Smart grids help energy suppliers to better manage peak loads, reduce the risk of black-outs during peak-use periods, improve the reliability of electricity supply, and more effectively incorporate renewable and distributed energies such as wind, solar and cogeneration

by Lynne Blundell

The federal government this week announced the next step in its plan to overhaul Australia’s energy grid, which it says will reduce home energy bills, reduce carbon pollution and help tackle climate change. But, while green groups have welcomed the government’s national energy efficiency initiatives, they are pushing for a greater focus on household energy efficiency through retrofitting.

According to the government, the $100 million Smart Grid, Smart City initiative will see government and energy and communications sectors working in partnership to rollout Australia’s first commercial-scale smart grid.

Smart grids help energy suppliers to better manage peak loads, reduce the risk of black-outs during peak-use periods, improve the reliability of electricity supply, and more effectively incorporate renewable and distributed energies such as wind, solar and cogeneration.

The government hopes smart meters, pricing and tariff programs, intelligent appliances and in-home energy displays will help customers better manage their energy use.

Releasing the report Smart Grid, Smart City: A new direction for a new energy era, Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, said it provides valuable insights into how smart grids can work in Australia.

“Smart grids are modern electricity grids that interact with information technology and communications infrastructure to more effectively manage Australia’s energy supply and use,” Mr Garrett said.

“From the power plant to the power point, smart grids enable a two-way flow of information between energy suppliers and consumers. Linking all these energy data points creates a web of information so that energy can be delivered where and when it is required; the potential economic benefits of creating an Internet for the energy industry are staggering.”

But while green groups have welcomed the government’s energy initiatives they are calling on the government to improve household energy efficiency, particularly through climate proofing existing houses (see our story on this).

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Monica Richter said the federal government had a golden opportunity to set Australia on the path to zero emission homes by 2020.

“The government has made a good start with its national strategy on energy efficiency, but more needs to be done,”she said.

“We would like to see 7 or 8-star standards introduced in the next 12 months and a stronger commitment to retrofitting existing houses to help low income and vulnerable Australians adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

Ian Porter chief executive officer of the Alternative Technology Association said climate proofing Australia’s homes was not an optional extra but essential.

“Australians recognise that we need to change our homes and many have already shown that sustainability can be achieved with environmental and financial benefits,”he said.

“It is time governments recognised this and implemented systems to support households to reduce their carbon footprint and save on energy and water bills.”

The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, said the next stage of the smart grid roll out will complement the work already undertaken on smart meter deployment in Australia through the Ministerial Council on Energy.

“This program represents an important opportunity to deploy smart grid technology at a scale to test the benefits to the grid and consumers,” Mr Ferguson said.

The report Smart Grid, Smart City: A new direction for a new energy era, the draft grant guidelines and details about consultation workshops are available at www.environment.gov.au/smartgrid

Applications for consortia to deliver the project will be sought when final grant guidelines are released in late October. Submissions will then be assessed by an independent panel and the successful consortium announced by the government in early 2010.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au

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