Towards Australia’s energy future – the enabling role of smart grids


Robin Eckermann,
Chairman, Smart
Grid Australia
Sydney, Australia — (METERING.COM) — September 18, 2012 – Due to the far reaching benefits on offer, there is justification to accelerate the modernization and automation of Australia’s electricity grid and to promote competitive consumer engagement, according to a new review from Smart Grid Australia.

However, there are impediments to the transition that must be overcome, but following the recommendations will ensure that progress occurs as rapidly and as quickly as possible.

The paper, Towards Australia’s Energy Future – The Enabling Role of Smart Grids, sets out a vision to accelerate the development of smart grids in Australia and the country’s transition to a low carbon economy.

Challenges that Australia’s electricity industry faces include maintenance of ageing infrastructure, the integration of next generation technologies and renewable energy sources, recovery of the cost of past long term investment, and establishment of a market structure that supports competitive consumer choice.

Whilst these represent imperatives for change, they also represent opportunities to not only modernize energy networks but to also deliver new products and services to meet the unique needs and wants of all Australians. Thus, while exactly how the future will unfold and the pace of change is unknown, the broad direction is clear. The installation of renewables will increase, homes will get smarter, energy efficiency is becoming important and there will be a growing uptake of electric vehicles (EVs).

There are, however, a number of challenges that need to be addressed if progress is to be expedited. A significant challenge facing the deployment of smart grid technologies across energy networks is encouraging and nurturing effective collaboration between all the interested parties: distributors and retailers, consumers, the wider business community (including vendors) and government.

Another is that many of the smart grid technologies are relatively new and either have not yet been used in energy networks at scale, or represent a significant step-change in capability. Distributors are testing a number of these technologies to understand how they can fit together in the Australian environment – including in the Smart Grid, Smart City project. What needs further quantification is how the benefits of these technologies can be leveraged across the network at scale, and which parties will specifically gain the benefits.

It is also anticipated that smart grid technologies, coupled with open market policies that encourage competition where appropriate, will stimulate the market and attract new participants to develop and offer innovative products and services across the electricity value chain. To facilitate new entrants bringing breakthrough innovations, the ‘playing field’ needs to be level so they can compete equally with established participants.

Finally, a challenge that the electricity industry routinely faces is recruiting personnel to fill positions as staff move or retire. The changing nature of skill requirements will exacerbate this challenge.

“(Smart Grid Australia’s) statement provides the foundation for an action program to make a positive difference in Australia’s progress towards smart grids,” says its chairman Robin Eckermann in a commentary on the vision statement. “All stakeholders and members of SGA will benefit from the success of SGA’s program – whether they be utilities looking to upgrade their networks, technology suppliers, research and development organizations, or simply consumers wanting a reliable supply at the most efficient cost.”