Hands down, Genesis energy got the short straw of the electricity generation assets when they were divided up, namely Huntly and Meremere. They were recently forced by the government to acquire the old and run down Tekapo Scheme from Meridian (which is operationally miles away from their other plant and has a major structural problem on it’s canal) and they hold ill conceived plans for a large gas fired plant at Rodney.
But things could be on the up for Genesis. They are set to hear back about their application for the largest Wind Development scheme in the country – Castle Hill (but will then have to sort out transmission issues if it is granted) and in today’s breaking story on stuff.co.nz, they have announced a multi rate tariff for electricity users as a trial.
This might not sound like much, but it is the first and a critical step forward towards a smart grid – as opposed to the stupid grid we have at the moment. The current situation requires New Zealand to build massive generation infrastructure projects just so that when everyone cooks their dinner in the evening, the system has the capacity to turn on the refigertaors on at the same time. Instead, why not build less generation plant, and stagger the number of fridges that turn on so that the peak is smaller and then allow those fridges to come back on a little later in the evening? Of course for a system to work like this the you need three things: 1 refrigeration appliances that can be told when is the best time to turn on, 2: the people that sell the power need to know how much electricity each customer is using at a certain point in time (currently they only know how much you use on average over a month – when the meter reader person comes out), 3: you need a system to control and communicate with the refrigerator.
Genesis have recently installed smart meters in 230,000 homes that can check customers’ electricity usage every half hour. This represent item 2 above of the smart grid requirement – but they still need smart appliances, item 1 and item 3 the feedback controls. But at least, as Genesis has introduced on a trial basis, the smart meters can now be coupled with the “multi rate tarrif” to encourage appiance owners to put some thinking into their use of electricty. The multi tarrif works like this:
- Peak rates apply between 4pm and 9pm, Monday to Friday
- “Shoulder rates” apply between 7am and 4pm,, 9pm and 11pm Monday to Friday, and between 7am and 10pm on weekends and
- Off-peak rates at all other times
Now if you take up this offer from Genesis, all you need to do is hook up your fridge with a meter timer and your away. If your hot water is not connected to ripple control (we will deal with this in a future blog) you should also make sure, your water heater is turned off during peak times. As most hot water heaters are hard wired into the wall, the use of a meter timer is not really possible and you will have to do it manually by flicking the hot water cylinder switch on just before bedtime and then off again in the morning.
Boil your water at low peak or shoulder and keep it in a thermos, there really is no need to boil and reboil the kettle over and over just to make a cup of tea. No doubt people who take up this scheme will already know about the appliances in their houses that use the most power (basically anything to do with heating and cooling) and will try not to use them during the peak. Clothes dryers (better yet to dry your clothes outside if you can) and washing machines can be run off peak, the possibilities are nearly endless.
While the concept of the smart grid should not change your life patterns too much – after all, the electricity system is to serve us, we are not supposed to serve it, the ability to put just a little bit of intelligence into ones usage will now at least be rewarded if schemes like these from Genesis take off.
Some more extreme power savings ideas:
- Just hit the mains power completely off switch during the peak time and instead of watching television, play backgammon, read or have a conversation
- Run your laptop on battery during the peak time
- Cook dinner with a crock pot or other device – timed for the shoulder rate in the middle of the day and just reheat food during the peak period
Genesis Energy has not often got it right – but we believe they are on the right track here. Respect.
While this is only the first step in the move towards a completely smart grid – see the image below, it ticks at least one of the boxes – the smart meters allows for “Demand Management” and it allows semi smart use of appliances if owners are motivated enough. But most importantly, it rewards people for not using peak power, this is the power that normally comes from gas generation – so if you are one of the lucky ones able to take on this trial scheme, you can assume that the peak power you save is basically gas generated power, you get financially rewarded for doing the right thing.