July 15, 2020

Energy Consumption – A Consumer Outlook

By Gerald V. Spence

Though not generally a political type, some of the stories I am reading about the energy market give me pause for energy consumption into the future.

This seriousness will result in a mostly wordy bit of prose, quoting some people and websites more clever and studied than I, with no pictures (sorry).

The leadout story this week from my point of view was Giles Parkinson at Renew Economy, discussing the QLD regulator’s rejection of the increase to FiT (feed in tariff).

The findings of the QPC are not a surprise, given its past and current attitude to solar and the networks generally. It and other state-based regulators are criticised for seeking only to protect the interests of the incumbent network operators and gen-tailers.

There is even talk in the report of cuts to tariffs, rather than a holistic approach toward balancing energy consumption and transport patterns.

Those who consume energy can also produce it, after all. Clean power sold for energy consumption locally has a wide range of benefits, not the least of which is reduction in future infrastructure investment costs (which consumers will bear).

NEM annual consumption

When you also consider the health benefits of low-carbon energy, you start producing a compelling financial argument beyond comparing (green) apples with (carbon) apples.

Big economies like China and India could derail The Paris Agreement for the rest of us, if they continue as-is. The good news is, those countries are considering implications beyond cost-benefit of network and employment, on behalf of their growing populations as energy consumption increases.

It would be grossly unfair if the West denied these growing economies, particularly in the Third World, a chance to power their nations. The question is whether we let them continue with old technology, or help lead them with new, to the benefit of all.

If I may digress gleefully for a moment, another article from Giles at Renew Economy has some of the best quotes I’ve ever seen in regard to Base Load power, from the Chairman of Chinese State Grid Liu Zhenya:

… fundamental solution was to accelerate clean energy, with the aim of replacing coal and oil. … the only hurdle to overcome [for base load power] is ‘mindset’ … there’s no technical challenge at all.

When you consider he was addressing a group heavily invested in oil and gas, that is solid gold from Mr Liu.

And yet, here in Australia we have campaigns running like Little Black Rock which purports to fly in and save our way of life. That is in spite of coal tanking globally, putting several projects by local and foreign companies under threat.

Indian company Adani, who were due to develop the massively controversial Carmichael coal mine, are looking to shift their focus to renewables, as one example.

Which brings me to the next in a long line of great article quotes from Renew Economy, this time in relation to something a little closer to home.

AGL is now working with 68 households in Carrum Downs, Victoria, to get a better understanding of energy management technology, solar, and storage.  The trial is aimed at reshaping grid usage through smarter use of devices, as Jason Clark from AGL says:

“If peak demand can be reshaped through minor changes to customer behaviour, network companies may be able to delay or avoid major investment that would put upward pressure on energy prices, while maintaining the same levels of supply reliability,”

This is a very interesting move from a retailer, and parallels a development in my own little world.

A few weeks ago, a nice chap from Endeavour Energy called to see how the Powerwall was going. After some general enthusiasm from both parties, the point was reached: they wanted data about household energy consumption as it relates to storage. They wanted my help to prepare for their infrastructure planning.

I’m usually pretty wary of these things, and I know some would be tempted to laugh in their face and bid them good day.

Yet, I agreed, and expect my install to be joined by others.

It is important that the infrastructure companies understand what is coming from a planning and engineering point of view, first and foremost. This will hopefully give them insight into how to most efficiently build future networks.

Stop sniggering, you lot. I’m serious!

I accept that the electricity retailers, in particular, will try and jack prices up in response to decreased revenue from people going solar at an accelerated pace. However, at the same time, purchase cost for solar hybrid will drop through research, development, and most importantly competition.

The next logical step for the energy triumvirate (government, wholesalers, retailers) would probably be removal of subsidies for renewables. This creates an environment where solar is suddenly more expensive, and so people stay on the grid, and state-based energy consumption.

I would argue that removal of subsidies is inevitable as the cost dives, and the government starts looking at penny pinching (they’re not going near negative gearing for a while at least). The only question is timing. Will the consumer market make this move possible before the electricity Illuminati ask for it?

(wait – elecminati? Uh… nope… )

Overarching all this, home electricity storage is moving into the mainstream. Large companies like Samsung, Panasonic, and LG are on board after seeing what a host of smaller ventures could achieve.

A suite of electric cars will be coming onto the market over the next few years, from mainstream manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Daimler as well as the continued development from Tesla, the Model 3.

Regardless of the engineering shortcomings of Lithium batteries pointed out by some very clever people, this isn’t a science fair. With apologies to The Simpsons, you don’t win friends with a big steel box, full of lead-acid gel cells weighing 50kg each. Consumers won’t go there in numbers.

If they did, companies like AGL would have run consumer trials years ago. Endeavour Energy wouldn’t ring nerds like me to see if they could, pretty please, get some data out of my system. The game has changed. A sexy, compact lithium battery with enough media coverage has seen to that.

In the near future, the government will have angry energy retailers on one side, and big corporates on the other, both looking for profits.

The government will have to start thinking, and hard. Particularly as consumers are presented with more, and cheaper, options for managing consumption of their energy.

And, just quietly, a penchant for throwing out incumbent governments…

We may have some short-term pain as our present members of parliament flap their arms about renewable energy, complain about imaginary wind farm illnesses, and so on. They have lobby funding to protect, after all.

This year feels like its going to be massive for renewables in Australia, and across the world. All it needs is companies like AGL and Endeavour Energy to continue to reach out to customers. At the same time, we should be involved willingly, to ensure that we’re getting a say or at least know what is going on.

Meanwhile, all of us need to start putting pressure on governments to get with the program. Follow websites like Renew Economy and One Step Off The Grid to stay informed about the news, views, and general interest stories.

Look at your energy consumption. Check your power bills and see if there is something better out there for you. Educate yourself, and others, to make a difference.