We’ve got the elec­tric­ity. So why don’t we have the elec­tric cars?

The energy sec­tor no longer wants to keep us in the dark. The word on the street is when it comes to elec­tric­ity us­age, so­cially- con­scious goes hand in hand with fi­nan­cially as­tute. As New Zealand braces it­self for mas­sive dis­rup­tion in the energy sec­tor

Idealog - - FRONT PAGE - TEXT BY JAI BRE­IT­NAUER

Smart power

Un­til re­cently, energy com­pa­nies have been the one- eyed king in the land of the blind, pro­vid­ing con­sumers with con­fus­ing in­for­ma­tion and a lack of choice, while pock­et­ing healthy prof­its. Not any more. A stream­lin­ing ex­er­cise by the Elec­tric­ity Au­thor­ity has opened up the mar­ket to com­pe­ti­tion, and the new boys are rid­ing in on the cloud, with an iPad in their scab­bard.

Here are three of the new kids on the block:

ELEC­TRIC KIWI

Launched in May, Elec­tric Kiwi of­fers “naked elec­tric­ity”, a busi­ness model struc­tured around online tech in­no­va­tion.

“We’re a tech start up as well as an energy start up,” says GM Ju­lian Kar­dos. “We’re com­pletely online, we don’t have any call cen­tres, all pay­ments are made us­ing credit and debit card, and all trou­ble-shoot­ing is done through live chat.”

The cost sav­ings are ob­vi­ous – fewer bums on seats means less cap­i­tal out­lay, and the sav­ing is passed on to the con­sumer.

“This ap­proach isn’t for ev­ery­one,” ad­mits Kar­dos. “Some peo­ple like to chat about the weather.” But if you’re in­ter­net savvy you could save big, as long as you’re on a smart me­ter.

Smart me­ters mean that Elec­tric Kiwi is able to get more in­for­ma­tion about its con­sumers, Kar­dos says.

“We’ve changed the pric­ing model to re­flect power us­age based on that in­for­ma­tion. In­stead of dis­count in­cen­tives and dif­fer­ent rates for dif­fer­ent cus­tomers, we’ve given ev­ery­one ac­cess to a flat rate and the ‘Hour of Power’ – a free hour of off-peak elec­tric­ity each day.”

Kar­dos says if you do noth­ing, you will save an av­er­age of 4.2%, but if you think about your power con­sump­tion and com­plete high energy jobs dur­ing that hour, you could save 10%-15%.

“And im­por­tantly, we’re re­duc­ing the peak load on the net­work and en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to con­sume power at night when it’s mostly re­new­able,” says Kar­dos. “Our model is good for the coun­try, as well as the in­di­vid­ual con­sumer.”

FLICK ELEC­TRIC

Another start-up, soft-launched in Welling­ton last Au­gust, Flick is also us­ing smart me­ter data to give cus­tomers ac­cess to whole­sale prices.

“Other busi­nesses bun­dle up the costs of get­ting elec­tric­ity to your door, which makes it easy to jus­tify price in­creases,” says CEO and founder Steve O’Con­nor, not­ing that elec­tric­ity re­tail prices have in­creased 75% in the last ten years, while some costs for re­tail­ers have ac­tu­ally dropped.

“We’re of­fer­ing full trans­parency – all we charge you for is the price for be­ing your re­tailer. You pay ac­tual mar­ket prices for the energy and net­work costs.”

The price of energy changes ev­ery half an hour depend­ing on de­mand. Net­work costs passed di­rectly through to cus­tomers also vary depend­ing on the load they have to deal with,

The mar­ket is no longer at the feet of energy providers; we’re go­ing to see a world where peo­ple can choose to buy energy when it’s cheap­est, choose to store it or use it, choose to pro­duce their own energy and choose to sell power back to the mar­ket for a profit.

Steve O’Con­nor, Flick Elec­tric

O’Con­nor says. Flick gives its cus­tomers ac­cess to that in­for­ma­tion which, cou­pled with us­age data from their smart me­ters, should en­able them to get a cheaper price.

“We do have cus­tomers who play the game, watch­ing the prices,” O’Con­nor says. “But in re­al­ity most just make a cou­ple of sim­ple changes. If you use your dish­washer at bed­time, for ex­am­ple, you will be pay­ing up to a quar­ter of the usual re­tail price for your power with­out it im­pact­ing on your life.”

