Robin Eckermann talked on "The SMART GRID - The looming energy revolution" last night at the Australian Computer Society Canberra Branch Forum. He pointed out that electricity meters are the interface between the electricity grid and the customer. The meters are the most expensive component to replace to provide a smart grid, simply because there are so many meters. But by providing different power costs the meter can change customer behaviour and save significant costs for the network.
Robin argued that the future was in having the smarts built into appliances so they will adjust their power use without a need for customer input. This suggests to me that smart meters may not be a good investment for households. Instead a modern variation on off peak hot water could be used. Simple off peak hot water systems send a signal via the mains power line which turns the hot water system on. A modern system could have air conditioning switched by a digital signal. That signal need not come via the power lines or the smart meter, it could be a wireless or wired connection. The smart appliance could communicate directly, without going via the meter. This could be provided as a separate service by a company separate to the utility, provided them with a way to reduce peak loads.
As with hot water systems, the air-conditioning could be provided with a discount, in return for energy use being reduced on occasions. Unlike hot water systems, the air conditioner need not switch off completely to help the grid, it could instead reduce its power use. It is likely that most users would not notice the difference. An easy way to implement this would be allow a minimum of as much power as a standard power point can supply. This would allow for air-conditioning of one domestic room, but not a whole house. This could be easily implemented by regulation by requiring it to be installed on all new air-conditioners which use more than 10 amps
Robin pointed out that solar panels and electric cars can cause problems for the electricity grid. Some intelligence in the devices can reduce the problem. As an example, electric cars can act as an energy store for the grid.
Robin suggested that Victoria may have acted too early introducing smart meters. He then discussed how the NBN could be used for providing the smart grid. This would require some difficult issues to be resolved: houses would have to be connected even if no other NBN service was required and the NBN equipment would have to be powered even when the main house power was off.
Robin mentioned that he has helped set up "Smart Grid Australia", which amongst its activities pointed out that smart meters may not be the best initial investment.
Energy Australia won the "Australian Government's Smart Grid, Smart City project" tender.
Robin pointed out that there was scope for innovation with this technology in Canberra. He also suggested that government policy should be to encourage solar panels on an industrial scale, rather than on individual houses. He suggested that individuals could still invest in such projects, but without having to have the solar panels installed on their roof. The Nishi apartment building in Canberra has something like this with residents having the option to invest in shared photovoltaic cells on the roof.