Project looking at power usage in New Zealand

Monday, 07 July, 2014

A New Zealand research team is exploring the future of electricity supply and consumption around the country. Funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the GREEN Grid project is a wide-ranging investigation into how New Zealanders use power, how demand can best be met using renewable sources and how the national grid can be made smarter and more efficient.

Researchers from Auckland, Canterbury, Otago and Victoria universities will be helping to explore the potential development of a smart grid, which incorporates information and communications technology into New Zealand’s electricity infrastructure. According to team member Dr Rebecca Ford, an engineering lecturer from Victoria University of Wellington, such advancements are well overdue.

“We’ve currently got electricity infrastructure which is relatively ‘dumb’, in the sense that we have some elements of control but we don’t really know what’s going on throughout the entire network,” said Dr Ford.

It’s hoped that improved information about electricity flows will lead to increased flexibility and efficiency within the grid, putting more control in the hands of consumers and the industry. Dr Ford explained, “A consumer who had a smart meter would no longer get a bill once a month, but would be able to log on and see a chart of how much electricity they’re using every day.”

Dr Ford says a better understanding of how and when consumers are using power would equip them to have greater control of their electricity energy usage. Power companies would also benefit from the information gathered by smart meters, providing them with a greater understanding of both their customers’ needs and the needs of the network in general. In the future, she said, this could lead to financial incentives for customers to use power in off-peak times when the network is under less strain.

“With our research, we want to get a better idea of what people are doing, how they’re using their appliances and then what options they have for better managing them and shifting patterns of demand,” Dr Ford said. “This could help people save energy and money, and could also help improve our overall management of the electricity grid.”

The research will inform new operating models for the wider electricity system which are being investigated by the New Zealand Smart Grid Forum, a group of industry stakeholders and customers. The Smart Grid Forum, established by MBIE and the Electricity Networks Association, is also looking at the infrastructure and commercial arrangements needed to benefit from new operating models.

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