The following Sydney Morning Herald article “Power sector primed for overload” points to the possible “gold-plating” of the electricity network in NSW and therefore an unecessary electricity investment burden for all citizens.
The argument is that the network operators (Transgrid and the electricity distributors) are incentivised to over-invest in the network. The more they invest the more revenue the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) allows them to collect in the form of regulated prices charged to the energy retailers and on-billed to the end-customers.
A capacity augmentation of 125% to the network is being proposed for a region where peak demand is falling and population growth is close to flat. Clearly this is a gross over-capitilisation.
Even though pricing is regulated by the AER, do the network organisations collect and keep enough data for the AER to do it’s job effectively? Or is the AER just guessing when assessing necessary levels of investment? Are there enough sensors and data points in the network? Is the data modelled and analysed sufficiently? Or does the data problem just stay in the too hard basket and the regulator has no choice but to believe the network when it says it needs to invest more?
Another point not raised by the article is that smart networks are starting to drive down peak load and flatten network load more and more. Smart network sensors as well as smart meters are all contributing to exponential improvements in network efficiency and shifting energy demand from peak to non-peak times. A move to time-of-day billing will also help reduce peak demands. Smart network trials are increasingly succesful and operators are starting to commit to their deployment especially on the distribution side. Are the transmitters talking to and sharing data with the distributors? Maybe not, given the investment decisions highlighted in the article.
The network operators and regulators need to wake up to the fact that very high-volume data analytics is just so much more accessible than it was 10 or even 5 years ago. It really is a lot simpler to store the detailed data from these networks and perform the analysis required to remove the guess-work from such massively high-impact planning decisions. What’s more, smart networks will provide much more and higher quality data to further improve the analysis.
Get the data, do the analysis and make it available for all to see – don’t hide behind a lack of information.