How you can help stabilise our electricity grid!

How you can help stabilise our electricity grid!

Last week the Energy Security Board (ESB) released its annual health report of Australia's National Electricity Market.  This annual health check report was a recommendation put forward by Dr Alan Finkel from an independent review into Australia's Future Security of the National Electricity Market.  Enough jargon, lets get into what the report found!

The single most significant finding from this report is how the ESB classified the state of the NEM in 19/20 against objective #2 of 'secure electricity and gas system'.  It classified the NEM as 'critical' when it comes to security of electricity and gas for this period.  The report found the highest level of market directions (requests by AEMO to generators to increase or decrease their electricity generation) were made in this period compared with any previous year.  Here is a chart from what they were talking about.

This is concerning and illustrates how our grid is undergoing a significant shift towards renewables.  More technically, the grid is also experiencing over-voltage from intermittent electricity generation.  Meaning the more rooftop Solar we install, the more people will be affected by over-voltage issues.  The result of over-voltage is inverters shutting down for periods of time throughout the day resulting in lower generation. A good explanation of this is written here by MC Electrical.

With all of this in mind, there are some small and big changes we can all make to increase the security of our collective grid. Here's my list depending on your appetite and budget!

1. Lower your energy use during peak summer periods

During peak consumption (typically over summer with consecutively hot days) the grid can reach its peak and at times load shedding is undertaken to reduce the load on the grid. Load shedding is where AEMO instruct distributors to shutdown parts of their network to reduce the demand on the grid.  Although this is a last resort by AEMO, it prevents total collapse of the grid.

What can you do?

  • Increase the temperature on your Air Conditioner to 25C or 26C during the afternoon peak (4pm to 6pm), or turn it off completely (this is ideal for the grid, least ideal for us hot humans).  Some research here found increasing your AC to 26C has a similar cooling effect than a low-set AC when combined with a fan. True story.

  • Turn off any high-draw appliances you have running for a few hours (washing machines, dishwashers, hot water heat pumps, pool pumps).  Alternatively place these appliances on timers to run during the middle of the day.

2. Switch to a 'demand response' program

Demand response is used to help control the high network loads on the grid during peak times.  There are different demand response methods including an energy retailer controlling your smart-appliances (Air Conditioners are most common here) or smart-devices (battery storage) in some way to balance the grid.  Typically these events occur over summer and during peak times.  This detailed analysis of the peak summer demand describes the impact of Solar PV on peak demand times.

What are my options?
There are a few incarnations of demand response, depending on where you live and your retailer and distributor, including;

  • Smart Appliances - Your energy retailer will remotely control your smart-appliances (commonly Air Conditioners) to either shutdown or enable an energy efficiency mode.  This reduces the load on the grid.  In return, you would receive a credit on the initial purchase of the appliance.  

    If you live in Queensland and have an Air Conditioner or are looking to buy a new AC, checkout the PeakSmart program.  This is a smart-technology which enables the energy distributor to control your AC during peak network demand. Retailers Energex and Ergon offer this program.

    For the rest of the country, there are some pilot programs you may be able to join which allow smart-devices to be controlled.  These include ACs, pool pumps, solar PV, batteries. This is an emerging technology so we may need to be patient. Check out Amber Electric Smart Shift and deX Energy.

  • Virtual Power Plants - A Virtual Power Plant (VPP) is a distributed connected network of batteries (with a battery installed at your house) where the retailer can charge or discharge your battery when they need to, in order to stabilise the grid.  In return you receive a financial incentive (perhaps a capital reduction on the initial purchase and/or an ongoing credit to your account).

    There are many VPP programs around, check out this blog from Solar Quotes here which gives a solid breakdown of all the VPP options, eligibility and financial incentives.

  • Behaviour Response Programs- The final method is more passive and involves an energy retailer sending you notifications during high network load at which you can opt to shutdown your appliances for a period of time, in return for a financial credit.  This usually means shutting off your Air Conditioner or any other high-draw appliances for a short while

    You can switch to an energy retailer who offers financial incentives to reduce your energy consumption during these peak events.  Two of these retailers include; Powershop Curb-Your-Power and AGL Peak Energy Rewards.

3. Self-manage your Solar PV and Battery Storage

The ESB report highlights the transition away from conventional non-renewable dispatchable power such as dirty coal.  If your budget allows, installing your own grid-connected Solar array can provide excess energy to the grid when you're not using it. Though with a worsening feed-in-tariff, it's worth thinking about how to better use this energy you're generating from your Solar array.

What are my options?

  • Install a Solar PV array - By installing your own Solar PV array you can reduce your demand on the grid.  This is fairly evident, so I'll move on.

  • Install a grid-connected battery - still an exy option but gives you the benefit to discharge at peak times and charge throughout the day.  This not only lowers your draw from the grid, it also means you'll be paying for lower tariffs when you do draw from the grid.  If you're considering adding a battery to your existing Solar PV system, it might be worth checking out if a Virtual Power Plant might work for you too.

  • Schedule your appliances - Run your appliances during the times your generating energy from Solar PV array. This article I wrote earlier in the year explains this.  This is a perfect option for washing machines, dishwashers, all heat pumps, pool pumps when you don't have a battery.  It'll require a habit change and perhaps a few timers will help too.

Well there you go, a few things you can do to help manage our grid over this summer.  

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