An array of new technologies are primed to change the way that utilities do business and interact with customers. Here, Wayne Pales, GM Technology Strategy at the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), discusses how current energy operating models require major revisions to be compatible with the grid of the future.

Ahead of his appearance at the Digital Utilities 2019 conference, taking place from 21-22 March in Melbourne, Mr Pales emphasised how energy companies working towards modernisation first need to rethink the prevailing ‘behind the meter’ model.

“The fact that our industry has created the term ‘behind the meter’ shows we have a very long way to go,” Mr Pales said.

“The phrase places the utility at the centre of the universe, with the consumer being ‘behind the meter’.

“The consumer is the centre of the universe, so we need to come up with terms that reflect that we are serious about putting the consumer first.”

An important step towards putting the consumer first is recognising the integral role that consumer-centric technologies, such as distributed energy resources (DER) and the connected home, will play in the grid of the future.

Mr Pales points to a recent paper by Energy Networks Australia and AEMO titled Open Energy Networks, which predicts that Australia will have the most distributed grid in the world by the early 2020s.

“In parallel to a distributed grid, we have aging power plants scheduled to close, and these closures may be accelerated if future governments get tough on emissions targets,” Mr Pales said.

“The industry has no choice but to augment its operating model to integrate DER into the way it operates its markets and its grid.”

Empowering consumers to manage their energy consumption

Energy utilities also have a major opportunity to promote environmental sustainability by developing business models that encourage consumers to accelerate adoption of rooftop solar and battery storage. According to Mr Pales, the most effective way to do this is via financial incentives and programs that promote power conservation.

“Given that the vast majority of people will invest in green technologies if it is financially beneficial for them to do so, tariff structures and demand-side programs are where I would focus my time to get the biggest ‘bang for buck’.”

Ultimately, Mr Pales lists three technologies as the biggest game-changers for the industry, the uptake of which will largely be driven by consumers: storage, software intelligence, and electric vehicles (EV).

“I see storage hitting a price point such that we’ll see the kind of uptake we’ve seen with solar.

“Next to that would be the software intelligence applied to batteries, which will enable consumers to remain largely passive and have the system manage their demand so they can maintain their lifestyle at the lowest possible costs.

“Finally, with the maturing of autonomous vehicles, along with the large scale adoption of EV, the way we travel will shift, and this will change the profile of when and how electricity is consumed.

“We cannot simply look at EV buying trends to calculate increased demand on the grid — we instead need to engage with consumers and holistically look at how our approach to transportation will change in the next 10 to 15 years, and then model what that will mean for the grid.”

How is your organisation preparing for the grid of the future?

Hear more from Wayne Pales about consumer-centric and smart grid technologies at Digital Utilities 2019, running from 21-22 March at the Pullman Hotel Albert Park in Melbourne.