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Newsletter: May 2021

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From the CEO

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the May roundup from the Energy Consumers Australia team. I am finding it very hard to believe we are already almost halfway through 2021!

Out with the old…

Most of you will be aware of the explosion at Queensland’s Callide coal-fired power plant which caused an outage for almost half a million homes on Tuesday May 25. Thankfully, no one was hurt and it was reassuring to see that the system and network operators were able to act quickly, demonstrating impressive recovery planning, restoring power in prompt fashion.

Now that the dust has settled though, it is worth remembering that incidents such as this illustrate how vulnerable the system’s reliance on a small number of very large centralised generation units can make us. The future energy system that we envisage, where supply is diversified, resources are distributed and energy is stored effectively, will be far more resilient in the face of catastrophic events. Contributing to the shaping of a a more resilient future energy system is a big priority for our team.

It is also worth noting that renewables (wind and solar) produced approximately 40% of electricity demand during the outage, preventing even more homes from going without power. This is significant considering only 20% of electricity used in Queensland is produced from renewable energy sources. Minister for Energy, Renewables and Hydrogen Mick de Brenni recently announced the connection of the largest battery in Queensland to the grid – perhaps the 2030 target of 50% renewables is closer than it seems.

…In with the new

We continue to work closely with the Energy Security Board (ESB) as they engage on the Post 2025 Market Design Options Paper before submitting their final recommendations to government. Our Board of Directors met in Sydney on May 20 and received a special presentation from ESB Chair Kerry Schott about the Market Design Options Paper and next steps as we move towards 2025 and beyond. You can read the Board Communique for more on that here. It will come as no surprise that the emphasis in Energy Consumers Australia’s submission to the April consultation paper is centred around the Integration of Distributed Energy Resources and Demand Side Participation.

We welcomed Jawad Shamsi, our new Grants Manager during May. It has been a busy period for the grants team who have been working hard on developing a new and improved Grants Program. Currently leading consultation with key stakeholders around the changes, the team will take the new model to our Board for decision in July.

This month the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) released its New Energy Guide, explaining the opportunities and challenges associated with making sure all Australians get the benefit of solar generation, energy storage and new energy technology. It is timed to coincide with the AEMC finalising its decision in June on the access, pricing and incentive arrangements for distributed energy resources rule change proposals. We made a submission supporting the package of reforms contained in the draft determination. In our view the proposed reforms:

  • enables the electricity distribution network capacity to expand in response to the demands of consumers who are investing in solar, with the costs of providing the export service paid for by those who use it; 
  • potentially increases the financial returns to consumers with solar because the installed solar capacity is being fully utilised when it has its greatest value; and
  • creates incentives for managing generation through smart controls, home energy storage or local energy storage (as a service) solutions.

Out and about

I was busy with speaking engagement during the month of May and was particularly pleased to speak at Australian Energy Week in the company of some of the best and brightest in the country. I used my time to issue a call for action for retailers in Australia to develop an innovation mindset. We cannot continue to rely on business models that are 50-100 years old when good data and technology is so readily available. I used examples of cutting-edge UK retailers such as OVO Energy, Bulb and Octopus Energy who are meeting and beating consumer expectations and taking 26% share of the market as a result, in just a few years.

In case you missed it, the Australian Financial Review included a piece on “Why CBA wants to help run your washing machine” on May 28. Currently the Commonwealth Bank app (CBA) currently has between 6 million to 10 million logins each day, which for CBA is an opportunity to engage in ways to reward customers with value beyond traditional banking. I welcome this kind of innovation and the introduction of new players in the energy space.

I was also invited to speak on an Australian/UK panel hosted by Energy Systems Catapult and Austrade around the transition to net-zero and shared challenges, experiences and ideas.  We should look around us for inspiration as the focus of electricity systems leadership is both local and global.

The Victorian transition away from gas was a key topic of conversation in early May. I featured in the Age discussing the potential for this to deepen the energy divide even further. We have begun exploring the question of the motivations, opportunities, barriers and decision-making processes that households have to make in relation to keeping gas appliances or switching to all electric appliances.

I also appeared on ABC Canberra television and radio this month to discuss new legislation on electricity pricing. Check that out here.

Consumer Issues and Priorities

We know digitalisation holds the key to our transition to a decarbonised and decentralised energy system but how will this manifest itself for consumers? We have ramped up our bECAuse Blog series which gives insight into our take on the current big energy issues in Australia. Interested in learning more about Consumer Data Right, Smart Metering and ‘Shopping Around’ for better energy prices? Look no further.

Though pricing is important, there are other motivators for consumers to become more active in the energy system outside of cheaper pricing, include helping neighbors in the community, supporting local renewable generation, climate concerns, protecting the vulnerable. The list goes on… Andrew Price from Tyalgum set up an Energy Project in his community for those very reasons. Do you have a story that you would like to share? Submit it here.

Moving Forward

Looking ahead, June is a big month for us as we will be releasing the results of our latest SME Retail Tariff Tracker and Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey, featuring some significant developments in consumer outcomes and sentiment. We will also be officially launching our Foresighting Forum, the Digital series which will begin in July so keep an eye on our channels for more.

And last but certainly not least, we are currently actively recruiting for a Director, Energy System Transition. Reporting directly to me as part of the Executive Management Team, the role will be focused on influencing and shaping the future energy system, from a consumer perspective, with a particular focus on market design, regulatory and planning frameworks including the Integrated System Plan. For more information and to apply, click here.

Thank you for reading, we welcome your feedback as always here.

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer

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bECAuse Blogs

How data portability can transform the way we use power

Click here to find out how Consumer Data Right will give households and small businesses easy access to their energy use data to help them make choices in the energy market.

Why we’re not telling you to shop around (but maybe you should)

We need the information about pricing and energy use to be far more transparent than it is today. Learn more here.

A new chance to get smart about metering

Smart metering has huge potential to shape and accelerate the energy transformation that’s underway in Australia. Read more here.


Submissions

Submission to the AEMC Draft Determination: Access, pricing and incentive arrangements for distributed energy resources

This scale of current and expected consumer investment in solar creates the opportunity to more fully reward consumers. Read more about why we are supporting this draft determination here.


In the media

Good news for Canberra’s energy consumers

Lynne Gallagher appeared on ABC Canberra television and radio this month to discuss new laws which dictate that retailers have to inform customers if a better deal is available than their current electricity contract. Watch her in action here.

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How Victoria got hooked on gas, and why the heat’s on to find new fuel

The Victorian transition away from gas was the topic of a feature in the Age this month. I discussed the potential for this to deepen the energy divide even further.

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