He says the av­er­age sav­ing is around 17%, com­pared with a reg­u­lar re­tailer. “Some cus­tomers have moved to au­to­ma­tion to ben­e­fit from whole­sale energy prices as well,” ex­plains O’Con­nor. “With gad­gets on timers or smart plugs, you can have com­plete con­trol over your energy us­age.”

O’Con­nor says Flick’s busi­ness model has been set up in prepa­ra­tion for what is to come – energy- ef­fi­cient tech­nolo­gies be­com­ing cheaper and there­fore more ac­ces­si­ble.

“The energy sec­tor hasn’t re­ally changed for 30 years, but within the next five years, we’ll see 50 years’ worth of dis­rup­tion.

“Peo­ple can af­ford so­lar pan­els now, plus Tesla has been de­vel­op­ing a new bat­tery that can store energy for use later on.

“The mar­ket is no longer at the feet of energy providers; we’re go­ing to see a world where peo­ple can choose to buy energy when it’s cheap­est, choose to store it or use it, choose to pro­duce their own energy and choose to sell power back to the mar­ket for a profit.”

UTILISE

Utilise launched its busi­ness re­tail of­fer­ing ear­lier this year. Kiwi- owned and with gen­er­a­tion as­sets in Taranaki, the com­pany calls it­self a new “Gen-tailer” – an in­no­va­tive re­tailer for busi­ness cus­tomers, with the se­cu­rity of a gen­er­a­tor be­hind it.

Like Elec­tric Kiwi and Flick, Utilise is able to of­fer the ser­vice it does be­cause of the roll­out of smart me­ters – power boxes which take ac­cu­rate power us­age read­ings and trans­mit that in­for­ma­tion in real time to the power com­pany. Over half of all do­mes­tic elec­tric­ity me­ters are now smart and this is forecast to be 75% by the end of 2015, and up to 95% in 2018.

Add in busi­ness and com­mer­cial cus­tomers and there are now ap­prox­i­mately 1.2 mil­lion smart me­ters around.

Utilise has also ben­e­fited from the de­vel­op­ing elec­tric­ity hedge mar­ket. Once dom­i­nated by the big play­ers, Utilise is now able to trade in this mar­ket, to the ben­e­fit of its cus­tomers, says gen­eral man­ager Mar­cus Kohn-Tay­lor.

“Energy re­tail­ers take the risk away from their cus­tomers by pur­chas­ing elec­tric­ity hedges. If there is a drought and spot mar­ket prices spike, busi­nesses don’t face that ex­tra cost.”

Utilise says his­tor­i­cally, large in­dus­trial users have ben­e­fited from cus­tomised prices, which are aligned to the elec­tric­ity spot mar­ket. But other busi­nesses have paid a more ex­pen­sive flat rate, as have residential con­sumers.

Kohn-Tay­lor says Utilise uses smart me­ter tech­nol­ogy, com­bined with its own be­spoke soft­ware, to an­a­lyse each cus­tomer’s us­age and then of­fer them a unique, per­son­alised tar­iff.

“It takes about 20 min­utes, and while we still build the risk into our pric­ing so the cus­tomer doesn’t have to fac­tor that in them­selves, we’re able to of­fer a stream­lined tar­iff that is closer to the whole­sale price, even for smaller com­pa­nies, based on the ac­tual energy they use and when they use it.”

Take the Rush­worth Café in Auck­land’s Wy­nard Quar­ter, for ex­am­ple. Co- owner James Gar­diner switched to Utilise be­cause he was frus­trated at his power bill.

“Our chillers run 24/7, but we were pay­ing a peak rate even at night. I thought there had to be a bet­ter struc­ture.”

Utilise in­stalled a smart me­ter, and Gar­diner now gets a dis­counted power price overnight.

“It will save us about $1500 an­nu­ally – a big gain for a small busi­ness.”

The energy sec­tor hasn’t re­ally changed for 30 years, but within the next five years, we’ll see 50 years’ worth of dis­rup­tion.

Steve O’Con­nor, Flick Elec­tric

With gad­gets on timers or smart plugs, you can have com­plete con­trol over your energy us­age.

