People power is the secret to reliable, clean energy.

Reliable Clean Energy

Australia’s energy watchdog, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), has issued a stark warning: more wind and solar power will demand new approaches to avoid interruptions to electricity supply.

In its annual Electricity Statement of Opportunities, released this week, AEMO indicated that the overall outlook for reliability has improved. So far, so good.

However, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales are potentially at greater risk of interruptions within ten years if the current trend of shutting down old coal-fired power stations accelerates, as we can expect from Australia’s efforts to meet national and international climate targets.

The threat of power blackouts is reliable headline fodder as seen in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review. But the solution to this very real challenge is not to cling to ageing fossil fuel power stations.

While there is much excitement about battery technology, it is the oft-forgotten human dimension that offers the greatest potential. We consumers, the so-called “demand side” of the market, can play a crucial role in reducing the strain on the electricity network, which will in turn make for more reliable power.

The biggest variability that the electricity sector has to contend with is not intermittent solar or wind generation output, but the ups and downs of power demand.

People power

Helping business and household consumers manage their demand for power (or “demand management”) is a win-win scenario – lower costs for electricity and a stronger electricity system. Demand management and energy efficiency are key elements in lifting Australia’s energy productivity. Lifting energy productivity means we do not need to slow down the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Research from the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) that supported GetUp!’s Home-grown Power Plan highlights that we can not only retire coal power to achieve our climate targets, but also shift entirely to 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030.

Switching up

The importance of demand management has been recognised since the dawn of the National Electricity Market in 1992. But this potential has never been properly tapped.

Happily, there are signs that this is finally changing. For example, the Australian Energy Regulator has announced a process to design a Demand Management Incentive Scheme. This will provide an incentive for electricity networks to help consumers reduce demand and cut energy costs.

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