All-Energy Conference shows power is on the right side

All-Energy Conference: The All-Energy Conference in Melbourne this year was a beautiful indication of how far the industry has moved in just 12 months. The big crowd was positive, strong and pretty much oblivious to the kids playing in the sandpit, AKA known as our elected pollies, past and present. The industry didn’t care and it wasn’t relevant.

Early in the week the Feds had again created the equivalent of impotent air turbulence – the kind property owners mistakenly thought would power wind turbines atop city towers in the early days of this revolution.

Unlike the government, the property industry and its suppliers quickly worked out its mistake and went on to better things.

When you’re an innovator, when you are pushing into the unknown future, and when you have your own skin in the game (not to mention your investors’), you might make plenty of mistakes – and in fact it’s pretty much required – but you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Not so the government. It’s playing with other people’s money, other people’s future. No, wait. Our collective future. That of the people it’s been elected to represent. And it keeps making the same dumb mistakes.

So it gets caught up in its toxic Abbott-inspired, US president-led hot air turbulence trying to fight the rising tide of renewables and clean energy as passionately as King Canute ever did and equally as effectively.

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg – heading down the same dead end as his friend Greg Hunt who likewise agreed to head up a portfolio under Abbott (environment) that would diminish him and insult his own intelligence, not to mention ours – must squirm in his sleep to be calling an end to the Renewable Energy Target after 2020 and sending a “no” signal to any Clean Energy Target. Which he did on Monday at an energy summit in Sydney.

It was no surprise that he got huge pushback from so many business and energy leaders. Andy Vesey from AGL was positively fuming.

AiGroup CEO Innes Willox said, “Frankly, this can’t go on much longer.”

With the Clean Energy Target being “crabwalked away from”, “it looks like we’re going to end up back where with started with rancour and division,” the AFR reported.

In London, former PM Abbott was making sure he consolidated Australia’s laughing stock image by talking about inquisitions and goat sacrifices as a metaphor for climate change then having a bet each way by saying, well, if climate change was actually real, then it was bound to be good for humanity because who doesn’t like a hot August night (in Australia).

Some of this must have really got under Frydenberg’s skin. By Tuesday he was denouncing Abbott, saying climate change was real and it was Abbott, after all, who’d signed the Paris agreement. Even that last bastion of rabbit hole dwellers, the Oz, was forced to call out Abbott’s oily value system.

Phil Coorey from the AFR said, oh well, that’s just Abbott being Abbott, as if he’s someone’s harmless drunken uncle playing games under the bushes. Bad luck it’s with our children’s future.

In the Indigenous world, back at All-Energy we heard from Tracey Cooper that sustainability means looking out for the next seven generations, not just our own kids. Our Feds can’t even look after our current generation.

Just as well we increasingly don’t need them. And this fabulous conference made sure we could all see that.

There were so many inspiring speakers. Industry and community alike are moving at a rapid rate of disruptive knots. And the biggest excitement and movement seems to be coming from the grassroots movement that are white anting the government’s agenda so much faster and further than it seems to understand.

The government won’t give us clean energy? The government doesn’t want to cut emissions? The government wants us to pay higher prices? The government idiotically blames renewable energy for the grid going down during a vicious SA storm then blames renewables for everything else it can think of?

Well watch this, Gov.

At the first panel session of the day and in chats with a run of industry gurus, business people, individual clean energy fans from the community, entrepreneurs and academics, the message was loud and clear. King Canute is going to have to yield before this tide.

Panel members: The next market disruption: A look at the evolving energy landscape, its future players and the new market realities for the energy sector:

  • Jim Cox, Board Member, Australian Energy Regulator
  • Dan Sturrock, Transactions, Arena
  • Michael Michael Benveniste, head of commercial and strategy, Powershop
  • Alison Rowe, CEO, Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd
  • Ben Burge, energy executive director, Telstra
  • Frank Tudor, managing directror Horizon Power
  • Chair, Rachel Watson, chair, Clean Energy Council and managing director Pacific Power

In the first panel session of the day, Arena’s Dan Sturrock said micro grids were these days more important and his organisation was getting more involved in energy productivity and efficiency alluding to the news of the demand management deal.

Saving energy might not be as sexy as solar power, he said, but it was important. (Maybe the new term negawatts will catch on, to signify the number of watts saved; it’s kind of sexy.)

