Networks launch grid PR push as battery storage looms

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With battery storage set to boom, the Energy Networks Association has launched a website to remind consumers why they still need the grid. But the question consumers really want answered is why they are still paying so much for it.

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Australia’s electricity networks are launching a major public relations push, promoting the benefits of the electricity grid just as the battery storage market appears set to take off.

The Energy Networks Association – on behalf of the state and privately owned networks – has launched a new website called “Hello Grid” featuring sponsored stories highlighting the benefits of the grid, and its embrace of new technologies.

The campaign comes as the networks sector faces the biggest threat to its business model in decades, with 2016 expected to usher in unprecedented uptake of battery storage in a country which already has the highest penetration of rooftop solar in the world.

hello grid

Australia is already attracting the global product launches of a number of international battery storage developers – most notably Tesla and Enphase, and a host of other new products. Local battery storage manufacturers such as RedFlow compare the uptake of battery storage to the arrival of the internet more than a decade ago.

The ENA – of course – argues that the grid is an essential service and that customers should remain connected, even if they have battery storage. It is even promoting electric vehicles as a means to sell electricity back to the grid. Clearly, it wants storage to be used to deepen the relationship with the networks, rather than as means to leave them.

Few would disagree with the idea of the grid being the preferred option, because an existing asset would surely be the most efficient way of delivering and sharing energy.

But the issue for networks is the cost of that service, and whether the industry is truly competitive with new technologies.

A more than doubling in network costs over recent years has underpinned soaring electricity bills, and the combination of high electricity prices, network tariffs, and excellent solar resources is making Australia one of the most prospective markets in the world for battery storage.

The networks say they are trying to frame tariffs so that they are “cost reflective”, but some of the actions have been heavy-handed – raising fixed charges, attempting to hit solar households with extra charges, fiddling with data, and putting in restrictions on new technologies. Critics say the tariffs are anything but cost reflective, and in some cases simply a means to collect revenue and to slow down the uptake of disruptive technologies.

All this is happening while the primary cause of the expanded grid – the rush to air conditioning – remains largely undressed, along with other massive cross-subsidies between city and regional consumers.

It is the combination of all this that is inspiring many consumers to consider leaving the grid altogether. And as battery costs fall – and all analysts, most recently Lazard, predict at least a 50 per cent fall in coming years – then many others may follow.

A major study conducted by the CSIRO and the networks in 2012 highlighted the risks involved for the network. The Future Grid report pointed to a scenario where half of all demand would come from “local generation”, and hailed the rise of the “pro-sumer” – consumers who also produce their own electricity.

But it also warned that if networks failed to adapt, then up to one-third of their customer base could choose to leave the grid.

The networks, while seeking to change tariff structures, have rejected calls for them to write down the inflated value of their assets. They have even flagged potential “penalties” for people who do choose to leave the grid, and have sought changes in depreciation allowances that would allow them to recoup the cost of their investment more quickly.

An updated study is due to be released by the CSIRO and ENA in early December. The results will be fascinating to see.

One of the biggest arguments against grid defection is on cost; the incumbent utilities argue that the “return on investment” will not be compelling for many years. But others wonder if consumers care. When they choose a fridge, a TV, or even a car, they rarely consider ROIs. Who’s to say they would not do the same for battery storage and solar?

Hence the need for Hello Grid. The ENA says it is designed to provide information about the initiatives being taken on the networks, the introduction of new technologies, and the transition to a “smart grid”.

As part of the campaign, ENA has sponsored a series of articles on Gizmodo promoting new technologies, as well as posts from other bloggers.

It has a range of resources, including a quiz, which it uses to underpin its principal points – that the grid is essential and reliable, and that rooftop solar, for all the installations, plays a minor role in total production.

“While incredible numbers of Australians are installing rooftop solar, it produced about 3 per cent of our electricity consumption in 2014/15, or 5052 gigawatt-hours,” the website says.

Grid operators, however, suggest that at current rates of uptake, rooftop solar could be meeting all daytime demand in states such as Western Australia and South Australia within a decade.

