Energy knowledge is power for consumers and industry

Information about how each of your appliances  consume electricity can provide answers to some simple but important questions.

A centuries-old phrase goes: “Knowledge is power.” When you know something, when you understand it, you can take effective action.

It’s not quite the same thing, but you can see how the principle might apply to electrical power consumption in the home or business place.

If you know in detail how each of your appliances, heaters, coolers or processes consume electricity, you can come up with answers to some simple questions.

Should you turn off a heater or cooler at certain times of the day? Is it time to replace an old hot water service with a more energy efficient version? Or time to invest in a renewable energy solution?

But what about bigger questions? The kind that utilities ask. Or those that groups planning and financing the transition to renewables want answers to.

How do consumers actually use electricity, at a granular level? What are the evolving choices that consumers with solar are making about supplying electricity to the grid? How is the growing penetration of electric vehicles affecting home energy use and the grid?

Rising energy prices have sharpened interest in those questions, but so has the increasingly urgent need to tackle climate change.

My Energy Marketplace

Most households and businesses have only limited access to their own energy data. They typically receive only estimated power bills several months after they have used the electricity.

Sydney-based company Wattwatchers has for the past three years been working to provide consumers with the kind of detailed energy consumption information they need to make smart decisions.

It’s a $9.6 million project, helped by $2.7 million ARENA funding, to build, operate and deploy the My Energy Marketplace (MEM).

Since 2019, the project has signed up thousands of homes and small businesses, and around 100 schools. The MEM has also hooked up some 900 non-Wattwatchers energy devices, such as utility smart meters, electric vehicle chargers and inverters.

Participants receive the benefit of subsidised installations and, in exchange, agree to share their non-identifying energy data for 3 years.

A key part of the project is developing “soft infrastructure” to give consumers choices over how they use their data, such as being able to switch between home management systems provided by different apps, while ensuring data security and privacy.

Wattwatchers in your home, school or business

Wattwatchers dashboard screenshot
Wattwatchers’ dashboard monitors generation and consumption in real time

The My Energy Marketplace starts with hardware installed on the premises. In appearance it’s little different to the kind of fused distribution boards we all have.

But rather than protect light or power circuits, Wattwatchers units measure energy use down to socket or appliance level. They can also measure energy generation, such as rooftop solar.

All that information is securely sent and stored and accessed via an app.

The MEM also anonymises individual customer data to make it available to third parties. That service, in effect, makes the project a potential commodity in its own right.

An external expert Data Advisory Panel (DAP), made up of invited volunteers from industry, academia, government and consumer advocates, has guided the safe management of that valuable data.

Big questions

Wattwatchers Head of Impact and Communications Murray Hogarth says those numbers have created a critical mass of information. This is where answers to the bigger questions are hidden.

“The MEM data set gives you a much more detailed understanding of what’s happening in the home,” he said.

“It clearly underscores value of having a data set which is live and still evolving. And it will evolve to match what’s an incredibly dynamic marketplace.”

“For instance, the whole electrification thing has only really gone off in the last 12 months.”

Opportunities to change behaviours around rooftop solar are also emerging.

Whereas, in the past, generous tariffs incentivised exporting electricity to the grid, now that subsidies are declining, that equation is changing.

“As soon as you’re not on one of those tariffs, your incentive should change,” Mr Hogarth said.

“You should maximise your own solar consumption and minimise what you send into the grid.”

“And the energy system can benefit because it reduces the variability of rooftop solar input and household demand, and helps protect the stability of the network.”

“And that’s, that’s a kind of more complex message to get through.” he said.

The still-growing ‘MEM dataset’ is already being used or evaluated by a range of ‘data users’ including universities and research institutions, the CSIRO, the RACE for 2030 Cooperative Research Centre, app and solution developers, financial services and asset management providers.

The project is due to end in May 2023.