, and all this can be done while I am sitting watching Game of Thrones,” Gross says.

Exactly how these platforms work, and the business models that will underpin them, is yet to evolve. “There will be stuff we haven’t thought of,” he says.

But Ausgrid, and other networks, intend get in on the ground floor, as they intend to do with all the possibilities created by electric vehicles, charging networks and vehicle-to-grid.

After all, they own the network. And while Gross won’t go as far as other network operators have said in the past, and declare no future for the traditional “gentailers” that combine centralised generation and retail operations, he says he is pretty happy to be boss of a network.

“If you look back 10 years ago, it was about the death spiral on grids,” Gross says. “Now grids are a big part of the solution in allowing renewable energy to connect, and a big part of giving customers options for what they want to do.”

Is the network then the future, rather than the gentailers?

“I can’t comment on that. The grid is a pretty good spot to be. Over time there will be more usage of grid, more substations, more peer-to-peer trading across the grid. That will facilitate the future much more so than the retailers.”

It’s a remarkable transition for the network operators in general. A few years ago, as Gross mentioned, the great fear was grid defection. Now, it looks to be load defection as individual consumers become their own generators.

But they need the grid to be able to share energy and trade with others. So the networks have gone from raising the drawbridge to lowering it, inviting new technologies and ideas on to their platform.

They see a role in the future, with much more clarity than the generators and retailers, and sooner or later they are going to be competing for access to the consumer – something the likes of the big three gen-tailers have been fighting for years.

“Over time we would like to have more direct access to the customer. You start to wonder why, if mum is trading with her neighbour, does she have any need for the retailer to be there.”

“Over time, the distributors will get closer to the customer. Various business models will allow that to occur …. and the current distinction between retail and distribution will blur.”

Giles Parkinson is founder and editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, and is also the founder of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and founder/editor of www.TheDriven.io. Giles has been a journalist for 35 years and is a former business and deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review.

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