Public Interactive Learning Labs – Energy Transitions

Last year we decided to run a series of workshops that would help researchers to discuss their research and engage with the public in an interactive way. We called the workshops Public Interactive Learning Labs (PiLLs). At the end of each Lab we collated videos of the researchers’ presentations and we wrote short summaries of the event, including the public feedback and engagement. Some of the outcomes are available elsewhere but now we are putting all four events here in a series of four blogs. At about 10 mins each the videos are well worth watching!

Energy Transitions PiLL 

Future Grid Research, An Engineering Perspective by Prof Tansu Alpcan

Becoming Little Power Plants by Dr David Byrne

Energy Transitions and Hybrid Governance by Prof Lee Godden

Summary by Dr Sara Bice


From Big Grid to Mini Power Plants

Our one hundred year old power system might be keeping the lights on at the moment but Australians are demanding smarter and cleaner electrical infrastructure. Changes in both technology and regulation of the power industry in Australia are necessary to ensure equitable access to power into the future. These are some of the learnings from a feisty public discussion hosted by the Melbourne School of Government late in July 2016.

Experts in energy infrastructure, market design and law came together to share research and discuss public perceptions of Australia’s ability to transition to cleaner electricity, fair pricing and a smarter grid.

Professor Tansu Alpcan shared his research on distributed demand management which shows how we can use data at a local level to ensure that household production of electricity, through roof-top solar, can meet demand without compromising the existing infrastructure. Professor Alpcan indicated that changes in our electricity production and consumption are being driven by environmental concerns, new types of loads (such as electric vehicles), household battery storage that can act as a buffer for variable production, and sophisticated ICT that can real-time manage the local load on the grid.

Dr David Byrne noted that Victoria has the ability to move to dynamic pricing of electricity, thanks to the smart meter roll-out. While many people would be concerned about electricity prices fluctuating according to demand, decisions to reduce household consumption at particular times could be supported by real time data. Dr Byrne’s research indicated that the decision making process would be similar to that of decision making for off-grid systems that are driven by peak generating times and also supported by real-time data.

Dr Byrne also led the group in a discussion of the “electricity grid death spiral” which would push the price of electricity up for those least able to afford it, as shown here:

Professor Lee Godden explained how Australia has come to have a complex set of regulations that focus primarily on the economic rather than environmental outcomes of our electricity sector. This creates the tension that we now see with global agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions while the Australian sector still has structural disincentives against the establishment of large wind and solar electricity production. Disincentives include grid access pricing and land use zoning that preclude these activities.

As the audience discussed these issues in small groups it became clear that there was a general desire that electricity markets should be more transparent and that this would require reduced regulatory complexity to be achieved. There was also significant concern for the ability of low income households to benefit fairly from moves towards distributed solar power generation rather than being caught in a situation of being overcharged for grid access.

On environmental matters the audience was adamant that Australia should uphold its international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as per the Paris Agreement, and that smarter distributed electricity generation with various forms of storage as a buffer would play an important part in achieving that aim.