Steve O’Con­nor, Flick Elec­tric

Three energy ef­fi­cient ap­pli­ances that could save you $$$

SMART HEAT­ING

All the rage in Europe and Amer­ica this year, smart ther­mostats have hit the mar­ket to help homes and busi­nesses au­to­mate their heat pro­vi­sion and re­duce energy out­put – and maybe even help com­pa­nies move to a more sus­tain­able heat­ing and cool­ing regime.

First un­veiled in 2011, the Nest learn­ing ther­mo­stat, for ex­am­ple, doesn’t just re­spond to the way you’ve pro­grammed your needs – it ac­tu­ally learns what your needs are and pre­empts them.

Nest is Wi-Fi- en­abled and con­nected to the in­ter­net, and the smart ther­mostats use sen­sors to de­tect whether you are ac­tu­ally in a room or not, and learn your sched­ule so you don’t have to man­u­ally set the heat­ing to come on at a par­tic­u­lar time.

In New Zealand, where ther­mostat­con­trolled cen­tral heat­ing is still not the norm, Mit­subishi Elec­tric has un­veiled a Wi-Fi heat pump con­trol app. The idea is cus­tomers can con­trol sev­eral heat pumps from one app on a phone or tablet, with no ex­pen­sive hard­ware needed – apart from the pumps them­selves.

They can also change the set up and tem­per­a­ture of each pump re­motely.

Tr­ish Sten­zel from New Zealand dis­trib­u­tor Black Diamond Tech­nolo­gies says Wi-Fi Con­trol is geared for small to medium-sized com­mer­cial build­ings in­clud­ing of­fices, mo­tels, and schools.

“Once each heat pump is fit­ted with an adapter, build­ing man­agers can con­trol and cus­tom­ize the heat­ing and cool­ing needs of mul­ti­ple units, not just in the same build­ing, but across a num­ber of lo­ca­tions, through one app.”

So a busi­ness head­quar­tered in Taka­puna but with a fac­tory in Pa­p­a­toe­toe can con­trol both sys­tems from one mo­bile phone.

Sten­zel says the tech­nol­ogy has been de­signed specif­i­cally for the New Zealand mar­ket and can be retro­fit­ted to most Mit­subishi Elec­tric heat­ing and cool­ing prod­ucts, in­clud­ing ducts sys­tems, as long as they are less than five years old.

Un­like the Nest ther­mostats, the Mit­subishi Elec­tric app can’t learn your habits, but you can pro­gramme in us­age pa­ram­e­ters, set­ting heat pumps to a par­tic­u­lar pat­tern.

SEE THE LIGHT

Are you still us­ing tra­di­tional light­bulbs? The UK’s Tele­graph news­pa­per, with the help of com­parethe­mar­ket.com, cal­cu­lated that re­plac­ing ten 60w or­di­nary bulbs with 6w LED lights could save you nearly $500 a year.

And even though they’re more ex­pen­sive than other types of light­bulb on the mar­ket, the energy sav­ings are so sig­nif­i­cant you would have paid off your in­vest­ment within five months. The bulbs them­selves last on av­er­age 18 months.

If you up­scale their cal­cu­la­tions to a large of­fice, your sav­ings could well en­ter the four fig­ure mark, not to men­tion the huge re­duc­tion in your car­bon foot­print.

DON’T BE FRIGID

If your busi­ness uses in­dus­trial re­frig­er­a­tion units you’ll know how energy in­ef­fi­cient they can be. This is be­cause of the way units work, with the ther­mo­stat ask­ing the com­pres­sor to run un­til the min­i­mum tem­per­a­ture is achieved, and then the com­pres­sor’s energy use in­creas­ing ex­po­nen­tially as the bot­tom of the tem­per­a­ture con­trol band is ap­proached.

Van­cou­ver-based com­pany Smart­cool has de­vel­oped two prod­ucts (known sex­ily as ECO3 and ESM) which can be used with an ex­ist­ing re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tem, to op­ti­mise its cool­ing cy­cle, re­duc­ing energy out­put by around 15%.

The de­vices are placed be­tween the com­pres­sor and the ther­mo­stat, where they ac­tively mon­i­tor and an­a­lyse the sys­tem.

They then use that in­for­ma­tion to ad­just the length of each cool­ing cy­cle to make sure it uses as lit­tle elec­tric­ity as pos­si­ble.

Worth chang­ing: Co- owner of Rush­worth Cafe James Gar­diner switched to Utilise be­cause he was frus­trated at his power bill.

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