Energy Networks Conference

While I was in Melbourne last month, the guys at Reposit Power contacted me to see if I was interested in attending Energy Networks 2016.

Energy Networks 2016

This is a conference for Energy Networks Australia, whose members make up the industry responsible for building and maintaining the poles, wires, pipes, substations, and other media for distribution of electricity and gas services.

“Oh you mean those guys who send me the damn bills every month?!!”

Well, no. That is your retailer and its important to understand the difference. The AER (Australian Energy Regulator) website describes the distribution networks clearly:

Electricity and natural gas distributors own and maintain the distribution networks, including electricity powerlines and power poles, and natural gas pipelines that carry electricity and natural gas to houses and businesses.

Your retailer is the company with the relationship to you. The Distributor – usually referred to as the Network – is the company building and maintaining the hardware.

My electricity retailer is Diamond Energy. I have an agreement with them whereby I pay for electricity usage in my house, including an agreed price per kWh and daily connection, as well as my feed in tariff (FiT) for exporting solar power. If I have any questions over my billing or service, I go to Diamond.

Diamond Energy sell their product to me via a network owned and maintained by Endeavour Energy (the Network or Distributor), who are responsible to ensure the network is up and running. If there is an outage, Diamond talk to Endeavour about resolution, and feed information to me.

The Network is focused on a working system, and the Retailer is focused on a happy customer. Classic, two-layered B2B (Business To Business) situation, operating in parallel with a B2C (Business To Customer) relationship.

On to Energy Networks 2016

I decided it would be pretty cool to take a few days off work, and go see how the big end of town do things. Trains, planes, and automobiles later, I was in Adelaide.

OK,  its DISCLAIMER time: Yes, I was there as a guest of Reposit. No, I was not under any instructions to say certain things or do certain things. You can believe what you wish in that regard, and you probably will!

All I know is I’ve seen the technology at work, and it is good.

While wandering around the displays, I saw a lot of people who are high up in the industry domestically, such as CEOs and COOs and other positions with abbreviations starting in “C”.

There were also overseas players like Enphase CEO Paul Nahi, who was in town to get a look at the scene, and back up their announcements about working in Australia.

Our nation is gunning for a leading role in battery implementation, to go with its solar PV penetration rate. If only our governments would see this and pull their finger out …

Of course, a few ruffians were about the joint like Giles Parkinson and Finn Peacock, to report on proceedings and relay the vibe.

It was slightly unusual that Reposit were bringing a customer to see the Networks, without a Retailer necessarily being in the way. The reasons why are down to what Reposit is offering to all layers of the market.

I discussed the ins and outs of Reposit in a previous post, mainly from my own point of view, alluding to the advantages an on-grid battery can offer everybody in terms of an available power resource.

An Important Step

Things just got real in light of an announcement made last week by SA Power Networks (SAPN), the Network Distributor for South Australia.

They will be engaging 100 households in a Residential Battery Storage Trial in the Salisbury area, in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

This is huge for customers, as they will benefit from installation of a subsidised system with either a Tesla Powerwall or Samsung ESS battery. Lower bills are practically guaranteed.

It gives the Network an unparalleled look at how battery technology can smooth peaks and troughs, and give them on-call resources in addition to existing generation. It may also help reduce network implementation and maintenance costs.

The smarts at the centre of systems installed? Reposit.

Bringing The Tech

Energy Networks

That’s Dean Spaccavento, one of the founders of Reposit, being interviewed at the stand on Thursday. Good hustle!

In that shot, you can see a Macbook, which is running a live demonstration of the Reposit Marketplace application. This allowed networks to understand the capabilities Reposit from the back end, including the virtual power station concept.

The consumer end was demonstrated with a new iOS app, and as this involved dispatching power from my Powerwall, I made a couple of dollarydoos over the course of two days, which was a nice little bonus.

Together, the applications aptly demonstrated solving the problem for the network, and bringing the user into the circle of trust.

Along with a detailed rundown on how the Reposit Box makes decisions on behalf of the consumer, it provided a really good look at not only how the products work in theory, but how they were going to be applied for the SAPN trial. It is a very tasty thing to get a feel for it, while knowing a real-world scenario available for analysis over the coming months.

