Australia

Demand response: efficiency not discomfort

Demand response is widely misunderstood among the Australian public, where to date it has mostly been something for industrial users, not households.

WHAT IS DEMAND RESPONSE?

It's about asking consumers - business and household - to reduce their electricity use at times of peak demand. When the Australian Energy Market Operator sees the system is working up to a heavy load - such as on hot days - it can ask people who've signed up to reduce their usage, thereby avoiding shortfalls and the need for forced blackouts.

WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITIES ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

In households and office buildings it could be using smart thermostats, not turning the air-conditioner on quite so high, using a barbecue instead of an electric cook-top, or getting a large group of home owners to cycle or switch off their pool pumps all at the same time. It takes a co-ordinated approach to getting people to reduce their demand slightly, with every little bit adding up to a big easing of stress in the grid.

WHAT PROJECTS WILL RUN THIS SUMMER?

- AGL ($5.25m) - agreements with commercial operations including water utilities, mines and quarries, telecommunications companies and airports to reduce power when called upon, text message notifications to volunteer households to reduce usage, and connecting home battery storage and rooftop solar systems to the grid.

- EnergyAustralia ($3.94m in NSW, $6.93m in Victoria and SA) - several measures harnessing its 2.6 million-strong customer base, including shifting heating and cooling energy consumption, incentives for users to reduce consumption during peak times, programs to help people change their behaviour, automatic curtailment of usage with smart devices, and co-ordination of a virtual power plant of battery storage located at homes and businesses.

- EnerNOC ($3.6m in NSW, $5.4m in Victoria) - will co-ordinate industrial businesses such as paper and glass manufacturers and metalworkers to respond within 10 minutes of a request from AEMO, using smart equipment to take away a portion of their electricity usage.

- Progressive Green and Flow Power ($2.64m) - installing smart controllers at 95 commercial and industrial sites to provide customers with live data feeds about their energy use and SMS and email alerts of the need to reduce usage, with incentive payments.

- United Energy Distribution ($5.76m) - this "poles and wires" company will slightly reduce voltage at its substations for 660,000 customers during brief periods.

- Powershop Australia ($995,000) - behavioural change program that gives customers a smartphone app to monitor and limit their energy usage when required. For reducing usage for up to four hours, customers can receive the equivalent of a weekend's free electricity.

- Zen Ecosystems ($1.96m) - uses smart, connected thermostats to aggregate and control heating and cooling within commercial and residential buildings, turning systems down slightly when required.

- Intercast & Forge ($323,654) - metal casting manufacturer which has agreed to power down its furnaces during peak events.