Can Western Australia get smart on energy use?

June 20, 2013

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A Murdoch University researcher has examined the benefits and challenges of adopting Smart Meters in Western Australia as the state’s peak energy use continues to rise.

Dr Samuel Gyamfi from the School of Engineering and Information Technology said this upward trend would have economic, social and environmental consequences for the state unless steps were taken to moderate energy consumption.

He said data on Smart Meter use in other cities revealed they were an effective way to achieve energy reduction by households, but that relying on pricing alone to modify consumption behaviour was not enough.

“Smart Meters are effective in conveying real-time information about the state of the grid and can inform efficient use of energy for residential homes. But expecting households to reduce their use with pricing signals is not enough, as roughly 40 per cent of households don’t respond to cost,” Dr Gyamfi said.

“To realise optimal energy savings, especially during peak times, the social, environmental and long-term economic benefits of reducing energy demand have to be communicated to consumers.”

Dr Gyamfi said this messaging was needed in WA, citing data which showed a clearly increasing trend in peak energy use, which would have consequences in the growing state if left unaddressed.

“Environmentally, high demand during peak times is typically accommodated through more carbon-intensive forms of production, including diesel generation. There is a direct relationship between peak demand and environmental emissions in nearly all power supply networks,” Dr Gyamfi said.

“In terms of energy security, grid failure could become an issue, especially with a rapidly expanding population. Data from the public campaign following California’s energy crisis in 2001 shows that consumers do respond when informed about how their usage affects grid stability.

“From a long-term economic perspective, infrastructure cannot be expanded indefinitely, which means major investment at some point.”

At the same time, Dr Gyamfi said the cost of installing Smart Meters stood to be very high, and how they would be financed and by whom would be a political issue.

As for supplementing the grid, he said that while the state and federal solar rebate schemes had a flattening effect on the rise in peak energy use in WA in 2010 and 2011, solar power in residential homes could not solve the problem.

“Solar power is positive for energy security in WA, but peak usage generally falls between five and seven pm, which is when people are returning home to cook and turn on lights and appliances such as air conditioners.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t the optimal time for solar energy production.”

'Residential peak electricity demand response – Highlights of some behavioural issues' involved Murdoch University and the University of Canterbury (NZ) and can be found here.

Comments (3 responses)

David Rastrick June 21, 2013

Use of smart meters and public education has been effective in lowering peak energy use in Denmark/Walpole WA.

Phil Arena June 21, 2013

It is clearly our ties with the petroleum/mining industry that governs our approach to energy, rather than true environmental concerns. This relationship has greatly impacted on the adoption of cleaner, alternative energy sources. Yes, the evening is not the optimal time for solar energy production, but effective solar power relies on effective storage of power which can then be used around the clock (remote communities have done it for years). Other countries too (eg. Germany) use solar power effectively, but this will not happen in Australia while we are tied to the petroleum industry. Currently, the irony of adopting 'cleaner' energy sources here in Australia, is that rebates and incentives are reduced in direct response to the rate of adoption. For example, let’s not forget that any power generated from your green solar panels is considered taxable income! With regards to Smart Meters, there are SERIOUS issues regarding their use. They CONSTANTLY use power (as opposed to analogue meters); in Victoria, consumers have reported a 2-3 fold increase in their bills; there are privacy issues where reports can be generated regarding the pattern of consumer use indicating when consumers are home and peak times can be tailored to charge more for power use; smart meters broadcast a radiofrequency that interferes with other equipment and a neighbourhood of smart meters will contribute to a significant increase in electromagnetic radiation levels and so on. One thing we must not do is openly accept smart meters without THOROUGH consideration of ALL costs, not just financial. Australia seems to be stepping further away from clean energy.

Maud Crossing June 22, 2013

There is ample evidence that (wireless) smart meters are making hundreds of thousands of people sick worldwide. In Victoria, the roll-out of smart meters has been hasty and without proper research into the more recent studies showing the harm that constant low level (pulse) microwaves from smart meters does to the biological makeup of human beings and all forms of life. Australian safety standards, based purely on the thermal effects of EMR, are the basis for the Victorian Government's acceptance that the devices are safe. Greedy foreign owned power companies have hoodwinked the government into "mandating" the ill-advised smart meter program – financial considerations overriding any cautionary approach with regard to the EMR health issues being experienced worldwide.

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