In addition to the Reposit team talking about technical aspects of the system, I personally fielded questions about where I sat as a consumer.

Understanding The Customer

For networks, the experience of battery users to date has tended toward those who want to get off the grid altogether, for two primary reasons:

The lifestyle consumer wishes to live in a location the grid can’t service today, typically in a rural area where land is cheaper. The capital cost of extending poles and wires can be prohibitive, so a battery system is often a better option, financially. At the same time, these people seek to build an efficient house, investing up front to ensure ongoing costs are minimal.

The combative consumer no longer wishes to pay for what they see as extortion from either the network, retailer, regulator, or government. Sometimes a combination of two or more. They tend to be older, cashed up, and technically minded. They’re ready to leave the grid at the drop of a hat, regardless of where they’re located.

In both cases, it is a very small percentage of households who can afford to take the option of off-grid living. Most of us don’t have money for enough batteries and solar panels to get us through a week of wet weather, and can’t even fathom being away from the safety of the grid.

Energy NetworksNow, with the advent of smaller lithium storage tech, the networks and retailers are going to need to deal with a third type of consumer: the grid-connected battery user.

How to address this?

I suppose, after talking to a few people from the industry, some of whom alluded to specific service issues they were having in their backyard, the message I want to broadcast as a user is: don’t panic!

We Don’t Have Horns

A lot of us like having electricity that is reliable, safe, and affordable. While some might complain about their electricity bill, the fact is electricity still isn’t the biggest cost factor in a lot of households.

We’re not all about to up and leave the grid because Elon Musk mentioned it was a possibility. In a lot of cases, it still isn’t financially practical.

I spent a fair bit of money and solar + storage, and still have days where I run out of battery, or don’t fill it up. So I need the grid, because I don’t want to leave my family stranded. I also need fresh water connection and gas to cook with. This is all part of modern living.

What we want, as consumers, is to be treated fairly when it comes to giving you access to resources that we paid for. After all, it is what you expect in return for your resourcing of the grid.

Mistakes were made when it came to some of the early gross tariffs. Uptake of systems with a FiT of 40 cents / kWh or higher were higher than expected, probably due to poor planning.

That doesn’t mean the users contributing their exports outside those schemes should be given a rate approaching 50% of off-peak, either. It wasn’t our fault the government got a bit trigger-happy and / or gun shy about solar systems back in the 2000s.

Potential Solution

I don’t really have a problem with solar export being paid at rate smaller than the single-rate import tariff. And I realise a lynch mob will be after me for saying that.

It comes down to simple economics: as you can’t guarantee supply of solar from rooftop panels, you can’t expect to charge the same as a guaranteed supply from the grid. That said, 5c / kWh is bloody ordinary.

It might not matter for much longer, because batteries change this dynamic – I absolutely can guarantee the delivery of power from my battery.

It is stored, often idle, and usually ready to go during the day by 1PM, with about 6kWh to deliver outbound. Get hold of another 100-200 users with varying battery types, and that might be a Megawatt or more, to help you fill a hole.

Particularly with Reposit managing my usage, I’m confident that most days I’ll be available for you, provided I’m going to get fair recompense for use of my resources. After all, if you come to me, chances are its cheaper than going somewhere else.

I can see a point in the future where solar feed-in-tariffs are no longer used, because it will so be advantageous to own a battery and keep a steady stream of electrons moving through it, rather than from the panels. Retailers will run to this solution, and networks will benefit.

Its just a question of how the reward will be calculated.

Getting To Know You

The first step for any Network stepping into this brave new world might be a tighter relationship with Retailers, and disseminating information you have on where the industry is headed with batteries. In turn, they can share with you their experiences, and what they’re seeing out in customer land.

Together, you can get schemes like GridCredits moving, with early intervention to prevent another financial blowout like Gross Tariffs. Can’t leave these things to the government, based on experience so far.

Will you look to have a flat rate like Diamond Energy’s GridCredits 100 scheme? Can you leverage your existing market spot rate calculations to flow through to users or chip a little bit of profit off that? Those are big money questions that this IT guy doesn’t have answers to. Its a work-on for you and the rest of the industry.

It might even be that you need to provide information on the practical costs of peak demand to the consumer base, in order to give users a view that goes beyond a perception of simple greed.

