In a world where digital technology is upending and reinventing so much of what we do, it is not surprising that energy – the way we generate and use it – is also in flux.
The good news for consumers when it comes to the emerging energy market is that disruption is almost certainly your friend.
New technologies like digital meters and smart sensors, affordable home solar and battery storage, through to apps to optimize energy usage, are the change-agents at the cutting-edge of the evolution.
These technologies not only provide utilities with new ways to observe customers’ electricity use, but, importantly, provide consumers with new powers to understand and optimize their own consumption.
The traditionally passive electricity consumer now has the means to generate their own electricity – through rooftop solar PV panels – but also to decide how they use that energy when it comes to feeding it back to the grid.
Home battery storage gifts consumers new powers
Lithium home storage options such as the Tesla Powerwall system - which is a large lithium-ion home battery charged by solar energy - give consumers the ability to convert their self-generated solar electricity to lighten their load during peak hours.
Australia’s huge cohort of solar-generating households - which number around 1.5 million - are expected to be early adopters of the technology, expected to be available in Australia from mid-2017.
“The tech that is now accessible to consumers has created a new class of what we term ‘prosumer’,” explains Dr. Matt Wenham, executive manager of policy and projects at The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. (formerly ATSE) “Prosumers are enabled by technology to not only generate their own energy, but optimise that in terms of how it feeds back in the grid at the right times. They not only consume, they produce, hence ‘Prosumer.’”
From consumer to ‘prosumer’ - the power to produce
As the rise of the ‘prosumer’ attests to, it is not only devices that are smarter users of energy, but people too. Utilities - as the suppliers of what has traditionally been a one-way flow of power from a centralized source- have also had to adapt.
“It’s been a challenge for energy retailers to adapt because the traditional model is now a lot more complicated with the two-way nature of it,” says Dr. Wenham of the transition from unidirectional networks of poles and wires to that of distributed generation.
Leo Quinn, an energy consultant with a US-based asset management firm, Meridium Inc., says new technologies have undermined long-held assumptions about how to manage poles and wires assets.
“New technologies like digital meters and smart sensors and new IT and data integration platforms create new visibility into customers’ behavior,” he said in a recent speech to an Australian audience of energy professionals. Technology has created a state of true disruption, or “once-in-a-generation change for the utility sector,” he says.
Transformational change still playing out
New technologies have already unleashed huge transformational change – for instance, with the solar rooftop revolution in Australia – but it is an evolution that still has some way to play out, according to Dr. Wenham.
“There is still a fair bit of upheaval to go in energy markets in terms of that distributed generation and the rise of the prosumer, and the next phase will be the rise of energy storage and what effect that has.”
In the meantime, market players will continue to innovate and adapt new technologies to fill the needs of the changing energy marketplace, says Mr. Quinn.
“For utilities it will depend where you are in the Supply Chain – Generators will look to technology that will assist in reducing unplanned outages while distributors and retailers have to provide a digital experience for their customers.”
Have you made the leap from energy consumer to ‘prosumer?’ If so, and you are a solar PV household, do you plan to add home storage? What, to your mind, are the benefits of having your own self-generated power and storage facilities?
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