Where will your electricity come from in ten years? Or even further in the future, in 2050? Are you planning on installing solar panels on your rooftop sometime soon? Have you been eyeing off one of Tesla's shiny new Powerwall batteries to put in next to your washing machine? Or would you prefer to just turn on a switch without worrying where it comes from, short of receiving your power bill at the end of the month. The CSIRO wanted to know what Australia's electricity network could look like 35 years and put together these four potential scenarios.
They're not nearly the 'alternate universes' you might imagine — none of these outcomes are mutually exclusive, indeed the CSIRO predicts that 2050 will most likely see a combination of most, if not all of these scenarios. These outcomes were developed in 2013 for CSIRO's Future Grid Forum, but have seen a resurrection this year as part of the Network Transformation Roadmap — which is, quite literally, the roadmap that the CSIRO and the Energy Networks Association are developing to help lead them to our 'ideal' energy future.
Set And Forget
Of all our potential energy futures, this seems like the closest to what we have today. Indeed, we may already be far closer to surpassing this future than the CSIRO expected back in 2013.
Recently released data shows that 15 per cent of households in Australia already have solar panels installed — so it seems we're well on the way to clearing the 19 per cent solar generation that the 'Set and Forget' scenario predicts. In regards to its impact on individuals, Set and Forget actually has the lowest estimated retail price of all four of the potential futures — although it's important to remember that retail price will not always correlate to the number you end up with on your bill. This is thanks to the idea of a voluntary 'central control' which will be able to remotely regulate your power usage to reduce peak strain, thereby reducing tariffs for everyone. The Set and Forget scenario is the most reliant on consumers continuing to be passive, while their next scenario is more in line with the trend of Australians increasingly becoming more active and involved in their own energy production.
Rise Of The Prosumer
We've previously covered the rising trend of Australians taking energy generation and usage into their own hands — something that is not just an outcome for decades away in 2050, but is actually happening right now. Once Tesla's Powerwall battery arrives in Australia, this will no doubt only continue to rise. Compared to the liquid fuel reliant model above, the Rise of the Prosumer sees far greater adoption of electric vehicles — which in turn leads to greater energy demand, further strain on the grid and increased tariffs. However it also completely reimagines the idea and operation of the electricity network, turning it from a one-way service into a two way market for energy transactions. This idea is already seeing traction, with companies like Reposit Power offering services that help their customers store, shift and even trade energy in order to get the highest possible price for their excess power. The Rise of the Prosumer is still a stepping stone, however, with the next two scenarios taking a more dramatic step away from the system we have in place today.
Leaving The Grid
With our relatively high electricity prices and often remote settlements, leaving the grid could almost be called the Australian Dream. While off-grid settlements and individual houses do exist, they often still rely on diesel generators. The CSIRO's predictions are largely based on battery storage technology, with the accessibility of disconnecting from the grid being intrinsically linked to the price and effectiveness of battery storage technology. As we've been seeing recently, this tech is coming to the fore. With all the hype surrounding the Powerwall, other companies — like Enphase with its modular battery system — are keen to get their names in the mix.
Batteries are even more integral to our last scenario, 'Renewables Thrive'. Given that renewable energy sources like wind and solar rely heavily on environmental factors that far more variable than traditional fossil-fuel generation, battery storage technology needs to be developed even further to provide a safety net. This includes not only consumer sized batteries like the Powerwall, but also much larger scale projects at an industrial level. Power stations would have as much of a focus on storing excess energy as they would have on generating it. From an environmental standpoint, this scenario is ideal — especially if the government ends up revising its Renewable Energy Target, which currently aims at around 23 percent of energy generation coming from renewables by 2020. As we are tracking now, this scenario seems the most unlikely outcome, with large scale renewable projects being few and far between in Australia.
So which of these futures would you like to live in? Is the freedom of living off-grid enough of a draw, or would you rather save yourself time and money with the fossil-fuel centric 'Set and Forget' scenario?