Australia’s most prominent renewable energy journalist has warned that a privatised electricity distribution network, as promised by the Coalition parties if they are returned to government, will need ‘a new business model’ to ensure its survival.
RenewEconomy editor, Giles Parkinson, has told Echonetdaily that the biggest concern about the privatisation ‘would be on how it accommodates the dramatic change in energy systems that everyone knows is inevitable’.
Mr Parkinson, who will be a keynote speaker at the Byron Solar Revolution Symposium at Tyagarah next weekend, says that of particular concern is the emergence of ‘distributed generation’, which incudes solar and other renewables together with battery storage.
‘This will require a completely different business model for all participants in the energy market, in particular the network operators,’ Mr Parkinson said.
‘But it is not just a matter of setting new tariffs and business practices, the gold plating that has occurred in recent years also needs to be addressed. This probably means a write-down in the value of the assets – but that’s not something that a government owner in the middle of an asset sale, and certainly not a new private owner, would want to contemplate,’ he added.
Mr Parkinson says rapidly reducing costs of battery storage will be a game-changer for the industry, especially in rural and regional areas where higher a percentage of people’s power bills is accounted for by distribution charges.
‘There is no doubt that future is battery storage. The big utilities in Europe and US are heading this way, the CSIRO in Australia says 50 per cent of energy will come locally, and that will require storage.
‘So a grid owner needs to adapt – it cannot lock out renewable generation at community level, or people will just go off grid – even at community level. It has to be part of the future, otherwise it will get run over by it.
‘That’s the big difference between electricity and, say, the internet and telcos: consumers and communities don’t actually need to be part of the network any more,’ Mr Parkinson said.
The Byron Solar Revolution Symposium will be held at Byron Eco Park, Tyagarah, on Saturday March 21 from 2pm. Keynote speakers include Tim Flannery and Giles Parkinson. Tickets are $30 and are available online.