Our changing network
Our changing network
By Ian McLeod, Chief Executive
Electricity networks around the world have not fundamentally changed for a number of generations. But the industry now realises it is time to adapt to a changing energyscape.
For the most part, power stations send electricity down the line through transmission networks to distribution lines and ultimately end users.
Technology and engineering improvements have certainly improved the quality and reliability of power to our homes and businesses, but the way electricity gets to us has stayed pretty much the same for decades. In a relatively short time however, this could change significantly.
Ergon Energy has been solving problems related to peak load (the relatively small periods of an average day when demand for power is high), but new and cheaper technology could not only solve this, it could change the way Ergon's traditional "poles and wires" business is run.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can now be found at the premises of around 15 per cent of Ergon's customer base. Electric vehicles are finally becoming an economically viable option in the domestic car market.
Meanwhile energy storage is looming as possibly the next "big thing" for powering domestic homes. These changes and innovations – along with the continuing challenge of peak load on the power network – will change the way people source, pay for and ultimately think about the electricity they use.
There are more questions than definitive answers as to how the electricity network will be best utilised as these changes continue, but Ergon believes it will shape this future. A "smart" network, or what is known as a "smart grid", will possibly be part of the answer.
Smart grids use everything from advanced meters (at the customer end) through to digital control and other technology to automate, monitor and control two-way flow of electricity across a network. A true smart grid can deliver a multitude of advantages, including self-diagnosis of problems through to sharing capacity where it is needed.
Ergon envisages a future where its customers have much greater control and understanding of their home or business electricity consumption through advances like smart grid technologies. There is also opportunity for customers to use technology to help the electricity network and save on their own bills at the same time.
There are dozens of possible uses of existing and emerging technology that can turn regional Queensland's electricity network into a service that does more than just one-way delivery of power to the switchboard.
As another example, with current projections showing Lithium-ion batteries could halve in price within the next few years, Ergon strongly believes energy storage systems will form a key component in the future of its electricity network.
Battery storage and related technology are only one piece of the puzzle though. With new technology becoming redundant or out-dated at faster rates all the time, only time will tell which model is best for Queensland's electricity network.
Could many of us have envisaged the capabilities of a mobile phone 20 years ago? Perhaps not. A similarly radical future – and perhaps equally customer empowering – could be in store for the electricity network.
But what about choice?
Ergon is doing its part in powering economic growth by making it easier to connect to the network. We're continuing to make improvements to our policies, standards and practices around new connections and customer-initiated network upgrades. This will include expanding the choices available to our large customers and real estate developers when connecting new load to the grid.
We'll continue to provide assistance to our large customers when choosing the connection option that best suits their needs (whether that is to build, own, operate or build and transfer) and to support the development of a competitive connections market in regional Queensland.
We're also looking to the future and evolving so we can best support choice for customers large and small.
Ergon will increasingly take on the role of a provider of essential infrastructure that connects buyers and sellers of energy services, and allows all participants – customers, generators, or those storing energy and managing demand – to get value from the network. We see the future of our network business being in distribution, connection, and market facilitation.
In fact, we'll restructure the way we charge for the use of the network to provide greater choice and equity, and ensure Ergon maintains a viable network for the benefit of all customers.