Networks shine spotlight on consumers

More than 800 Australian and international energy policy makers and practitioners are at the Adelaide Convention Centre for day one of the Energy Networks 2016 conference and exhibition.

On the opportunities and challenges facing the energy sector, Energy Networks Association (ENA) CEO John Bradley said customers won’t see many of the changes to the design of Australia’s electricity distribution network. Nonetheless, customers – businesses and households – are front and centre of the debate.

In the future energy landscape, the energy system will “look less like a monoculture and more like an ecosystem”, according to Mr Bradley.

“We are in an egg and spoon race on behalf of consumers. We are racing to re-equip our businesses, but we must balance the classic tri-dilemma around reliability, security and affordability,” he said.

“The network will be shaped by customer choices – smart homes and electronic vehicles – rather than by traditional utility decisions. While we can’t control customers, we can reward them, for example, through demand-based tariffs.”

The networks industry can also implement carbon measures that influence policy, which will become more and more valued by customers, according to Mr Bradley.

Transgrid’s new CEO Paul Italiano agreed, saying this environment presents significant opportunities for the energy industry.

“Our need for electricity is greater than it ever has been in history. The engagement of customers is at its highest, and the emergence of technology is at its peak. It’s up to the electricity industry to collect all of these [developments] and come up with a solution,” he said.

“There are economically viable solutions out there, but what’s making them difficult is getting them through the framework we have in place.

“There are options to respond to, so let’s move through the analytical side of this discussion and into solutions.”

Powerlink Queensland CEO Merryn York added businesses must adapt their mindset and models regarding how they treat customers.

“Regarding engagement with end-use consumers, we’ve really tried to push a mindset change that everyone is our customer – all four million energy users in Queensland,” she said.

“This is a different mindset for a transmission company.

“How can we get to a lower carbon future with the same safe and reliable supply, without increasing the price? This is a challenge I put to everyone in the industry, so customers will still want to be connected to the grid and to the networks, but won’t have to pay a higher price for it.

“It’s never too late to be thinking about this challenge.”

Energy Networks 2016 is taking place May 19-20 at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Stay up-to-date with the latest discussions on Twitter via @esdnews and #en16.