Australia’s $100 million smart grid trial under the spotlight


Peter Garrett,
Australia’s Minister
for Environment
Canberra, Australia — (METERING.COM) — July 27, 2009 – The Australian government’s Au$100 million (US$81.8 million) National Energy Efficiency Initiative (NEEI) Smart Grid, Smart City project came under the spotlight last week with industry and community groups gathering at locations across Australia to discuss project options and opportunities.

The Smart Grid, Smart City initiative, which will deploy a commercial scale smart grid trial, is aimed at gathering information and data to inform a broader industry rollout of smart grids across Australia, and building public and corporate awareness of the economic, technological and environmental benefits of smart grids.

It also will enable synergies to be investigated with water and gas networks, and the rollout of the national broadband network.

The workshops held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane were designed to gather the views of industry and community representatives across the four broad themes of objectives for the Smart Grid, Smart City demonstration, the potential benefits of the project, program design, and potential barriers to overcome for broader smart grid rollout in Australia.

Participants agreed that it was important to be clear on the objectives of the initiative and that the objectives which are chosen will dictate how the rollout is designed. However, while many options were suggested, no clear consensus emerged as to what the objectives should be.

The four clear benefits that emerged as being of most interest were reliability, cost, environmental benefits, and consumer empowerment. Moreover, there are critical links between these benefits. For example, energy efficiency across the grid leads to environmental benefits by reducing electricity use and carbon emissions and to cost benefits by reducing the network investment required to meet the peak demand on the grid.

Participants emphasized that they believed the consortium to deliver the initiative should be selected through a competitive tender process. Many also felt that because of variations in climate, geography, network architecture and customer behavior amongst Australian markets, there is a need to do multiple rollouts in a variety of locations, rather than a large scale rollout at a single location, to get results that could be applied to the majority of Australia. The numbers suggested for the required scale were from 5,000 to 100,000 endpoints.

It was generally agreed that the current regulatory regime discourages speculative or R&D investment in smart grid technology in favor of more traditional “poles and wires” investments in increasing network capacity. Uncertainty over a standards interoperability protocol, the lack of radio frequency spectrum available to the energy industry, and security and privacy also were identified as important issues that would need to be addressed to enable the rollout of smart grid technologies across Australia.

The Smart Grid, Smart City initiative will be delivered through Australia’s Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) in conjunction with the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Minister for Environment Peter Garrett said the initiative was an exciting and important step in transforming the way Australian homes and businesses use, save and store energy, and that consulting with stakeholders was an important first step for the project.

“Stakeholders recognize that smart grids are new territory, and are feeding strong ideas into the trial’s pre-deployment study,” said Garrett, adding that the government is moving quickly and intends to make further announcements about the Smart Grid, Smart City trial over the coming months.

According to the workshop documentation the pre-deployment study is due to be completed by the end of August, with the release of the proposed program guidelines and a call for proposals expected to follow in October.