The other thing the nerdy types of consumers will like is the range of software and apps to control and monitor energy use, savings and integration.

Alison Rowe from MEFL could see in her patch and wider a big shift for people to want to take control of their own energy, through households, streets and entire neighbourhoods and towns.

Her background in technology [with Fujitsu] meant she was excited about the potential of technology including artificial intelligence to assist with mapping and helping to change human behaviour.

“Technology has gone through a big change; it was centralised then decentralised and now it’s virtualised.

“People want energy to be like that – and energy as service.”

Rowe told us in a video interview after the panel just how far her organisation was now spreading its wings. Community energy programs were being taken statewide, there were collaborations with other councils and in fact “there could soon be 50 MEFLs” she said. (We’ll upload the video early next week, technology permitting. See our interview with her from October last year at the time of her appointment.)

Moreland has also recently participated in an Environmental Upgrade Agreement on a solar installation of 29.9kW and 111 panels for a knitted clothing manufacturer called Otto and Spike, with the name of the company spelled out through the pattern of the solar panels on the roof. “Made in Moreland”, she said, was now a proud brand.

And the results are a 4.2 year payback and $180,000 savings on energy over 20 years.

Chair of the session Rachel Watson said one of the things that had taken the market by surprise was that households were prepared to make their own investments in solar.

Rowe said there was an appetite to engage with the things that drive behaviour change, and into different ways to trade energy and learn behaviour change from apps that could perhaps remind us of how we responded last summer in a demand management program.

Powershop’s Michael Benveniste confirmed the appetite for engagement and said that “like Alison, we’re on the forefront of disruption.”

It’s all about the customers and what they want, and what some of those customers want is to put some funding towards helping others in the community who can’t put solar on their roofs.

“Different customers want to give back to the community,” he said.

Ben Burge, former Powershop CEO snapped up by Telstra in February for a senior role as energy executive director, said his company was one of the biggest customers around and supply and resilience of the power supply was critical.

“Turn the power feed off and people get grumpy. Turn the Facebook feed off and you see real hatred,” he said.

Telstra had to hedge the service it provides in energy just like any corporate would hedge its interest rate or currency exposure. There were three near misses of wide blackouts in recent times, of a scale we saw in South Australia last September.

“There have been at least three near misses that came within 50 milliseconds of having the same experience as in SA. One was in NSW.”

Telstra, a 1.5 terrawatt-hour user of energy means it needed several hundred megawatts of standby power and it had 1GWh of standby power, currently “truck batteries”, which would be much more useful with “five minute pricing coming” and better incentive on the demand side.

“Largely there hasn’t been a signal to the demand side to modify useage,” he said. The federal government that same day announced its “negawatts” trial program.

Resilience, Burge said, works best when it’s almost invisible and energy is boring. “Unfortunately it’s a bit scary at the minute.”

Not in the opinion of energy guru Alan Pears, however. Pears, told us in a separate interview (video up soon, again, technology permitting) he didn’t believe there would be any further widescale power outages; so many responses had come into play since the SA debacle – all of which were rapidly transforming the landscape. One big hopeful technology, he said, was in capturing heat from manufacturing processes.

Another university-based IT expert The Fifth Estate spoke to after the session doubted there was much left to be invented in energy technology as he sat happily outside at a café table unconcerned by not attending presentations. The big breakthroughs now, he said, would be in integration.

Back in session 1 Frank Tudor from Horizon Power pointed out that distributed solar, batteries and wind and turbines taken together meant that renewable energy supply would soon get to a critical level that needed to be orchestrated some way.

There were also micro grids that could be organised “virtually or geographically” – individuals “getting together to orchestrate their own solutions”.

You could think of it like a federation of smart cities, made up of micro grids, he said.

Ben Burge pretty much brought the house down when he talked about the huge diversity of solutions that were needed to solve the energy challenge, so why were there so few women.

“Hands up those in this room who are part of the power industry,” he challenged. Quite a few did. And how many of those are female?

It was about eight per cent, on par with what research had led him to expect. Yet to solve these complex issues we needed the variety in thinking, the “different psychology”.  We need to embrace different and provide psychological safety for difference.

Women engineers even struggled to get protective clothing to fit. One female engineer later told The Fifth Estate this part really resonated with her: when she went in search of steel capped boots, she was led to the fashion items.

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