Australia does not compare well on the world stage when it comes to energy efficiency, writes Gareth O’Reilly. It’s time we took it seriously.

For the second year in a row Australia has been ranked fifth last on the climate change performance index, in a list of nations responsible for 90% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The ranking, which measures climate action performance across a range of key areas, paints a bleak picture for the current state of energy sustainability in Australia.

Our ranking under energy efficiency was perhaps the most worrying; it has dropped from the previous year.

While public discourse on climate action has traditionally focused on the uptake of renewable energy sources and a drive to cut overall emissions, proper discussion around the ways we can improve our energy efficiency has been lacking.

With energy demand predicted to grow by 37% by 2040, this issue is not disappearing. There is a need for more popular attention to be given to finding new ways to meet demand whilst balancing energy bills and without compromising the environment.

What trends at the utility level, in the workplace and at home are leading towards a more energy efficient Australia?

System-thinking in the grid

At the top-most level, within the realm of power generation, distribution and consumption, existing operating equipment is being enhanced through the use of sensors, information technology and communications subsystems to make “smart grids”.

These technologies are leading a data revolution, where the control rooms of utilities are adopting a system-thinking approach to the way they operate. This approach leverages the emergence of smart grids to take energy management beyond the control room towards a system of “demand side” management.

Demand side management will allow large consumers of energy to access grid-level intelligence to adapt their behaviours for financial incentives, decentralising the efficiency process. By alerting consumers to peak times, and offering incentives for consuming energy in predictable patterns, utilities are unlocking the potential of distributed action on climate change.

This process of sharing actionable insight with those who can use them is a trend that is also impacting how we approach efficiency in the workplace and at home.

Smart energy management in the workplace

In the workplace, smarter collection and visualisation of data is making it possible for workers to observe patterns in their energy consumption and production to identify areas where efficiency could be improved. This model of smarter energy management can be applied to workers in all industries, from office spaces to manufacturing plants, and will be particularly important in electro-intensive industries such as steel-making.

Taking the use of smart data a step further, analysis-as-a-service is unlocking the value of information to broader audiences by providing expert insight. Current in-market tools have introduced a layer of analytics to the often-complex data, allowing more workers to benefit from expert-level understanding and insight.

Applying this to a corporate setting, the adoption of smart energy management will put actionable knowledge into the hands of the individuals consuming energy, rather than just the bill-payer, to allow broader participation in the cost-cutting process.

Overall, a better understanding of where energy is consumed – informed by data – will allow businesses to make smart decisions about how they can cut their energy bills. By empowering more individuals to participate in this process through the distribution of insight, organisations will quickly realise the financial incentives for driving towards efficiency and for consuming energy in a pre-set predictable way.

The power of power bills: energy efficiency at home

Smarter devices are changing the way we can access data in our everyday lives. With the proliferation of the internet of things (IoT) our homes and our workplaces will be able to collect more information about the way we consume energy, offering insight into how we can adapt our behaviours to optimise overall efficiency.

While we have all heard that old adage “knowledge is power”, the next generation of energy conscious consumers will learn that “information saves power”.

Smart energy management at home is similar to that of the workplace. Greater access to information on consumption patterns will allow energy users to identify their inefficiencies, and take action to improve their behaviours. In the home setting, this information can come from something as simple as the home utility bill. When properly reviewed, the utility bill can help inform more efficient behaviours and lead to cost savings.

Looking forward, the introduction of smart energy means that homeowners will be able to receive relatively retailed information from their utility company on what is causing their bill to go up or down. As this practice becomes more common, and as IoT devices become more popular at home, we will see greater access to data driving an intelligence age.

While improving human behaviour is a positive step towards achieving more efficient homes, the final stage in this transition is reducing the role humans have to play altogether. By automating management of energy usage at home, technology is able to alleviate the burden of efficiency from the homeowner.

Achieved by applying logic to make a decision based on data according to defined rules, everything from ensuring lights are switched off in unused rooms to efficient running of air-conditioning to balance comfortable temperature and power consumption can be automated to improve home efficiency.

 

Gareth O’Reilly is zone president and managing director of the Pacific region at Schneider Electric.