Future grid about more than just smart meters

smart grid, smart city

The CSIRO’s Future Grid Forum has put forward a series of scenarios for Australia’s future in 2050, to inform and inspire a national energy conversation with the sector, its stakeholders and the public.

The four scenarios for Australia’s future, said to “have far-reaching implications for the current and future electricity supply chain”, are:

• set and forget – where consumers rely on utilities;

• rise of the prosumer – where consumers actively design or customise solutions;

• leaving the grid – where consumers disconnect from the grid; and

• renewables thrive – where storage plays a large part in the entire electricity system.

A uniting theme between the scenarios is technology, with CSIRO Energy Flagship Program chief economist Paul Graham saying, “we need to be able to make sure we cover a broad range of futures, focusing on the major shifts that are really turning the sector on its head.”

“You can’t build just one vision because there is simply too much change going on in the energy sector at the moment,” he told Energy Source and Distribution.

“In ‘set and forget’, we wanted to look at the proposition of having a lot more control over the way people use energy, in a centrally co-ordinated way. For example, getting some participation from the demand side, in terms of controlling air-conditioning systems, particularly in large commercial buildings, or having customers with big loads sign up to schemes where those loads can be shifted around.”

The ‘rise of the prosumer’ scenario, however, puts the customer at the centre of the system. Mr Graham said this vision, where the user has the option of trading power at different times of the day, or even controlling electricity remotely on a smart hone, takes the adoption of solar PV to the extreme.

“The idea nearly every house has a solar panel is one many people really think is plausible, he said.

“While that implies solar panelsstorage and other technologies offer a partial substitute, where consumers still stay connected to the grid, scenario three looks at a complete substitution – much like trading in a landline phone for a mobile.

“We’ve had a really good response from those taking part in the forum because we’re all motivated by seeing real structural breaks in the way the electricity system works: increases in retail prices, a decline in demand, and customers generating their own power. The cornerstones of our electricity system are falling away and we need to work out where we are going.”