At a time when driving down energy prices is high on the agenda, reliable data is more important than ever in developing new systems to maximise energy efficiency. With little known about the quantity of gas required to power a house, a new family home on the ACT border could be the key to understanding gas efficiency in the Canberra climate.

Evoenergy, which operates and maintains the ACT electricity and gas network, is currently working with the Toscan family whose home in Googong will be mainly powered by gas.

The Googong Gas-Plus Smart Home Trial — the first of its kind to be built and trialled in Australia — will gather real-time gas consumption data from several household appliances to understand usage patterns, appliance efficiency and the efficiency of gas in the Canberra climate in order to advance natural gas appliance and system solutions.

Real-time data from real people

Head of Gas at Evoenergy, William Yeap, said that Evoenergy was eager to be involved in the unique real-time trial.  

“We know that every time you turn on gas or electric appliances, you’ll use energy. What we don’t know is how much it uses. When it’s minus five degrees, like in Canberra, and you try to heat up your house to 20 degrees, how much energy is needed?” Mr Yeap said.

“With energy prices being at the top of many people’s agenda, this is our chance to use real-time data to learn the real cost of energy, with the aim of using these learnings to help people to manage their costs. This trial is unique in the way that it’s done using a real family, real appliances and a real climate.”

The family were selected for the trial after being recommended by the boutique builder who was building their home. Having met Evoenergy’s requirements and agreed to provide access to their data over a period of three years, the trial has only just begun, with the family moving into the house in November 2018. Data will be collected remotely and processed in collaboration with the Australian National University (ANU).

As the trial progresses, the Toscan family, and any other families who later build a gas-plus smart home, will have access to an energy management system and smartphone app where they can see the data on their appliances’ energy consumption.

“The family can see almost real-time consumption data of all the key appliances used in their home so they will be able to see, for example, the amount of gas used for their gas log fire and how much that changes when they adjust the temperature setting,” Mr Yeap said.

“The smart home also has a weather station outside and inside, so it knows the barometers, wind, temperature and other factors.”

With access to the detailed data, the family will be able to understand how much money is involved in their consumption and adjust their appliance usage accordingly.

Efficiency, emissions and the environment

While the trial is heavily focused on improving affordability, gas efficiency also plays a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Yeap said that the trial is just one of the small steps needed in reducing emissions and becoming more gas efficient.

“Hopefully we will drive a community that’s a bit more educated, and collectively will do certain things – change certain appliances at home, change the way they operate to effectively use less energy,” Mr Yeap said.

“When you use less energy, it means you will need to buy less energy from the supplier that at certain times isn’t enough to meet demand. You will also expend less of your network. It’s just like a freeway, where if you have more cars on the road, you need to expand your freeway to accommodate more cars. The incremental cost of building a road and adding another lane next to it is much more expensive.

“If you can reduce the traffic, and find a better way of managing your energy, then the cost will go down without sacrificing the reliability of the assets. You’ll also reduce greenhouse emissions.”

This is just one of the innovative initiatives that Evoenergy is looking at across both its electricity and gas network to move to a renewable future and help people manage their energy more efficiently. Other initiatives include looking at the decarbonisation of the gas network, with a vision to one day see hydrogen become the primary gas source in the network.

Evoenergy also recently created a virtual power plant, which brings over 400 members of the Canberra community together using excess stored energy from their solar battery systems which can be remotely dispatched back into the grid during periods of high electricity usage.

Data sharing

While three years is the minimum amount of time that Evoenergy wanted to take to conduct the trial, Mr Yeap said that 12 to 18 months’ worth of data will likely be enough for the company to start sharing its findings.

“We’re not going to wait until the end of three years to do something about it. I’m hoping that even once this coming summer and winter is finished, we’ll have the first set of data and that data set will only get richer as time goes on and more homes come online,” Mr Yeap said.

The data, which is collected remotely, will be put through a database such as a cloud system. Access will then be given to ANU, which will analyse the data and share the information with Evoenergy.

“It’s all part of how we educate Canberrans to manage their energy, but we also want to share the data with the broader industry,” Mr Yeap said.

“We’ll go to the Canberra community, the councils and other gas companies to let them know that ‘this is the result of this’. We can tell them that when Canberra is minus five degrees, you actually need this much energy to heat up the house, and if you reduce some of the settings, this is how much you can save.”

While the trial is currently on a very small scale, involving only one family, it will eventually require widespread involvement.

“It’s about data sharing and education. We’re not going to be able to do much without participation from essentially everyone in Canberra. When the next minus five or 40 degree day hits Canberra, then hopefully we will get people to be a bit more conscious of how to reduce consumption.”

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