And how reliable is the grid? Very reliable: “The entire Australian grid provides reliable supply without outages for 99.95 per cent of the year (on average),” the quiz answer notes, adding that blackouts are usually caused by “natural disasters” and the grid “provides the backbone of our economy and our connection to a cleaner energy future.”

It adds: “Did you know that the Australian electricity networks could go around the world 22 times, or to the moon and back?”

Some would say that is too long, and there might be smarter ways of doing this – local generation, micro-grids etc, and by encouraging networks to invest in alternative technologies, such as battery storage, rather than building more poles and wires.

But the rule setter – the Australian Energy Markets Commission – has punted any such changes until the next regulatory period, beginning in 2019/20. Meanwhile, the networks are likely to be allowed to spend another $50 billion in the coming five years, despite claims that this is too much.

The government-owned NSW networks, however, want to spend more, and have taken their complaints to court, reportedly spending 10s of millions in legal fees taking on the Australian Energy Regulator and consumer groups.

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  1. Jazzer 4 years ago

    remains largely undressed?

  2. phred01 4 years ago

    Having a reasonable sized solar pv & wind 500$ network fee will cover the running of a cost fossil gen set to cover to days of no wind or solar!

  3. Maurice Oldis 4 years ago

    What is “smart” about current grids-except the built-in rip-off charging system these monopolies have been allowed to get away with!

  4. Ken Dyer 4 years ago

    This article puts into context the rude letter I received from United Energy reminding me in no uncertain terms of my legal obligations to ensure that my rooftop PV system, that is connected to their poles and wires, complies with the Electricity Distribution code, Electricity Safety Act and relevant Australian Standards.

    When, not if I install my battery system to enhance my current electrical generation system (fully inspected under the requirements of the Renewable Energy(electricity) Act 2000), I will ensure that all legal and connection standards are met, using an accredited electrician because if not, United Energy can refuse connection.

    I have not yet pointed out to them that when I install my battery system in the very near future, I will ensure that I have enough capacity to provide uninterrupted power from my electrical generation system for at least 48 to 72 hours without recharging.

    Thus, I will potentially have little need for their overpriced poles and wires that have been subject to inconvenient, unexplained, and intermittent power failures and outages on a number of occasions in the past.

    • juxx0r 4 years ago

      Should have sent them a letter that they are welcome to inspect it subject to you being present for the inspection and that you will be home for half an hour between Monday and Thursday from 8AM-5PM. But that they are welcome to wait in the drive for those three days incase you turn up.

  5. BsrKr11 4 years ago

    Just pure propaganda. .. once you understand how and why prices rose over last 5 years you find it hard to believe anything these guys say ….

  6. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    The threat of urban dwellers leaving the grid just isn’t the death spiral they are making it out to be. But they should be honest with themselves and us … if they are sincere about making the grid smarter (rather than just high capacity for attractive tariff returns) they should NOT be treating PV customers any different to any other. They should in fact be making the grid more attractive to prosumers. But will they get the hint in time ?

  7. Math Geurts 4 years ago

    “Residential PV plus storage is exciting, too, but demand here does not have the same price sensitivity as the utility case and thus won’t grow quite as rapidly as prices fall. Of course, economic considerations are certainly also important in the residential case, but not quite as much. High prices will deter some people from making an investment, but the primary motive for getting rooftop solar plus storage is the seemingly universal desire to become “independent”, even if all of these homes, very sensibly, still rely on the grid for final backup”

  8. Math Geurts 4 years ago

    “In reality, it is rare to find commentators, even within the solar industry, that consider grid defection a viable reality or even desirable logical outcome to the ongoing displacement of high emissions sources of energy. Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower told PV Tech Storage last year that he sees grid independence or defection as a “naïve” concept, while SolarCity executive Peter Rive has said that his company sees working with utilities and the grid as the most logical next step. Rive has said that placing the control of batteries in the hands of utilities and transmission and distribution system operators could give them the necessary tools to deliver the grid of the future”

