New Zealand Lagging In Smart Grid revolution  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The NZ Herald has an article looking at progress building a smarter grid in New Zealand - Efficiency at the flick of a switch.

Smart grids are electricity's buzzword, but, with the odd cold shower, we've felt their effects in our homes for decades.

The forerunner of energy's big hope was pioneered in New Zealand 60 years ago when ripple control was introduced to give power suppliers the ability to cut hot water heating when demand stretched generation and transmission. This relatively crude, but "sensible grid" way of avoiding blackouts or brownouts, having to build more power stations and sling more lines to meet peak demand is still around today.

Though smart grid innovators and enthusiasts are bursting with ways to refine and expand the principle, a one-way pulse that turns off your hot water will remain the mainstay of controlling demand for a while yet.

It may be decades before most New Zealanders' appliances are having a two-way conversation through smart grids, whose definitions are almost as numerous as potential applications.

At its most basic it involves better communication between utility operators and components of the grid, including transformers, power lines, meters and even home appliances. Your fridge could turn itself on and off to take advantage of cheap power rates, or your solar panel or micro-windmill could feed surplus electricity back into the national grid - and the homeowner gets paid for it. On top of those alluring prospects, New Zealand's 1.7 million residential electricity consumers could adjust their use to prevent and ease peak power loads. Trials by Mercury Energy show householders who use up-to-the-minute data can cut their use by 10 per cent.

Across the country such savings could at least delay the need to build power stations and the associated infrastructure. Allowing for future spending on power stations is inflicting growing pain - by Contact Energy's reckoning it will push the energy component of bills from around 7c to between 10c and 12c a unit for all consumers over coming years.

Reliability of networks will also improve. Transmission lines and cables will be constantly monitored for signs of distress; already the health of critical lines is monitored as regularly as every half a metre.

Around the world tens of billions of dollars is being poured into building smart grids. In the United States - where networks are in worse shape than here - about $2.1 trillion must be spent on interstate grids.

The Obama administration is investing $4.5 billion in 100 smart grid projects, to be matched dollar for dollar by private funding by utilities.

Last month General Electric launched a 10-week contest to speed global power-grid upgrades, promising investment and marketing help for the best submissions from a $260 million fund.

The company estimates there is a $260 billion market for smart-grid technologies in the next decade. GE is spending about $10 billion on environmentally friendly products by 2015.

China is also at the forefront of the smart grid push and is now drafting a five-year energy plan to include smart grid technology as one of the key industries for research and development.

Its government will provide funding to build several research centres this year to develop transmission technology connecting wind and solar power to the grid.

State Grid Corp will invest the equivalent of $50 billion this year to build a smart grid network in China, Xinhua news agency reports. The company aims to install 75 electric car-charging stations and 6209 recharging towers across 27 cities this year, according to previous reports.

In Europe, an EU directive requires that 80 per cent of member state households be equipped with smart meters by the year 2020.

In Australia, Newcastle, will become the first Australian city to move towards being on a smart grid after a $120 million initial investment by the federal government announced in June. Parts of Sydney are also included in the trial project.

So what about New Zealand? The phrase "smart grid" barely rates a mention in the draft energy strategy released last month.


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