Finally, a national roadmap for decarbonising homes and communities

State and federal energy ministers have agreed to a National Consumer Energy Resources Roadmap but is this a turning point or groundhog day?

Australia’s state and federal energy ministers have agreed to develop a national roadmap for customer‑owned energy resources, and will consider taking a national approach to the rules governing assets like rooftop solar, home battery storage and electric vehicles.

The National Consumer Energy Resources (CER) Roadmap – Powering Decarbonised Homes and Communities to deliver national reforms for the efficient, effective and fair integration of smaller-scale energy resources was announced following the recent energy ministers’ meeting.

“We lead the world in rooftop solar, but we don’t lead the world in managing and regulating that rooftop solar, and the other assets, including batteries and electric vehicles,” said federal energy minister Chris Bowen in a press conference after the meeting.

“We want to. And so an important step forward today, we considered the work and we agreed to develop a national roadmap for a report back to Ministers in February, and we want to work very, very closely and collaboratively on that.”

As well as the CER roadmap, the ministers agreed to “give consideration to implementing a national approach to technical regulatory settings for consumer energy resources in 2024;” and to progress reforms in a way that boosts energy affordability for all, and that boosts EV uptake.

The ministers also agreed upon the appointment of an expert taskforce to deliver priorities under the Roadmap.

But in a week dominated by possibly the most important energy policy announcement in more than a decade, a major new federal scheme focused on supercharging large-scale renewables, is the promise of yet another roadmap enough for this hugely important sector?

Jon Sibley, a director at distributed energy consultancy enX, said the range of measures agreed to by the ministers was “not new or exciting,” in a post on LinkedIn, and suggested it did little to shake off the “strong Groundhog Day vibes” of the approach, so far, to national coordination.

“They only somewhat reflected the ESB’s [Energy Security Board] July advice – that is still yet to be released,” he added.

Gabrielle Kuiper, an expert on distributed energy resources who advised the now defunct ESB on the subject – and who inspired Sibley’s Groundhog Day comment with this detailed breakdown of the years and talent wasted trying to set national standards for DER – is a little more upbeat.

“Ideally, distributed energy resources will be a standing item on the agenda for all future meetings,” she told RenewEconomy, after congratulating the ministers for putting it there last week.

“DER can provide faster, cheaper decarbonisation and it needs just as much attention and support as large-scale generation and storage.

“We know there are large savings on consumer bills to be had from improving DER integration.

“What’s important at this point is not to waste more time in the planning, but to get on with the doing,” adds Kuiper, who is currently a guest contributor with IEEFA.

Kuiper’s urgent to-do list starts with getting distribution businesses to fast-track the implementation of dynamic operating envelopes across the NEM – a move one study found could unlock $5 billion in DER value over 20 years.

“An independent review needs to consider how best to remunerate distribution businesses for the vital role they are planning in the energy transition,” she adds.

Kuiper also wants the establishment of “one body” to take responsibility for setting DER technical standards; while the market operator and regulator must work together to unlock the potential of demand response to reward consumers for flexing their electricity use.

And Kuiper wants ministers to consider how to support smart electrification and small-scale storage.

“With consumers buying more solar, heat pumps and electric vehicles every day, we need policy and regulation to catch up and leverage these investments for everyone’s benefit,” she says.

Steve Blume, the secretary of the Smart Energy Council and vice chair of the Global Solar Council, says that while many of the ideas raised at the ministers meeting were not new, the weight given to consumer energy resources was an important first.

“This is the first time energy ministers have directly addressed the DER/CER space and recognised the importance of the multi-billion dollar private investment in what is now the largest electricity generation capacity in the country,” Blume told RenewEconomy.

“CER is given only cursory attention by [the Australian Energy Market Operator] for example – still seeing it as a problem to be managed and not an integral part with which it must be engaged,” he adds.

“This meeting outcome might be the stimulus needed to change that.”

Like Kuiper, Blume agrees that the real test for the ministers will be in the delivery of the promised ongoing focus and reforms.

Policy proposals are “never perfect,” he adds, “but this aligns with what Smart Energy Council has been working on to get [both CER and large-scale renewables] front and centre of the energy agenda.”

Stephanie Bashir, CEO Nexa Advisory and another strong advocate for the optimisation of distributed energy resources says Friday’s commitment from the ministers is “a huge win” for energy users.

“Distributed Energy Resources (DER) is Australia’s secret weapon in the energy transition,” Bashir tells RenewEconomy.

“Scaling up DER is how we become a clean energy superpower, and governments can enable this advantage right now with a coordinated national strategy focused on removing barriers to DER take-up.

“Even with a supercharged Capacity Investment Scheme, the size of our energy transition remains daunting, so maximising advantages like DER remain critical if Australia is to win the global race to decarbonise,” Bashir says.

“Removing barriers to DER take-up and coordinating support for residential, rental, commercial and industrial rooftop capacity is a great way to take up the ‘slack’ from large-scale generation and accelerate towards the federal government’s 82% renewable energy target.”

Heidi Douglas, the CEO of Solar Citizens, says the communique from the Energy and Climate Change Ministerial Council (ECCMC) meeting is a significant step forward on consumer solar energy policy and regulation.

“We are relieved to see action on the co-ordination of Consumer Energy Resources in the energy market, especially around technical standards,” Douglas told RenewEconomy.

“The energy market rules were written in the interests of large industrial players, which made sense when electricity was primarily produced by large coal plants.

“To lower household power bills, we need smarter technical policy and regulation to coordinate solar and batteries.

“We know rooftop solar delivers bill savings, now we need support so everyone can share equally in its benefits including low-income households and people in apartments, rental properties or living in social housing.”

Douglas says Solar Citizens is particularly keen to see the National Consumer Energy Resources Roadmap deliver on the behind-the-meter storage required to drive further uptake of rooftop solar.

And it welcomes the announcement for Minimum Operating Standards for Government-Funded Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Infrastructure.

“Though we are yet to see the details, [this policy]… could unlock significant cost of living benefits of electric vehicles for all Australians.

“Solar Citizens looks forward to seeing these plans being further developed and actioned by governments and reports on progress at the next ECMC meeting in early 2024.”

This article was first published on RenewEconomy. You can read it here.

Sophie Vorrath
Editor, One Step Off the Grid
June 24, 2024
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