AusNet Services is Victoria’s largest energy delivery service, owning and operating approximately $11 billion of electricity and gas distribution assets that connect into more than 1.3 million Victorian homes and businesses.
AusNet Services owns and operates Victoria’s electricity transmission network, responsible for transporting electricity from generation sources – via 49 terminal stations, 13,000 towers, and 6,500km of high-voltage power lines – into Victoria’s five lower-voltage distribution networks.
The utility owns and operates an electricity distribution network with more than 49,816km of powerlines and 390,000 power poles that feed lower-voltage electricity to 670,000 properties in Melbourne’s north-east and across all of eastern Victoria.
In addition, AusNet Services owns and operates a gas distribution network that supplies natural gas to more than 633,184 properties in western Victoria via 10,478km of underground pipelines.
Based in Melbourne, AusNet Services employs more than 2,200 people in regional and metropolitan Victoria.
AusNet Services also owns Select Solutions and Geomatic Technologies; two businesses that provide a range of services to the energy and other industries, including water, transportation, telecommunications, finance and property.
Select Solutions is a leading multi-utility services company delivering asset intelligence through monitoring, maintenance, and performance solutions for electricity, gas, water and telecommunications industries throughout Australia.
AusNet Services is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange and the Singapore Exchange.
A unique mix
AusNet Services is unique in that it owns and operates the state electricity transmission network, along with electricity and gas distribution networks.
Apart from the geographical uniqueness of the networks, AusNet Services has several technologies and programs that separate it from its peers.
In particular, AusNet Services has a comprehensive demand management program, along with in-house developed technologies, such as its Distribution Feeder Automation (DFA) and loss of neutral screen technologies.
Demand management: meeting the challenge
AusNet Services has a comprehensive, industry-leading demand management program, including a range of solutions to manage the challenge of supplying reliable power to customers during peak demand periods.
Peak demand refers to the maximum demand customers place on an electricity network.
In Victoria, peak demand periods typically occur for a few hours in the late afternoon and evening of a very hot summer’s day, when many houses and businesses are using air-conditioning.
A traditional approach to managing peak demand has been to increase the capacity of network assets – such as transformers and lines – to operate safely and reliably during these peak demand periods.
As peak demand happens for only a few hours on a few days each year, increasing the capacity or augmenting network assets may cause them to be underutilised at other times.
For many years, AusNet Services has reduced peak demand by approximately 105MW annually through efficient and cost-effective demand management solutions.
Solutions such as permanent embedded generation, mobile generators, customer demand response agreements, energy storage and the critical peak demand tariff have helped to defer or avoid investments in augmentation works.
Distribution feeder automation
In 2006, AusNet Services developed a centralised autonomous ‘real-time’ fault location, isolation and rerouting scheme that restores supply within 60 seconds to customers of a nearby fault.
“Previously, when a fault occurred, such as a tree falling over a powerline, the electricity supply would be disrupted along a large part of the powerline, affecting many customers,” said AusNet Services Managing Director Nino Ficca.
“Now, the Distribution Feeder Automation (DFA) technology instantly pinpoints the fault on the powerline and automatically operates remote-controlled switches to safely re-route the electricity supply around the fault to restore power to the majority of customers.
“The process is completed in usually under a minute, radically reducing the unnecessary time customers were without power while crews physically patrolled the powerline to find and fix the fault,” Mr Ficca said.
During one storm event, the DFA technology automatically restored electricity supply to 11,500 customers in less than a minute, effectively halving the number of customers that were without power until powerline damage from fallen trees was repaired.
AusNet Services has developed an analytical-based application using smart meter network data (e.g. property voltage levels) to detect unsafe neutral connections from street powerlines into properties and predict future failures that can cause dangerous electric shocks to customers.
“Since 2013, our technology has identified and allowed the removal of nearly 1,000 safety hazards that could have resulted in electric shocks to customers,” Mr Ficca said.
Late last year, AusNet Services won two Victorian Engineering Excellence Awards for technologies developed in-house to improve the safe and reliable supply of electricity to its customers.
Winning highly commended recognition in the ‘Product design and smart systems’ category, these technologies protect customers from electric shocks and automatically within a minute (DFA).
Mr Ficca said that these technologies embody the company’s commitment to improving customer services through network modernisation.
