On 29 August 2019 the AEMC hosted a Behind the meter symposium for stakeholders grappling with the many aspects of integrating new technologies into the future power system. The topic of the day was Behind the meter: Aggregation & optimisation of loads, distributed generation, and storage.

Behind the meter technologies include distributed energy resources (DER) such as rooftop solar PV, as well as smart meters, smart inverters and other ‘smart’ devices such as battery storage and in-house load control devices. ‘Smart’ DER means the device is capable of actively tailoring its output or load in response to price signals, in addition to its ‘passive’ capability to respond to changes in voltage, frequency, and other key technical parameters.

The AEMC Symposium was held in collaboration with Griffith University and Dr. Fereidoon Sioshansi, President of Menlo Energy Economics. It was attended by a range of stakeholders including university academics, regulatory agencies, consumer advocates and consultants and participants from across the industry including retailers, aggregators, solar installers, and technology providers.

Here are slides from some of the presentations:

Summary of issues discussed

The issues discussed at the symposium can be broadly grouped into the following four areas relating to distributed energy resources behind the meter:

  1. uptake and integration
  2. development of enabling technology, and
  3. regulation of the energy sector, including appropriate standards-setting and governance.

Each of these areas is discussed below.

Uptake and integration

The majority of presentations spoke to issues related to DER uptake and/or integration. One presentation noted an apparent paradox between the motivators of some consumers’ DER uptake – a desire to disengage from the broader market by reducing one’s reliance on the grid – and the conventional wisdom that efficient DER uptake and integration requires a high degree of consumer engagement in order to communicate the opportunities available from DER.  

Another presentation noted a lack of variation in consumption by households on time-of-use (ToU) tariffs, and argued this lack of price-responsive behaviour meant using price signals to achieve efficient DER integration could be ineffective. However, other participants argued the multitude trials of ToU/dynamic-pricing tariffs in Australia and globally over the past decade showed households do respond to prices. This suggested price signals were a necessary, albeit not sufficient, part of achieving efficient DER integration. The key is to get the price signals right.

Other presentations covered framing; in particular, financial benefit is only one – and often not the primary – driver behind DER uptake. Other drivers include the health benefits associated with lower emissions of CO2 and noxious gases, and a desire for independence/reduced grid reliance. One presenter argued moves to implement dynamic, cost-reflective, network pricing needed to take into account human biases, cognitive limits, and other behavioural traits, in order to ‘nudge’ people to adopt dynamic pricing.

Some participants felt the end-state – decarbonised electricity generation both in front of and behind the meter – was easier to contemplate than the series of decisions and reforms needed today to transition to that end-state. That is, it can be easier to imagine electricity pricing and the overall sector in 2040 than in five or ten years’ time.

Technology development

There was broad agreement that technology, especially increased automation and digitalisation, could surmount many of the issues relating to DER uptake and integration. Technology could resolve the co-ordination failures and challenges that are of concern to market operators, such as the potential system security risks if multiple DER devices operate in a highly correlated and largely unpredictable fashion, rapidly charging and discharging in unison. Technology can also provide a platform for unlocking multiple value streams of DER devices, such as value streams related to ancillary services, network support, and energy arbitrage.

Participants argued that for technology to play this efficiency-enhancing role, various reforms were needed – to governance and to regulations – as discussed below.

Regulation and governance

A recurring theme of the day was that reforms are needed to enable greater uptake, deployment, and integration of behind the meter distributed energy resources. Symposium participants discussed the need to reform regulatory frameworks as well as the attitudes of network businesses and other industry participants towards non-network solutions like DER. These reforms were as much cultural as regulatory.

The energy sector’s regulatory framework, including its governance, was seen as an important influencer on the efficiency (and equity) of DER uptake and integration. In terms of regulation, technical standards was seen as an example of the need to trade-off and balance the benefits of innovation provided by new technologies and new business models, against the associated risks (to consumer protections, to equity considerations, and to power system security).

Australian DER standard-setting – once the laggard globally due to technological breakthroughs occurring more often outside, rather than inside, Australia – is now leading the setting of similar standards elsewhere in the world, due to the significant uptake of DER in Australia over the past few years.

Participants agreed that reforms needed to draw on, whilst advancing, existing regulations, standards and governance models and modus operandi, rather than starting completely from a blank-slate.

Future symposiums

Participants were supportive of the open, candid and respectful atmosphere created in the room. Based on this feedback, the AEMC intends to do one or two symposiums every year, with potential future topics including electric vehicles, hydrogen, and the increasing digitalisation of energy.

If you are interested in attending or learning more about these symposiums, please contact Alan Rai.

Media: Prudence Anderson, Communication Director, 0404 821 935 or (02) 8296 7817