Western Australian energy company Western Power has reduced peak power energy use by 27 percent, or 3.5kW per home, by remotely switching off the compressors in trial customers' air conditioning units for a few minutes.
"This is the equivalent of using four microwaves or two pool pumps. It is a substantial saving," WA Energy Minister Francis Logan said in a statement.
The figure was achieved in a trial run conducted with over 400 participants from Nedlands, Claremont and Dalkeith who volunteered to participate in a trial from January to March this year.
Equipment was installed at the substation and also on individual air conditioners. When a signal was sent down the electricity lines from the substation, the device on the air conditioner turns off its compressor, but not the fan, allowing air to still circulate but without creating any more cool air.
The compressor was turned off at peak periods for seven to 15 minutes.
The compressors were turned off six times during the trial period, with devices varied so not all compressors were shut off at the same time. Western Power staff manually activated the devices when the temperature went over 36 degrees in the peak electricity usage times, betwen 3pm and 5pm in the afternoon.
According to a survey the company carried out after the pilot, many users didn't even notice the compressor being turned off.
The next step, according to the Western Power spokesperson, is more trials.
According to Western Power, peak energy use in Western Australia is driven by air conditioners, with 90 percent of Western Australians owning a unit. Of these, one-third have more than one air conditioning unit in their home.
This trial resembles smart meter initiatives in that it hopes to manage demand, the spokesperson said. But the likeness stops there: "With a smart meter people actually make a conscious choice," the spokesperson continued, whereas with Western Power pilot, the choice is made by the utility.
With reductions in peak power consumption, Western Power can delay on building new infrastructure in the short term, the Western Power spokesperson said.
"The substations, cables, powerlines and other infrastructure that we build to support energy needs are not driven by normal consumption, but by the total peak. We build to cover the times of highest energy use, even if those times only amount to a few days a year," Western Power MD Doug Aberle said in a statement.
"With this trial we were able to measure electricity demand on the Nedlands main powerline and it really showed that 'a little from a lot of people' can deliver a reduction in the peak," he concluded.