His work is revealing answers that show our energy future could rely as much on changing how we pay for our traditional electricity source as the technologies that can work in cooperation with the electricity network.

Ten homes in a Townsville street have been trialling battery storage, home energy management systems and alternative electricity tariffs which could help shape the future of our network.

Ergon Energy is learning as much from its customers and real world testing of battery energy storage systems in people’s homes as it is from controlled laboratory testing of such devices.

Dean CondonThat’s the view of Dean Condon - pictured -  one of Ergon’s leading engineers in the brave new (and still emerging) world of battery energy storage and related technologies for urban homes.

Dean is on the front line of reforming Australia’s energy future through his work at Ergon to trial and understand the best ways for things like solar PV and battery energy storage systems to work in cooperation with the electricity network.

With new systems coming onto the market practically every month, there will soon be many energy options that need to be fully understood by customers and electricity utilities alike.

Exciting new technology aside however, Dean says it will be a combination of new electricity power plans that encourage technologies like battery storage, solar PV and energy management systems to work seamlessly with the electricity grid that could deliver the greatest benefits to customers and electricity utilities.

While the words ‘electricity tariff’ encapsulate an increasingly unpopular topic in Queensland of late, Dean says it is tariff reform that will undoubtedly be one of the keys to a better energy future for all.

Cooperative power plans that work for the customer and network could provide a cost effective edge for customers...

Tariff trials conducted by Ergon Energy in recent years have shown that a certain percentage of customers (depending on price options) will change their consumption behaviour if a price incentive exists.

However a recent trial of battery energy storage systems on residential homes still connected to the electricity grid in North Queensland has revealed valuable insights into customer behaviour when a hypothetical tariff incentive was introduced to those participating in the trial.

“Most residential customers in Queensland at the moment are just on a flat rate for their electricity, so the cost of electricity for a particular tariff doesn’t change, regardless of the time of day,” explained Dean.

“Under existing tariff structures we do of course have principal tariffs and economy tariffs, with the economy tariffs giving a cheaper rate, but they turn off at peak times, usually morning and afternoon.

“One element of Ergon’s most recent trials in conjunction with battery storage has been dynamic tariffs

“From what I see, I think that is probably the future,” Dean said.

Indeed, Dean is not particularly a fan of the term ‘tariffs’, seeing it as an antiquated or restrictive term that should perhaps be replaced by a more encompassing description such as ‘power plan’ – not unlike what is commonplace in the telecommunications industry.

So what happened with the introduction of dynamic tariffs into the North Queensland battery energy storage trials?

“In terms of time-of-use pricing (electricity prices that vary depending of the time of day or night the power is being used) our trial has shown that seven out of the 10 trial customers reduced their peak time energy use,” Dean said.

“A lot of that resulted from behavioural changes based on the information we gave them – customers became aware that during a certain time their energy costs would be higher, so thought they should change their energy usage patterns or behaviours.

“For us that is an important indicator, but it is also important to add that this result was with some of the battery energy storage systems not fully optimised to benefit the customer.

“Another power plan we have trialled was a capacity tariff. This was based on how much power you were drawing from the grid and that amount would determine the price you were paying for that electricity,” he said.

Dean says Ergon’s trial is indicating that combined with complimentary systems like battery energy storage tweaked to match customer needs, dynamic electricity pricing or cooperative power plans that work for the customer and network could provide a cost effective edge for customers who can also enjoy the security and backup of network connection.

In turn, battery energy storage spread across Ergon’s network could also smooth out peak loads – a better utilisation of costly infrastructure that, essentially, makes it cheaper to run.

“In the future we will probably see automated devices that could manage customers energy use – and make best use of things like solar PV, battery storage, load control and grid connection to achieve a better outcome for customers and distribution networks,” says Dean. Time will no doubt tell if Australia’s energy reformation relies on tariff reform, or other changes we haven’t even thought of yet.