From the Total Environment Centre:

Consumers should benefit from the revolution in the emerging energy storage market, not electricity networks said Total Environment Centre today as it released a new position paper – ‘Networks and batteries: What’s best for consumers?’

“It’s clear batteries will radically change the entire energy system,” said Mark Byrne, the author of the paper, which has been endorsed by a range of other organisations representing small energy consumers, including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Consumer Action Law Centre, Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre, Alternative Technology Association and Ethnic Communities Council of NSW.

“The bugbear of renewable energy, which is the intermittency of solar and wind power, will no longer be an issue as the market evolves and batteries become ‘business as usual,’, he explained.

“It is critical that we get the regulatory regime right for a market that is conservatively estimated to grow at least fifteen-fold over the next fifteen years.”

The battery storage revolution has the potential to allow consumers to store rooftop solar during the day and use it during the evening peaks; networks will also store energy for use during the peaks rendering expensive poles and wires obsolete; and a more decentralised energy system will give consumers choice and control close to home.

“At the moment with twenty battery project trials underway involving networks on both sides of the consumer’s meter, and microgrids, it’s a bit of a regulatory free for all. The very real risk is that networks could make it hard for third party competitors – especially behind the meter, given their control of the connection process.”

Having consulted widely and examined how battery regulation is evolving in other countries TEC has recommended three objectives for regulation in Australia: minimising risks to consumers, increasing consumer choice and competition, and aiding the decarbonisation of the electricity sector.

“On the consumer’s side of the meter, we recommend that networks should not be able to directly own or control batteries. For larger grid-side batteries, we recommend that all battery services should be open to competition. Networks would not be prevented from procuring battery services on the grid, but they wouldn’t be able to add them to their assets bases and recover the costs from consumers over longperiods.”

Mr Byrne made it clear that no one wants to keep networks out of batteries altogether.

“It’s more a case of ensuring that they can’t use their monopoly positions to distort the market. They can still compete through ‘ring-fenced’ businesses. Provided ring-fencing is effective, it will ensure that networks can’t use their incumbency and privileged access to information to obtain a competitive advantage. They can also buy battery services from third parties in the market.”

“There may be situations where competition is not yet, and perhaps may never be available or effective – such as on remote ends of the grid. We therefore also recommend an exemptions framework so that networks can still invest if batteries are the lowest cost solution to problems like aging power lines, increased demand at the end of long skinny lines, or new bushfire regulations.”

The paper also recommends other reforms to promote competition in the market for batteries. The consumer groups which have endorsed these recommendations are not bound by them, but may use them in a range of current and expected regulatory processes.

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