The critical role of energy networks in the lives of every Australian cannot be understated; and yet sometimes, outside the industry, it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. For this reason, it’s so important that representatives from Australia’s energy network businesses gather each year to reflect on the work they do, share their stories and recognise some of the industry’s best people and projects.

Every year this gathering of network professionals is facilitated by Energy Networks Australia, the association representing and advocating for network businesses. The gathering takes place in the form of an Annual Dinner and Awards evening, last year staged in Canberra in November at the truly impressive and humbling Australian War Memorial.

The evening is a chance to gather and reflect on the year that was, network with colleagues, and make new industry connections.

But most importantly, it’s a chance to acknowledge the incredible work that is happening right across the network industry. In total, three awards were handed out – recognising innovation in the sector, outstanding customer engagement, and individual industry contribution.

In 2018, the awards were attended by Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor, along with a host of senior executives working for networks business around Australia.

Recognising innovation: the key to industry growth

Four finalists were recognised in the Innovation category:

Essential Energy, for their Quality Assurance Lab
Evoenergy, for their demand reduction program, incorporating the ACT Virtual Power Plant
Jemena, for their demand response trial Power Chargers
TasNetworks, for the CONSORT Bruny Island battery trial

After reviewing all of the projects, the judging panel deemed TasNetworks to be the winner of the Innovation Award for 2018. The trial helped 34 customers install solar generation and a battery on their homes to test the ability of distributed generation to be an alternative to a diesel generator during periods of peak holiday demand.

“The trial has shown how a modest number of residential PV and battery systems are able to provide a disproportionately large benefit to the grid,” said Energy Networks Australia Chief Executive Officer Andrew Dillon.

“Diesel usage is down by about 30 per cent, but more generally, the project delivers optimisation of distributed energy resources, which increases grid reliability.”

“This project has demonstrated innovation across many facets of the energy sector,” said TasNetworks Chief Executive Officer Lance Balcombe. “It is a key step in our vision to be trusted by our customers to deliver today and create a better tomorrow.”

According to TasNetworks, customers were the key to the success of this solution. The project was founded on customer behaviour, which has been central to the project’s design and implementation.

In particular the concept of customer choice, overlaid with the technical requirements to manage a network problem, are embodied in the Network Aware Coordination (NAC) algorithm. This algorithm works in conjunction with the Reposit system to automatically and optimally coordinate the large number of batteries involved in the project.

The NAC algorithm, while developed prior to Energy Networks Australia’s Open Energy Networks consultation, actually foresaw many of the issues discussed in this paper, and in this way, the CONSORT Bruny Island Battery Trial is a ‘living laboratory’ to test these concepts.

Runner-up for the Industry Innovation Award was Jemena, for its Power Chargers demand response trial.

Jennifer Harris from Powerline accepts the Industry Contribution Award from Ben Wilson from Australian Gas Networks

Engaging customers: mission critical

In a time where consumer trust towards the energy industry is lagging, it’s never been more important to actively engage with customers. Five projects were named as finalists for the Energy Networks Australia and Energy Consumers Australia 2018

Consumer Engagement Award:

Essential Energy, for their customer engagement regulatory proposal
SA Power Networks, for their deep dive workshop program regarding their regulatory proposal
TransGrid, for their Powering Sydney’s Future proposal
The joint Victorian distribution businesses (CitiPower, Powercor, United Energy, Jemena and AusNet Services), for their joint consultation on Network Pricing Design, under which they committed to a joint approach to pricing for residential and small business customers until at least 2025
Western Power, for their community engagement during the evaluation and development of a microgrid for Kalbarri

Energy Consumers Australia CEO Rosemary Sinclair said the projects provided a snapshot of an industry sector that was increasingly recognising the value of engaging with consumers as partners to solve big challenges around affordability, trust and transformation.

Ultimately, the unanimous choice of the judging panel for the Consumer Engagement Award was Essential Energy.

Prior to submitting its proposal to the Australian Energy Regulator for building, operating and maintaining the electricity network over the period 2019-2024, and the proposed network charges, Essential Energy conducted an extensive customer and stakeholder engagement program, to share and gather information, insights and feedback and ensure that they could be confident their proposal reflected customer needs and expectations.

The engagement took place in four phases over more than two years, and ultimately delivered a true understanding of the priorities and expectations of customers.

“Rebuilding trust with consumers in the energy sector will take time and must come from the top,” said Ms Sinclair. “The leading businesses are entering into a new dialogue with consumers and taking responsibility for the issues they’re raising to deliver more affordable outcomes.

“Essential Energy showed they had proactively engaged with their consumers to better reflect their views and priorities and allow
that to shape services,” she added.

The judges for the consumer engagement award compiled a report after the process and congratulated all businesses who had made an application for the award.

“We congratulate the changemakers – the businesses who have entered this year – and encourage these businesses to continue to be leaders.”

Western Power received a highly commended from the judges for its Kalbarri Microgrid project.

Attendees form a session of Essential Energy’s award-winning customer and stakeholder engagement program

The path forward

The awards evening also provided the opportunity to recognise an individual for their personal, and substantial, contribution to the industry over several years.

In 2018, the Industry Contribution Award went to Powerlink’s General Manager Network Regulation, Jennifer Harris.

“This award recognises Jenny’s significant contribution to our industry and her clear focus on the customer driven transformation of our networks,” said Mr Dillon.

All three award winners gave attendees plenty to think about in terms of their own current and future contributions to the network industry; along with plenty of inspiration for how their businesses might be able to achieve innovation and customer excellence in 2019 and beyond.

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