A presentation by Western Australia’s state-owned electricity retailer, Synergy, has suggested that, within a decade, homes of the future could use the grid for only 10 per cent of their energy supply, thanks to a combination of smart building and appliances, coupled with solar and battery storage.
The presentation – titled The challenges of creative destruction for the electricity industry, for the current market, and for Synergy – was delivered last week by the retailer’s chairman Lyndon Rowe.
This same week, Rowe and Synergy came under fire from solar consumer groups for suggesting the fixed-cost amount the state’s rooftop solar households paid for their connection to the grid should be almost doubled, from around $820 to $1666.
Speaking on Perth radio last week, Rowe said that while he was “a believer” in rooftop solar, the disparity in fixed grid charges was unfair to those without solar.
“They are not paying the actual fixed cost of being connected to the network,” he said. “That means other consumers have to pay or the taxpayers have to pay. That’s not fair. That’s not efficient.”
But critics have accused Synergy of using solar households as a scapegoat for spiralling budget losses. As the Synergy presentation itself conceded, past projections of electricity demand growth have failed to materialise – leaving the networks with added capacity built at public expense and often never even used.
This has presented a big problem for the networks all around Australia, as more and more people add solar and they work out how to claw back these expenses without driving customers off the grid altogether.
Which is why it is so interesting to see the below chart in Rowe’s presentation, depicting a new home of the future as sourcing only 10 per cent of its total energy needs – that includes electricity, gas and oil-based energy generation – from a centralised grid.
Described as a “long-term view,” the chart doesn’t specify what year this scenario might eventuate, although a spokesman said it could be true for some homes by 2020, or by 2025 at the latest. Given that most of the technologies and building materials and appliances listed above are already readily available on the market, it couldn’t be too far off.
As well as having a microgeneration system made up of solar and storage, the houses are expected to use super efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems – such as electric heat pumps and nano-technologies – as well as smart software applications and advanced building materials that would dramatically cut energy demand.
All up, the house’s total energy consumption is cut by 65 per cent. With 25 per cent of the remainder supplied by solar and battery storage, this leaves around 5 per cent supplied by electricity and the other 5 per cent from gas and oil sources.
Not represented among those givens, however, is the well supported market expectation that battery costs, already nearing economic for some households, are currently on a cost trajectory similar to that which has made solar PV accessible to around 15 per cent of all Australian households – or as many as 25 per cent of households in South Australia.
It begs the question, if Synergy’s predictions are right and households are, within decades, using as little as 10 per cent of grid-sourced energy – as little as 5 per cent of this electricity – could battery prices fall low enough that households decide to invest in systems to take them off the grid altogether, rather than pay the cost of grid connection?