Of course, there are some people you’ll never convince otherwise 🙂

You’re still unlikely to see mass defections from the grid, but as the price of batteries drops, certainly more people are going to investigate the outlay to do so.

Increase in batteries and PV is going to see a decrease in grid usage against projected growth, which is already softening on a per-capita basis. This might affect profitability, particularly where a network needs to be extended to reach a growing population.

http://www.tradingeconomics.com/australia/electric-power-consumption-kwh-per-capita-wb-data.html
Power Consumption Per Capita in Australia Credit: Trading Economics (click image for link)

One of the facets of SAPN’s trial is to look at mitigating network capital costs by using the network resource that is user batteries. I’d be paying close attention to that, particularly where you are responsible for remote networks that require backup diesel generators etc.

How To Engage Consumers?

This is the multi-billion dollar question. As you may have surmised, I’m quite engaged.

Since this whole Powerwall thing landed in my lap, I’ve made it almost my second job to know everything I can know about how to most efficiently use the resources I have.

In this, I’ve been helped by companies like Natural Solar and Reposit Power, and I consider myself reasonably well-informed as a result of their input.

I follow sites like Renew Economy and filter their comments section to see where users are. Once you chop out the mad hatters, its very interesting to see where other consumers sit.

The rest of your customer base are probably going to tail away from that in terms of knowledge, right down to those who don’t understand the difference between Network and Retailer. They need help.

There is a wealth of data there, in terms of human feedback, that you – and the Retailers – need a relationship with. It will serve you well in the long term.

I shall sign off by imagining myself back in a trendy bar in an Adelaide laneway, hoping everyone looks forward to this bright new battery future as much as I do.

Bar

P.S. In terms of awesomeness: besides Reposit, the guys from Redstack have to rate right up there. Their UAV with 3D-printed parts was totally rad. WANT.

Reposit Power and the Microgrid

As already sprayed around on twitter, I have a system installed within my solar domain from a startup called Reposit Power. When I first discussed the install with Natural Solar this was one of the key points in the install; a smart way to use battery power, as well as help reduce my costs.

If you didn’t watch the video, in a nutshell:

Reposit Power provides controller software that adds smarts to the system I have, as well as offering the ability to sell battery power to the grid during peak events (GridCredits).

The SolarEdge inverter with StorEdge Battery interface is quite happy playing with the Powerwall. When the sun is out, it powers the house, directs any leftover to the Powerwall, and exports the rest. Battery is called on when solar is not available. Simples.

Reposit Power takes this ecosystem and adds a layer of predictive analysis, including my usage patterns, type of energy tariffs, and weather patterns, to decide on the best way to manage this power on my behalf.

This is the kind of technology that other companies are selling out of the box, but Reposit are making it applicable to multiple systems. This device-agnostic approach is very important as we move deeper into the IoT (Internet of Things), particularly with connected energy systems.

Reposit Power also provide a sexy, sexy web interface for looking at power usage. Here is a sample from 13th May:

Reposit Power
Friday the 13th …

It has a level of granularity slightly better than the SolarEdge web interface, which is really useful to understand house consumption in particular.

My favourite thing about the image above is the Solar generated – almost a perfect curve, gracefully rising from 0720 hours to 3.6kW through midday, and then falling to zero again just before 1700. Beautiful…

Fine… but what does it mean?

At the moment, I’m probably not taking full advantage of the Reposit setup, because I am trying to be the smarts in the system. And while I’m a control freak, there are factors beyond my control.

The guiding philosophy is to use devices when the sun is out, and get the battery to run the house when its not. Life sometimes gets in the way of that, though more often its cloud cover getting in the way of that.

A couple of days in a row of decent cloud cover, or rain, and the battery is going to roll over and go to sleep until the sun comes out again. As we head into winter here in Australia, daylight hours will shorten somewhat.

(I’m still cranking 20+ kWh on a clear day in which is doing alright for a latitude of 33.7S).

If I’m importing power from the grid once the battery gets low, I’m paying a bit over 20c / kWh for it. That means I might spend $3 on power on a day where I have cloud cover, looking at the average consumption.