    • Jim Young 4 years ago

      Seems true enough, but I’m looking at all the advantages robust systems can demonstrate in more isolated areas, resorts, etc. I’d love to see (and maybe even invest in) “Solar Resorts” or communities that might actually be able to lead large productivity gains by skipping the big central grid based development, working from smaller or even individual sources that can develop more local and resilient grids. Cuba, and other less developed countries may show the greatest difference/gains, while I always look to Australia as possibly the best mix of development and wide spread sources vs users. In Europe, I’d compare Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland, for the range of levels of support for solar (a lot to none) and the effects on how the tougher fights actually might stimulate even greater concentration on better very small producers,as independent of grids as possible. France went nuclear because of the oil embargo, and seems to have had a best technology fit for the times as far as nuclear, but I would want to address what seems to be a shift away from rigorous controls and training towards “trained monkeys” expected to keep the public perception of well run plants and safety concerns.

      I have been a fan of what seemed the best new nuclear as in SMR types and particularly the Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactors that could reduce so much of the nuclear waste we left in the worst form imaginable. After talking to nuclear technicians, engineers or their family members, though, my concerns have become much more in line with what I think Elon Musk’s reservations are. The potential is there, but the regulatory environment, training, and honest oversight seems to have become too corrupted to trust that they would even keep up to the older standards and practices, much less improve them. Unless they can change the corrupted direction they seem headed in, I’d have to say no to even the best of the new nuclear.

  9. Ray Miller 4 years ago

    The term ‘cost reflective’ pricing has been very much abused by the incumbents, as has been pointed out, 10’s of kWs of load can be added onto any end grid connection without any ‘cost reflective’ charges applied to the offending party even when the industry claims that each and every air conditioner added to the grid cost them more than $10,000 in poles and wires. The response of ‘cost reflective’ charges is to slug all connections close to $500 (and rising) per year regardless of usage and what is connected.

    I do not have air conditioning and only use 1MWh per year yet get charged as though I used 20MWh per year.

    The ENA has lost the plot, a very greedy mob of leaches especially when the product they have to sell contains so much carbon emissions especially in Vic with the of brown coal plants.
    If the ENA product was 100% renewables I would not be complaining, but it is not!

  10. Jim Young 4 years ago

    Has anyone noticed a problem(?) like we have in the USA with getting (or keeping) land line telephones? Isn’t that a “grid” that has become too expensive to keep adding to or even maintaining, losing the claimed convenience and reliability advantages to cell phones?

    I seem to recall central steam heating plants were once the choice for many facilities like military bases, hospitals, large apartment complexes, office buildings, etc. They seemed the way to reduce the costs to the operators and tenants (and have even improved a lot with better Combined Heat and Power plants), but now, instead of just reducing costs, it seems they seek far higher profits/rents so the tenants costs are relatively much higher than they need to be (from the renters point of view).

    The profiteers, trying to grow profits from fossil fuels, no matter the consequences, seem to me something like tour guides for Mastodon victims to the Tar Pits. I wonder if our remains will be as well preserved.

    • Math Geurts 4 years ago

      Living off-grid: a “disease” of affluence”

      Indian Villagers Protest ‘Fake’ Solar Energy From Greenpeace-Built Microgrid

      • Jim Young 4 years ago

        “The Daily Caller”? Perhaps we need to get some eyes we trust on the scene. I recall something about Enron claiming their “loses” in India back around the turn of the century were due to massive number of grid thieves illegally tapping into the grid. From what I could see, it seemed there was a thriving level of corruption connected with the grids, and many supposed police and pirates helping the thieves for all sorts of reasons and bribes.

        I would think local solar would be less susceptible to such tapping into, though it might be more so to thieves that steal the panels and other equipment (like the flat panel monitors were around here when they first came out). The huge reductions in price seem to have reduced the thefts to negligible amounts, as I would expect them to do so for solar panels (thieves can’t get the prices they used to, so they are less worth stealing).

        Are those Villagers fake grass roots groups, or simply oversold on the “benefits” of tying their futures to profiteers more than being essentially energy independent?

  11. Math Geurts 4 years ago

    “A theoretical example would be a disappointed consumer whose power-limited Tesla Powerwall trips off because it can’t simultaneously power the HVAC, refrigerator, and flatscreen TV, even though it has the energy to do so”

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