Wes Ballantine, CEO of Intellihub Group, Australian and New Zealand smart meter and data intelligence specialists
Rooftop solar is providing Australia with one of the very best engines in the race to Net Zero, but without more smart meters we lack the controls to guide it. The good news is that it can be corrected at no cost to the consumer.
We’re installing rooftop solar faster than anywhere else in the world. Three million homes are generating around 15,000GWh of renewable energy a year, or around one quarter of all renewable energy generation across the country.
We’re also now beginning to understand how valuable this generation is when we can control and manage it as a flexible resource, particularly when we pair it with battery energy storage and manage it as part of a large Virtual Power Plant.
It can do a lot of the heavy lifting in getting us on the pathway to Net Zero, help replace ageing coal fired power stations slated for early closure; and help the energy system function again as a least cost and reliable system for consumers.
Increasing smart meter installations can better support the energy transition
The communications, monitoring and control systems that support the smarter management of these consumer energy resources exist now – it’s rolled out with smart meters that are required for new solar installs and when we replace or retrofit existing systems.
However, we might be the fastest at installing rooftop top solar, but we’re one of the slowest when it comes to smart meter installations.
Spain, Italy, China, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Korea, the US and many more countries have smart meter penetrations way ahead of Australia.
And the latest report on mass market meter deployments from the Australian Energy Regulator shows that we’re in no hurry to rectify this picture.
Our smart meter installation rates have ambled along at a bit over 100,000 meters per quarter for the past seven quarters. The first three months of 2022 saw the lowest number over the reporting period.
It’s not really the pace required to support the energy transition, and that should be a concern.
Next gen smart meters and communications platform
Yesterday’s smart meters are very good at removing estimated bills and allowing remote connection, disconnection and reading.
Today’s smart meters use waveform capture to enable visibility into network performance at and behind the meter. They have multiple communications protocols and edge computing power that mean they are DER-control ready. They can provide device registration, data management and near real-time visibility and control that’s required for VPP participation.
Together with this new capability, they can function as emergency backstop mechanisms for grid operators during emergency or minimum demand situations. For example, one network recently requested that all hot water controlled load times on all smart meters in their area be shifted to the morning peak during the recent market disruptions in the National Electricity Market (NEM).
Smart meters allow electricity retailers to dynamically manage their customer’s electricity consumption and generation to behave like one big – but more resilient – power plant. Drawing on their generation when it’s needed to match demand in the grid and using their consumption to match excess generation from daytime solar generation.
Water heating or electric vehicle charging can literally be used to soak up excess solar power – with hot water or EVs then used at times when the sun isn’t shining.
There are gigawatts of generation sitting behind the meter at customer premises, just waiting to be used in this way. It’s not a problem to be solved – it’s a resource just waiting to be used.
Likewise, better power quality data delivered by smart meters helps the distribution networks manage faults at the customer premise, detect potentially dangerous situations like faults on the customer neutral service, monitor their streetside low voltage network, and plan future investment better. It means a better and more cost effective service for customers.
Rule maker on right track to unlock smart meter benefits
Some of our energy market bodies see this potential and are beginning to take steps to unlock this value by supporting smart meter deployments.
The Australian Energy Market Commission is the rule maker across the NEM and it’s now looking at ways to accelerate smart meter deployments and increase these value added services so the benefits extend across the sector and to consumers.
It has narrowed its focus to areas like deployment targets, aged meter replacements or a back stop date for a higher market penetration.
It’s also rightly thinking about better ways for electricity networks to access power quality data via smart meters and removing cumbersome installation requirements.
The AEMC led the important reforms of the last decade that introduced competition in the metering sector which has delivered more innovation in metering, without direct cost being passed on to the consumer.
But the benefits from those reforms are stagnating, as installation rates again stall.
Its latest efforts to kick start smart meter deployments are a step in the right direction that will better support the energy transition underway and get us on the fast track to Net Zero.
It’s a well overdue process that should have the full support of the energy market.
This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Intellihub. For more information, visit www.intellihub.com.au.