Suburban growth building pressure on distribution
GOVERNMENT- owned Integral Energy is a poster child for the massive challenge Australia faces in delivering electricity to customers. Almost all public debate is about generation, but the power stations’ product cannot reach Australia’s 10 million electricity customers without an elaborate web of transformers, cables and substations. Consumers are linked to supply by 800,000km of electricity lines.
Energy Networks Association chief executive Andrew Blyth claims that the $ 45 billion power delivery system plus gas distribution now adds up to the third- largest engineering construction activity in the country.
In NSW, where the Iemma Government is staring down its own supporters in its desperation to sell power plants, the network businesses it will continue to own — the high- voltage operator TransGrid and three distribution operators — will be seeking regulatory approval this year to outlay about $ 10 billion over five years on upgrading and expanding their delivery systems. And they expect to look for approval to spend a similar amount in the following five- year regulatory period 2014- 2019.
Integral Energy is one of three NSW distribution service providers. It delivers power to more than two million people living in 24,500 sq km in western Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and the South Coast.
The corporation says it needs to spend an average of $ 135 million a year from now to 2030 on its network’s development — and $ 2 billion of this will have to be spent in the next 10 years.
The Integral Energy franchise area encompasses some of Australia’s fastestgrowing suburbs. Its customer base is predicted to rise by a quarter in the next decade, and maximum demand on its networks to increase by more than a third.
The task it faces requires not just upgrading networks, but in some cases helping to create new suburbs from the ground up. For example, its Rouse Hill area on Sydney’s north- west fringe — paddocks less than a decade ago — is to become a city the size of Canberra by 2030.
One of the characteristics of the Integral Energy franchise is heat and humidity — the hills and plains of western Sydney are hotter than the coastal areas. Ten years ago about 25 per cent of the region’s homes had airconditioning. Today this is 70 per cent and growing.
Largely because of airconditioning load, Integral’s peak system power demand has shifted from winter to summer, requiring temperature- sensitive plant to work at its hardest in the hotter months.
As in the rest of urban Australia, Integral Energy is also finding a substantial segment of its 830,000 accounts are business people working from home and critically dependent on the internet. They require almost faultless standards of electricity supply from a system that is vulnerable to storms, bushfires, accidents and vandalism — as well as its own old age.
A substantial part of the system, like other distribution networks around Australia, was laid down in the 1960s and 1970s and is reaching the end of its life.
Global warming also looms large. The network structure Integral is now installing is expected to be in operation for 30 to 40 years and, on the predictions of scientists, will have to deal with more extreme weather as a result of climate change.
With network costs forming almost half an electricity customers’ retail bill, the billions to be spent will feed into end- use costs just as the higher prices for emissions trading and an enlarged renewable energy effort are being added, too.