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We need better alignment between energy and building policy

Craig Chambers, left with Jon Jutsen prepare for video interview at AllEnergy2016
Craig Chambers, left with Jon Jutsen prepare for video interview at AllEnergy2016

The energy and property industries must come out of their silos to work on solutions to modernising the electricity grid, according to AECOM director of power Craig Chambers.

Mr Chambers focused his comments on electricity sector trends and adapting to increases in distributed energy resources in an interview with The Fifth Estate ahead of his presentation at the All-Energy Conference in Melbourne this week and a video interview for this website conducted by energy expert Jon Jutsen, to be published soon.

He was recently involved in the modelling used by the Australian Energy Market Commission to refuse a rule change to incentivise peer-to-peer energy sharing through the creation of local generation network credits.

While he couldn’t be drawn on that decision, Mr Chambers told The Fifth Estate the property and energy sectors needed to work together to “get positive outcomes for consumers”.

He said there was a definite trend towards “behind-the-meter” solutions in the commercial sector, and a balanced view of the most cost-effective and technically efficient way of enabling this needed to be considered.

“The grid is not a limitless piece of infrastructure,” he said. “We need to consider those constraints. We have to rethink the way in which the electricity industry functions going forward.”

Key to this was getting the commercial property sector working with the electricity sector on better outcomes, he said.

“That’s the way in which all sectors are going to evolve. We need to think about issues on all sides of the fence. Historically we haven’t put those two things together.”

For example, Mr Chambers said while a new five or six star building might reduce energy use overall, it could still be consuming the same as other buildings at peak times. The problem here is there’s no correlation with overall energy reduction and infrastructure advantages (such as deferral of upgrades) if peak demand use is still the same.

“The building industry is working on averages, but the electricity industry works on critical peaks. There needs to be a better match between industry and utility ideas about energy.”

He blamed a silo mentality.

“People live in their sector and don’t necessarily have to or need to know about other sectors, or utilities. What happens beyond the meter hasn’t mattered.

“As [the commercial sector] wants to reduce costs to serve premises, there needs to be better consultation about how to reduce infrastructure costs.”

Mr Chambers said there were “pockets” where this was being talked about, with “certain property developers” and the Property Council among stakeholders paying attention.

While our energy infrastructure is currently built for peak demand events, Mr Chambers sees a “sensible future” lying in building infrastructure for averages rather than the peaks, and using storage to manage demand and incentivising shifting loads.

“We can’t keep building for the peaks.”

The current model is no different to how we approach road infrastructure, Mr Chambers said – building roads to handle the peak demand in the morning and the evening rushes.

“We shouldn’t do that in electricity infrastructure if we can stagger the peaks.”

It’s a challenge he thinks will be resolved, but we should expect issues, particularly with the rise of inventions like electric vehicles potentially adding additional strain.

“It’s an engineering and economic challenge. There’s going to be inefficiency as we evolve the system. The [National Electricity Market] is only 15 years old. It’s in its infancy, and there’s going to be teething issues.

“It’s a new world of how electricity is supplied and used, and we need to adapt to the technical limitations of the infrastructure. We’re only at the start of that journey on how to get it all to work together.”

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