Energy Watch: Going Off-Grid - the Big Picture

Going Off-Grid: the Big Picture

We are moving from Centralized Generation (typically using Fossil Fuels) and Distribution (through a Mains Network) to Distributed Generation and Storage (typically using Renewables such as solar and wind plus batteries).  An All-Electric Future approaches with Mains Gas increasingly uncompetitive and unnecessary. A truly well-insulated home can greatly reduce (or even eliminate !) the need for active heating and cooling (the biggest energy use in a typical suburban home) and Solar Hot Water or a Heat Pump can supply up to ¾ of annual demand for water heating (the second biggest energy use), both radically reducing a households need for mains electricity. As the price of batteries falls, using solar power to charge batteries at lunchtime for use at dinnertime and overnight will become not only economically viable but economically compelling.

Many householders are now asking whether they should take the next logical step and disconnect from the Mains Grid completely. They think: “I would be independent, in control, and confident that I am living sustainably because I actually know where my renewable energy comes from.”  Or: “I am sick of spiralling price rises, complicated tariffs, confusing bills – I just want to be free of this burden”.

But while many householders want to go Off-Grid, few are aware that they might be forced to go Off-Grid.

Consider this: as Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Battery Storage reduce demand for Mains Electricity to a tiny fraction of what it once was, Electricity Retailers sell less and less power.  With tens of billions of dollars needing to be recovered from sunk investment in poles and wires, Retailers are forced  to put up their prices per kWh to make the same money back.  Whereas once they sold five apples at $2.00 each to make back $10.00, they must now sell 3 apples at $3.33.  Further they put up the fixed Daily Service Charge.  This upsets customers, who respond by using even less power … at which point the Electricity Retailers must put up prices yet again …

The joking industry jargon for this cycle is the “Utility Death Spiral”. It is a slippery slope to stranded assets, bankruptcy, and taxpayer-funded bailouts by our State Governments. Local Councils could be asked to buy the local network but most will likely baulk at the responsibility. The private foreign owners of our networks could simply shutdown unprofitable sections leaving customers left to fend for themselves. This won’t happen anytime soon in urban Ballarat or Geelong but is a real possibility in rural areas.

Think I am getting a bit far-fetched ?   Ask yourself:  “How many Phone Boxes are left in Telstra’s Network ?”  Answer:  There were once 80,000, now only 30,000 and they only remain at all because the Federal Government pays Telstra with taxpayers funds to maintain unprofitable services …

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First Published in The Meredith News