“I’m very proud of what our employees have achieved,” he said.
“Both of these in-house developed technologies are industry leading in Australia, if not internationally, and are already protecting our customers from dangerous electric shocks and improving their electricity reliability,” he said.
Tackling the smart meter challenge
The largest change AusNet Services has seen in recent years has been the replacement of analogue meters with digital smart meters into more than 700,000 homes and businesses throughout its electricity distribution network.
While AusNet Services has had widely reported challenges in completing its smart meter program, it has also been able to implement some leading edge applications in its operational meters.
Historically, access to network data stopped at the zone substation and 22,000 volt network level. Smart meters capture and communicate never-before-seen data from the low voltage (240 volt) network that serves customers’ properties.
AusNet Services has grasped this industry ‘step-change’ to develop in-house technologies using the data to operate its network more efficiently and service its customers better.
For example, AusNet Services has developed technologies using smart meter network data to detect electricity theft and deteriorated neutral connections, which is successfully preventing possible electric shocks to customers.
Customers are also engaging with the data provided by smart meters, with more than 10,000 AusNet Services customers using the company’s portal – www.myHomeEnergy.com.au – to view their electricity usage and better manage their bills.
myHomeEnergy is a free web portal that helps customers monitor their electricity use and manage costs by uploading the customer’s 30-minute usage and five-minute demand data from the smart meter.
AusNet Services Customer Services Manager Shelley Cussen said “Since launching in November 2012, myHomeEnergy has become an effective customer tool to access usage data and many other features for customers to help manage their electricity costs.
“Customer feedback has been positive on the ability to compare their usage profiles to similar households – including the size of the home, occupants and location – along with the ability to set usage targets and access energy-saving tips.
“For AusNet Services, it has provided us with an insight into the way our customers consume electricity, helping us to provide a safe and reliable electricity supply,” she said.
The future is in storage
AusNet Services launched its latest demand management solution in December 2014, beginning the trial of a new multi-faceted solution called the Grid Energy Storage System (GESS).
Mr Ficca said that the use of network storage may be the next frontier in demand management.
“As an electricity distribution business, we’re committed to finding the right balance between safety, reliability, and costs to our customers,” Mr Ficca said.
“As such, we focus on innovative solutions to provide our customers with a reliable supply on the handful of peak demand days each year, which importantly delays or offsets network upgrades,” he added.
The two-year trial – in partnership with ABB Australia and Samsung SDI – includes using a portable 1MW battery system to automatically provide local support into the 22kV grid at peak demand periods and recharging during low demand periods. The battery can operate at full power for one hour.
Located in a Thomastown industrial estate, the system also includes a 1MW diesel generator that extends the capability of the battery system to provide full coverage for the peak demand period, typically between 2pm and 6pm.
“The network battery trial complements these existing demand management solutions, which include mobile generators, critical peak demand tariffs, embedded generators, and large customer contracts to curtail demand on peak demand days,” Mr Ficca said.
The first of its type and scale to be conducted in Australia, GESS will also aim to improve the quality of power delivery, providing active and reactive power support and other power quality functions when connected to the network.
The system can also transition to ‘island mode’ to provide power as part of a mini grid when parts of the network become isolated.
An important attribute of GESS is that the entire plant, consisting of seven outdoor containers and kiosks, is transportable. It can be moved to various locations in the network and be operational within a short period of time.
As part of the Electricity Distribution Price Review 2010-15, the Australian Energy Regulator allocated a Demand Management Innovation Allowance (DMIA) to incentivise distribution businesses to consider demand side participation to manage network demand.
AusNet Services has utilised the DMIA to help fund demand management initiatives, including the GESS.
The future for AusNet services
Like many in the electricity sector, AusNet Services anticipates that the significant change experienced within the energy industry over the last ten years will continue into the future.
AusNet Services aims to play an active role in the future energy landscape, and continue its focus on supplying customers with a safe and reliable energy supply, through innovation and efficient investment.
The company will continue to explore and implement new innovations focusing on smart meter data, bushfire mitigation, peak demand management, and changing customer behaviours with solar photovoltaic systems and battery storage.
AusNet Services will also continue to extend their natural gas network into new communities throughout western Victoria, along with upgrading its assets.
AusNet Services in three words
Safe, reliable, efficient.