Victorian customers are helping AGL and United Energy in the first retailer-led trial investigating how emerging technologies can help with energy demand in hot weather and reduce energy costs.

AGL is currently undertaking the demand response trial with 68 residential customers in Carrum Downs with local network provider United Energy.

All customer homes have had cloud-interfaced air conditioning units installed and connected to virtual power plant software.

Six of the homes have also had batteries installed, which integrate with existing solar PV systems.

The trial involves customers’ air conditioners being sent commands to slightly increase the setpoint temperature to reduce power demand from the distribution grid.

Customers are able to opt-out of particular hot weather events before or during each event.

For homes with batteries, solar energy stored in the battery is dispatched back to the grid during an event.

The main aim of the trial is to prove technical capability in reducing at least 25kW of energy being drawn from the grid for the duration of each hot weather event as a demonstration of alternative ways to balance peaks in energy demand.

The four month trial, scheduled to end on 31 March 2016, is creating a virtual power plant of the 68 homes in and around Carrum Downs, in Melbourne, which is experiencing population and housing growth.

This particular area may require United Energy to invest in upgrading its infrastructure in the coming years.

AGL General Manager Distributed Energy Services, Jason Clark, said the trial is giving customers the opportunity to be part of the solution to balance the strain of peak electricity demand on the grid and save on their bill, while maintaining comfort in their homes.

“If peak demand can be reshaped through minor changes to customer behaviour, network companies may be able to delay or avoid major investment that would put upward pressure on energy prices, while maintaining the same levels of supply reliability,” Mr Clark said.

“We’ve had a high level of engagement from customers during the trial with 83 percent saying they felt no or little discomfort during a hot weather event. And, while 25 per cent had some initial reservations about the trial, after three events 100 per cent said they were satisfied with the trial, and of these, 71 percent were totally satisfied.

“Participants have also told us the potential for long-term benefit such as reductions in energy costs, having smarter monitoring of household energy usage and involvement in new energy products were reasons for being part of the trial.”

The distribution networks across the electricity grid build and maintain infrastructure to ensure customers are supplied electricity when they want it.

But when temperatures exceed 35 degrees, an average customer’s electricity usage increases by more than 60 per cent, compared to an average summer day of between 25–30 degrees.

It’s estimated that about 20 per cent of the grid’s network capacity is only used for a few peak periods a year but the cost to have this availability are reflected in supply costs on customers’ bills.

Mr Clark said, “Looking for alternatives to help lower energy bills and provide consumers with greater choice and control is a core focus for AGL.

“The results of the trial will also provide us with insights of customer experiences, needs and preferences, which will support the development of future products and services that can increase customer choice.”

Jessica Dickers is an experienced journalist, editor and content creator who is currently the Editor of Utility’s sister publication, Infrastructure. With a strong writing background, Jessica has experience in journalism, editing, print production, content marketing, event program creation, PR and editorial management. Her favourite part of her role as editor is collaborating with the sector to put together the best industry-leading content for the audience.

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