Winter will require more power consumed on heating, so that cost will go up on a cloudy day. Single rate electricity tariff gives me a level of surety with my consumption, but perhaps to maximise the benefit, we need to shift our thinking and take a bit of a risk.

Reposit Power to the rescue?

In discussions with the guys at Reposit, I’m considering moving to a TOU (Time Of Use) tariff with Diamond Energy. Let’s look at the costs involved in TOU before any discounts apply:

Rate Description Time Period Cost inc GST
Daily Supply Charge 101.20c / day
Peak Rate 1300-2000 business days 32.84c / kWh
Shoulder Rate 0700-1300 business days

0700-2200 weekends

0700-2200 public holidays

25.30c / kWh
Off-peak Rate 2200-0700 every day 12.27c / kWh

Compared to the current single-rate of 82.45c / day for supply charge, and the 21.29c / kWh for usage, this could be either terrifying or awesome.

The connection fee increase to go TOU from single-rate is nearly 23%. Over a billing period (quarterly) is a difference of just over $17, or $68.25 in a year. Not huge, but I’m trying to get as close to zero as possible; the related benefits have to stack up.

Peak rates are going to be the killer – 54% higher than single-rate. Ouch.

Shoulder power rates are nearly 19% more expensive than single-rate, which is where quite a bit of our usage probably sits, based on my quick API-based calculations. That is something to put a red line under in considering the switch.

Off-peak power is while off-peak is 42% cheaper than single-rate, so can it help?

Certainly – running the dishwasher overnight is an obvious one, as it has water heating requirements. Water has the highest specific heat of any regular household substance (unless you’re heating Helium or Hydrogen* gases), and therefore needs a lot of power to do it, if only in peaks.

*Author’s note: if you’re thinking about heating Hydrogen gas in your home, just don’t.

What about other devices? Washing machine run before 0700? Perhaps, but ours draws gas-fired hot water so its not a big deal. Hanging washing on a cold winter’s morning doesn’t sound like fun, either.

Oven? Generally not cooking anything between 10PM and 7AM at night. We tend to be asleep or generally less active (and hungry) at those times.

Air conditioner springs to mind as something that needs to operate off-peak as much as possible, particularly in winter where we are warming up the house before getting out of bed. We have a reverse cycle ducted system which sucks a lot of power to cool, so probably a similar amount to heat.

If we had off-peak power, we could time our heating and cooling to maximise use of off-peak power, though that is less useful in summer when the heat is coming in the afternoon i.e. during peak.

However, if we’re talking about the ability to effectively use off-peak power, we need to consider the most useful device on the premises.

Powerwall
Yeah, baby…

If Sydney is going through a cloudy period, and I’m not able to generate enough solar power to both run the house and fill the Powerwall, why not use off-peak power to do it?

Even though its one of the stated benefits of the Powerwall (time-shifting solar and off-peak power) I wasn’t really considering how to do it until Reposit Power came along.

The Reposit Power box is capable of analysing my usage patterns, and understanding that I get up around 0700 every day, flick on a few devices (not simultaneously if I can help it) and make breakfast. Over time it gains an understanding of how much electricity I require for breakfast.

So, if I moved to off-peak power, Reposit could pull that off-peak power in, and reduce my breakfast costs by 42% on days where I don’t have the battery to boil the kettle, compared to what I have today.

What if its a wet week? At the moment I’d trickle a bit of solar into the house, maybe the battery, but my import costs would climb at a set rate of 21.29c / kWh.

If I move to off-peak, Reposit could pull in 6kWh at 42% lower cost, and deploy that power at peak time to avoid the higher rate. I’d take a bit of a hit on the shoulder time, but would be better off overall if the figures work out.

My next step is to look into the exact numbers, and discuss some points of interest with the guys at Reposit Power. Scientifically speaking, I’d like to just let this single-rate billing period finish, then switch over to TOU for the next quarter and look at the results.

Yes, it would be an Autumn compared to Winter comparison, but in theory Winter should be even better for this strategy.

Whether I stop being lazy and look at the figures might be irrelevant in light of another factor introduced by Reposit Power…

GridCredits FTW!

At the moment, I get 8c / kWh for exporting power off my solar generation. Not crash hot, but not bad either compared to some in the Australian market.

