The Australian energy grid is on the cusp of a big bang moment. The combination of market factors and situations we’re currently seeing will lead to a thrust of innovation. Renewable energy and smart devices are here to push forward the way we consume energy and drive a change for the better of our energy bills and for the environment.
And, with a Labor government committed to clean energy, pledging $20 billion to make the grid ready for clean energy, as well as consumer indicators showing a commitment to clean energy, such as the increase in demand for solar panels, the Australian landscape is primed and ready for the takeoff of renewable energy.
A limitation to expanding the renewable supply any further is the baseload of energy required at all times. When solar panels aren’t generating energy overnight, or when the wind turbines are slower, there simply isn’t enough energy in the system to keep the metaphorical lights on across the Australian grid.
This is where the fossil fuel sources power up, and start burning gases or coal in order to meet the demands of an energy network, the baseload of our energy system that needs to be ready to go at any moment.
This is a growing pain of the industry, part of the process that Australia needs to go through in order to fully convert to its renewable energy future, and until battery storage increases exponentially, tackling the problem of a fossil fuel baseload is here to stay.
However, instead of consuming electricity whenever and wherever we currently do, we can shift our behaviour towards energy consumption and help reduce our baseload of fossil fuel sourced electricity, in order to help the growth of renewables in the market.
As we’ve seen over the past 12 months, price signals are an incredibly effective tool towards this.
In a renewable electricity market, volatile pricing is reflected based on the availability of supply provided by renewables. When the supply of electricity cannot match the demand, the price of energy increases. Inversely, when supply outstrips demand, the price of energy is lowered.
Consumers can actually take advantage of these times of high and low pricing through the adoption of Time-of-Use tariffs. EVs already work with chargers that sync to these tariffs and only charge the car overnight or during times of low pricing. Imagine your AC doing the same thing, actively seeking these low prices to do the bulk of your home’s cooling or fill up your hot water tank.
This ability to load shift marks a significant solution for Australia, as heating and/or cooling takes up between 20% and 50% of energy use and cost in the country, depending on the climate zone. Solving this problem will help us achieve these net zero aims.
Australians armed with smart meters and smart devices like ACs and EVs will start shifting their energy consumption towards times of cheaper and more available renewable energy in the grid.
Smart controllers and ACs are not new technologies. They’ve had 10 years of growth to learn user habits, perfect their efficiency and their design, but more importantly start building the steps for the future of home energy.
Smart controlled ACs use times of lower priced energy to cool a home, or ‘charge up’ hot water and immersion tanks. In times of high energy prices when the supply can’t meet demand, a home can predict the expensive times and pre-cool beforehand, whilst making use of the stored hot water for the home to avoid buying expensive energy. This reduces energy costs without ever compromising on comfort.
Already around 37% of electricity is powered by renewables. Security of supply cannot be guaranteed by these sources, which limits the potential for that percentage of renewables to grow.
While we can’t control when the sun shines or the wind blows, we can control the consumption in homes to match those times. We need to match the demand of energy to the supply that is available, in order to grow our energy network’s share of renewables.
The solution to this comes from Time-of-Use tariffs and smart controlled ACs, EV Chargers, and more, that actively seek out to only use electricity when the price is low.
By creating homes with dynamic heating and cooling that seeks and avoids the higher priced energy times, homes will become closer in sync with nature and the supply of renewables. This allows the 37% figure to increase, and our baseload of energy from fossil fuels to decrease as the intermittent renewable sources will be able to match the demand of homes connected through Time-of-Use tariffs.
Energy powered by renewables has hit records of 68.7% to Australia’s main grid for a brief period, showing what is possible.
The convergence of technologies like this marks the beginning of a major innovation towards the type of energy, and the way we consume energy in the home.
The end result builds an energy system that not only marries its supply and demand, but paves the way for a more sustainable and renewable energy grid.
Cameron Wood is external affairs manager at tado°