When all the air conditioners run at once

When all the air conditioners run at once

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How can we take the load off the grid as it comes under enormous strain from the heatwave?

Air con. Ugly on the outside, so wonderful on the inside. Image: Flickr / Jan Tik
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Air con. Ugly on the outside, so wonderful on the inside. Image: Flickr / Jan Tik
Air con. Ugly on the outside, so wonderful on the inside. Image: Flickr / Jan Tik


When many Aussies woke up this morning they probably didn’t want to get out of bed. That is, they didn’t want to leave the comfort of their air conditioned homes.

The mercury is already on the rise and tipped to reach sweltering highs – over 40°C in Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra.

Over the next few days the system that delivers our electricity, the grid, will be put under enormous strain. The grid basically refers to the infrastructure and companies that generate electricity and deliver it to your door. It may sound straightforward but for the few days of the year when peak demand kicks in, the pressure on the grid can be problematic. With a heat wave moving across most of Australia these next few days, many of the 75 per cent of households with air conditioners will switch them on today. That alone will about double the average electricity demand.

So what, you say? I pay my electricity bills. Well this is where it gets interesting. The peaks and troughs of electricity demand can actually mean higher electricity prices. This is because money is invested into grid infrastructure so that it can handle a peak demand scenario that may or may not happen. So how can we take the load off the grid during these times?

One way is known as cost reflective pricing. This is where the price of electricity is adjusted at different times of the day to encourage people to move their consumption away from peak periods.

Cost reflective pricing infographic

Would you reconsider running that load of washing at 8am if you knew it would cost half the price at 2pm?

And that’s not the only change we may see. Already one in seven Australian homes has solar panels on its roof, giving us one of the highest rates of distributed generation of electricity in the world. Some of the electricity generated on these roofs is put back into the grid for redistribution, taking some pressure off grid infrastructure.

Distributed generation infographic

But wait, there’s more. There’s Opticool – smart software developed by us and commercialised by Building IQ that monitors and adjusts conditions in a building based on live data (like weather and personal comfort levels). This clever technology has reduced energy consumption at New York’s Rockefeller Centre by about 12 per cent and, more impressively, reduced the building’s peak energy demand by nearly 30 per cent. Imagine never having to complain about your office temperature ever again.

Cost reflective pricing, distributed generation and intelligent buildings – all of them possibilities for our electricity future. As to the heat wave that’s on our door step, well, we’ll just have to rely on the poor old electricity grid.

Now pass me that air con remote.

 Source: CSIRO. Reproduced with permission






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  1. Matt 7 years ago

    If we all used Climate Wizard indirect evaporative air conditioning there would not be a grid overload problem.

  2. Askgerbil Now 7 years ago

    One approach to managing electricity supply:
    1. Provide electricity at the
    same price in off-peak and peak periods, encouraging people to buy millions of
    air conditioners that use most energy in peak periods.
    2. Invest billions in
    an electricity distribution grid able to provide huge amounts of electricity for
    a few hours of exceptional peak demand a year.
    3. Invest billions of dollars
    in smart meters so that the price of electricity can be raised substantially in
    peak periods to discourage people from using the air conditioners they were
    encouraged to buy in step 1.
    4. Attribute the high cost of electricity in
    Australia to government ownership, and sell the problem to private interests in
    the hope they can fix it.
    5. Finally, people realise they can update the
    millions of air conditioners they bought in step 1 with air conditioners that
    use electricity in off-peak periods and provide cooling in peak periods with
    about 10 percent of the electricity of the replaced air conditioners. (Phase
    change material-based air conditioners.)
    6. As an afterthought, scrap the
    excess capacity in the electricity distribution grid and throw away the billions
    of dollars of smart meters because it turns out they are not needed.

  3. Alen 7 years ago

    Your “cost reflective pricing” idea relies heavily on customers having reliable, fast and consistent access to price changes. Relying on phone calls to inform you of particularly high charges is not appealing to me. What would happen if I ducked outside quickly and missed the call? Don’t get me wrong I like the idea, it seems to be effective in parts of the US, but in my opinion this would only become an effective and even accepted scheme if it was introduced on a level playing field. What I mean by this is by everyone having for example access to high speed internet (NBN), are we in a position where everyone has reliable and fast access to information on price fluctuations at any given time of the day. I live 10km from a major city, the two surrounding suburbs both have fibre optic availability, but just 2km away from one suburb border and I have to rely on mobile broadband internet (which can be a b**** and is unreliable more often then not).

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