The Federal Government has missed an electric opportunity to link its $100 million smart grid dreams to key announcements in the Budget, two weeks after it was supposed to announce a winning bidder for a demonstration project.
In last year’s Federal Budget, the government announced funding of up to $100 million for a smart grid pilot.
Called the National Energy Efficiency Initiative the project aims to develop a demonstration project in partnership with the energy sector.
It was an important cog in the 2009 Budget for the energy, ICT and environmental sectors, promising to put the combination of energy and communications networks, sensing and metering technologies and IT applications to the test.
It is meant to “inform the business case for broader industry investment in smart grids in Australia” and “provide a comprehensive dataset about the potential benefits of smart grid appliances, network improvements and technological efficiencies whilst offering details on the effects of greater knowledge about energy consumption on consumer behaviour”.
Additionally, when launched the government said it would “examine links with the National Broadband Network and work closely with the Ministerial Council on Energy's National Stakeholder Steering Committee providing advice on the national smart metering program”.
However, the government received just four applications by the end of January deadline and has now missed its “indicative announcement date” of the end of April to reveal the winning bidder. It also failed to make any mention of the smart grid project in this year’s Budget.
Earlier this week the Government said it would provide $652.5 million over four years to establish a Renewable Energy Future Fund that will be administered by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The aim of the fund is to form part of the $5.1 billion Clean Energy Initiative and provide additional “support for the development and deployment of large and small scale renewable energy projects” with a view to commercialising technologies.
However, the smart grid project comes under the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and no mention is made of how they intend to integrate the projects. Leading telecommunications analyst and smart grid advocate, Paul Budde, said the lack of detail on the smart grid project in the Budget was disappointing and an opportunity lost.
“You cannot have renewables in an effective way without a smart grid,” he said. “You need to link the various sort of renewable sides together and establish a network, which obviously needs to be telecommunications. My disappointment both with the NBN Implementation Study and the Budget, is that they failed to link that together.
“In my opinion the National Broadband Network can be used in what I call a trans-sector way. By all the different sectors can use the NBN. Now, what a brilliant message to send out to the voters: We are not just investing in telecoms but we also profit in e-Health, smart grids and what have you. That is the missing element.”
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Ian Birks, said while overall the Budget was “pretty positive” he had expected some mention of smart grids.
“We did half expect to see something on smart grids and the pilot project,” he said. “We thought the pilot would have been announced. But they still haven’t awarded the project and it was due to be awarded to weeks ago. We thought it might have come out in the Budget. We don’t know what that means but perhaps it will go to some other event they are looking for.”
The Energy Networks Association's (ENA) response to the Budget announcements, however, are a positive sign the industry is already looking to link renewable energy technologies with smart grids.
"Given increasing demands for electricity and the need to reduce carbon emissions, it is essential to transform the way electricity is delivered and used. Smart electricity networks are a vital component of this transformation," ENA Chief Executive, Andrew Blyth said in a statement. "By optimising network operations and facilitating customer responses, smart networks can deliver future electricity supplies that are more reliable, more environmentally sustainable and more cost-effective.
"Smart networks will assist in enabling the development of a range of applications, appliances, services (such as internet portals and in-home displays) and price structures that offer the potential for customers to understand and manage their energy use. In addition, smart networks will ensure the smooth integration of renewable and low emission distributed generation sources into the grid."
Computerworld Australia has lodged a request for more information with the minister in charge of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.