WA utility takes remote control of customers' aircon

WA utility takes remote control of customers' aircon

Summary: 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.


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.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Government AU, Legal

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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  • great!

    that is a brilliant idea!!! Can we see that rolled out across the country?
  • Good Idea

    It is an excellent idea - we should provide incentives to energy companies to maximise the use of energy rather than simply selling more and more energy to realise profits.
  • Umm, no - Bad Idea

    What's being sold as a "green" method of saving energy strikes me as nothing but a ridiculous attempt by govt & private industry to avoid the costs involved in improving and redesigning infrastructure. Temporarily cutting power to AC units between 3pm and 5pm will simply prompt customers to switch the AC on a bit earlier to compensate - probably causing a net *increase* in overall power use. Bad for the environment, bad for infrastructure. With 90% of WA homes having at least one AC unit, and 30% having more than one, perhaps the emphasis should be shifted toward energy-efficient buildings? To me, this whole "peak energy-use avoidance" issue smacks of "investment in a sustainable future" avoidance, and is typical of the wasteful "stop-gap" measures (both proposed and implemented) nationwide which divert investment from *real* long term *solutions*: intelligent building design, and emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency. The choice of this test in particular highlights the lack of commitment to solar (PV) - baseload supply is irrelevant, as proven by the times the remote switching occurs. This would've been a perfect opportunity to trial new solar (PV) technologies. Take ~20% of the sunlight striking buildings (thus heating them) and converting it to electricity to cool those buildings (thus also reducing the cooling requirements by ~20%)? Apparently that's too sensible. Or undermines the profitability of the coalmining industry. Or negates the Tough Decisions govts need to take regarding building codes. Take your pick. There were many Good Ideas which could've been implemented in this situation - naturally all were ignored in favour of a Bad Idea. How typical, and how shameful. In so many ways: what a waste. :-(
  • But...

    While you raise some good points, your cynicism misses the idea that it is probably a good thing that further investment to increase supply has been delayed (given that infrastructure investment is likely to be focused on increasing supply rather than efficiency) - unless, of course, the investment is on renewable sources of power. Forcing the existing supply to meet ever greater demand must lead to innovative solutions and greater efficiencies simply to meet that demand... this is not a bad thing.

    We would all like to see more (and better) measures to deal with power, (as well as climate and water), issues but I do not believe continually increasing supply is the answer.
  • Intelligent development

    Definitely agreed. The days of low-cost, high-pollution "brute force" energy use is well behind us, and we need to concentrate on intelligent design to replace the existing "dinosaurs". As you say, simply increasing the supply is definitely *not* the answer - although total supply *will* probably increase due to increasing population, "per capita" use is the point which needs to be addressed - and that needs to be done through efficient building design, and 21st Century infrastructure (a term which should, though it notably doesn't in the main article, include / mention power *generation* equipment, methods, and technologies) - the latter including a decentralised power generation system relying on renewable, non-polluting technologies, at the point-of-use wherever possible (thus also minimising the reliance on and need for massive distribution grid infrastructure).

    Although I agree with delaying further investment in current infrastructure (until it becomes totally impractical, hopefully;), I in no way agree with or can understand the delay in investment in above-described described "21st Century" technologies, in an age where pollution reduction is not merely mandated, but desperately needed.

    As much of a proponent of renewables as I am (I have no financial, political or other such interest in any of this, btw), I readily concede that zero-emission baseload supply is not viable in the short term. Peak supply, especially in a country where heat from sunlight is such a problem, is a vastly different matter. We need to learn how to build houses, we need to re-learn how to power them, and we need to re-learn how to *use* that power. And we need to do all that yesterday. Nonsense such as so-called "clean coal" technologies, and limiting of peak-demand use of "dinosaur"-generated power serves only to distract from the important issues, and divert desperately needed funding from them (specifically regarding both installation of the current-generation technologies and development of the next generations) - hence my cynicism regarding the trial referred to in the article. Until I see some major shifts in ideology from both govt and business regarding such matters, I'm afraid my cynicism will remain - I can only hope it's short-lived. I'm not holding my breath. :(
  • You missing the point here!

    If someone is paying for a service does
    the service porvide have the right to turn it off while in use?
  • smart meter BE AWARE!!!!!!

    i installed the smart meter as all the information that was awarded to me showed that i would save money on my power bill, with a cheaper rate off peak. The only thing is- this is in no way true!!!
    After the meter was installed, they then gave me information that showed the new power rates that i will be charged. During peak times (7am to 9pm), i will now be charged almost twice as much as before with the few items that can be timed in the off-peak time would in no way make up for this. I will not be surprised if my bill will now be almost doubled!!!!
    I feel that this information is just not put out there for an educated decision to be made before i payed $460 for a 3 phase installation into my existing house. So how much will i save to run my air-con and washing machine/dishwasher (after i have gone to bed) at a slightly reduced rate when the rest of the time (when i am awake) i will have my power rate almost doubled?!?!?!

    BE AWARE!!!!