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'Customers key to solar and battery trials'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Contact Energy and Wellington Electricity are set to unveil to attendees of this year’s Downstream Technology Conference a key component behind their consumer solar and battery platform - customers.

The energy company and the lines company are due to present some of the preliminary findings from their ongoing two-year trial, which installed networked solar and battery systems in a number of capital city homes. The talk is being presented by Todd Spencer, Head of Commercial at Contact and Ray Hardy, Wellington Electricity’s Network General Manager, and is titled: "Joined up thinking - solar, batteries, collaboration, energy markets and customer behaviour."

In the trial, the companies are trying to assess whether clusters of solar and battery-equipped households can be used to manage the breakfast and dinner electricity demand peaks by taking them off the grid, and switching them to battery power instead.

One of the features of the system is that customers can view and manage their energy use in real time using a mobile phone app, and in the future it is hoped that this kind of technology will help customers decide how and when to use energy.

"When rolled out across an entire city like Wellington, it’s absolutely conceivable that tens of thousands of customers will actively decide whether to store, sell or use the electricity they are producing on a day-to-day basis," said Contact Commercial Manager Todd Spencer. "At that scale this flexibility is also huge benefit to electricity generators, retailers and distributors, presenting a whole suite of options around how to manage peak loads, and whether platforms like this can replace expensive plant and network investments."

Spencer noted that the ability for the electricity industry and consumers to flexibly manage how and when electricity is consumed will become increasingly important as electric vehicles gain greater penetration in New Zealand.

"What we want to achieve is a managed approach, where people charge their EVs outside of the morning and evening peaks, smoothing out electricity demand over the full 24 hour day," said Spencer. "Key to achieving this is to give people seamless options around how they behave at these times, and smart platforms like our solar and battery trials enable this." The people focus of the technology also features strongly in the video that Contact is launching at the Downstream Technology Conference to highlight the solar and battery project. The video can be found here:

Wellington City Council is also involved in the trial to assess the additional resilience these systems can provide to communities by creating a back-up power supply when the electricity grid suffers an outage, an important issue in natural disasters.

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