One of the reasons for the low rate compared to what I pay for electricity is that solar generation is not a guaranteed resource. It peaks and troughs with available sunlight, and of course doesn’t run at night.

If you go back to the table on power pricing with Diamond Energy, you’ll see “peak” runs from 1300-2000 hours business days. This is generally when most power is required, so companies can sell power for a higher rate as they crank up the hamster wheels.

Even though my solar may be exporting during peak times, the environment today is such that the pricing is not adaptive. Firstly the technology doesn’t really exist at a network level, and secondly the power companies are keen to maximise their projected profit.

This is where GridCredits step in, and home storage steps up.

Anything I have stored in the Powerwall is guaranteed power. Besides a minor amount of efficiency lost in transmission, if I have a full Powerwall, I have about 6kWh available that could go into the grid to help smooth a demand surge peak.

Of course, given this is now a guaranteed source of power, and isn’t subject to interruption from the sun disappearing, I’m going to want decent compensation for it. That compensation works out to a figure state as “up to $1 / kWh”. Yep, a whole, tasty dollar.

And if its a bright day, I can keep pushing power into the battery from the solar panels, or exporting at 8c /kWh. Bonus!

Financially, that is a major windfall for the Pfitzner household, as the first exported kWh will pay for my supply fee that day, and any subsequent kWh exported will cover other days.

With around 77 peak events per year in Australia, with the right conditions I could get that power bill well below zero, and even pick up some beer money.

Beyond my selfish personal gain, systems like Reposit Power are a game changer for the electricity network. Long range power distribution seems a little odd when we’re capable of generating it on our rooftop.

The Rise of the Microgrid

There are a few projects around Australia at the moment that are looking at microgrids, or discrete systems that don’t require the main power grid as we know it.

Think about it like peer-to-peer power sharing. Its basically the bit torrent of electricity.

As I touched on in my post about Nuclear Power, the concept of a nation- or state-wide grid will probably fade over time. Connected energy systems at the current scale are only 50 or 60 years old, and the concept of connected electricity grids just over a century to date.

I see the grid as something like the automobile, powered flight, or telecommunications. They are all recent innovations in human history, and as such are subject to more rapid change in their short life cycle.

People are naturally resistant to change, and only like a change that introduces convenience, financial benefit, or exceptionally pleasing aesthetics.

Renew Economy ran an article relating to the thought process of microgrids in Western Australia. Asset Manager for Western Power, Seàn McGoldrick, gave a talk on the peculiar set of circumstances in the west. As mentioned in the article from Giles Parkinson and Sophie Vorrath:

… when you have a service area equal in size to the entire United Kingdom, but with just one million customers (as opposed to 73 million), it’s a big challenge – economically and logistically.

The profitability of Western Power is almost nonexistent, but it is an essential service, subsidised by the West Australian State Government to the tune of half a billion dollars per annum.

What if that money could be shifted to communities, to reduce the long-term costs of network maintenance? Provide customers with reliable power, while not having to manage the poles and wires across the wide brown land?

McGoldrick presented four general approaches, and bucked for option 3 below (Modular Network).

http://reneweconomy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/western-power-590x149.jpg
Credit: Renew Economy, Seàn McGoldrick

 

 

If you take some of the maintenance budget out of the equation, Governments could save money, or put it into development of newer, more efficient technologies.

You create a snowball effect, that can allow low-carbon generation, electric vehicles, and storage technologies to leverage off each other.

I remember having a PC back in the day and moving to Windows. This change forced the need for better components. As CPUs got better, memory had to advance, along with graphics cards, and the motherboard technologies that tied it all together. Something similar can happen with renewables.

There are still issues around reliability for microgrids, but a combination of efficiency measures, storage, and generation diversity (e.g. wind and solar PV together, along with solar thermal) can contribute to advances across the board.

Further, it can remove the issues of the grid going down at some distant location, leaving consumers stranded.

With smarter devices, smarter management, and more efficient housing, domestic microgrid implementations can lead the way. Once the base is established, and more research money flows in, light industry can also benefit as the technology advances in leaps and bounds.

From there, we won’t just be talking about decentralising our power needs, we can start talking about decentralising our population.

If only the government would hurry up and get us a first-world internet. In an election year, anything could happen…