AGL has embarked on the first retailer-led trial to investigate how emerging technologies can be used to balance spikes in electricity demand due to hot weather, and ultimately reduce energy costs.

AGL says when temperatures exceed 35 degrees, an average customer’s electricity usage increases by more than 60 per cent. It is estimated that about 20 per cent of the grid’s network capacity is only used for a few peak periods in a year, but the cost to have this availability is reflected in supply costs on customers’ bills.

Subsequently, the utility giant is currently conducting a four-month demand response trial – through local network provider United Energy – with 68 residential customers in Carrum Downs, Victoria.

All customer homes have had cloud-interfaced air conditioning units installed and connected to virtual power plant software. Six of the homes have also had batteries installed, which integrate with existing solar PV systems.

The trial – which is currently ongoing – involves customers’ air conditioners being sent commands to slightly increase the set point temperature, which in turn reduces power demand from the grid. Customers are able to opt out before or during instances of particular hot weather. For homes with batteries, solar energy stored in the battery is dispatched back to the grid during hot weather events.

The main aim of the trial is to prove technical capability in preventing at least 25 kW of energy being drawn from the grid for each hot weather event.

The trial is scheduled to end on 31 March this year, and is creating a virtual power plant of the 68 homes in and around Carrum Downs.

Jason Clark, AGL General Manager Distributed Energy Services, said the trial is giving customers the opportunity to be part of the solution to balance the strain of peak electricity demand on the grid and save on their bills, while maintaining comfort in their homes.

“If peak demand can be reshaped through minor changes to customer behaviour, network companies may be able to delay or avoid major investment that would put upward pressure on energy prices, while maintaining the same levels of supply reliability.”

Mr Clark said AGL has had a high level of engagement from customers during the trial – with 83 per cent saying they felt little to no discomfort during a hot weather event. While 25 per cent had initial reservations about the trial, 100 per cent said they were satisfied with the trial after three hot weather events had taken place.

“Participants have also told us the potential for long-term benefit such as reduction in energy costs, having smarter monitoring of household energy usage and involvement in new energy products were reasons for being part of the trial.

“The results of the trial will also provide us with insights of customer experiences, needs and preferences, which will support the development of future products and services that can increase customer choice.”