Watt equity? Australians deserve a Basic Energy Right

This essay was first published in Australian Quarterly 95.3, Australia’s Longest running public affairs magazine, published by Australian Institute for Polic and Science https://aips.net.au/aq-magazine/current-edition/

Within the energy industry there is a popular, feel-good refrain that the energy transition will deliver a system that is ‘democratised’, in addition to being ‘decarbonised’, ‘digitised’, and ‘decentralised’. Here democratised is used as an umbrella term for a broad suite of desirable values: fair, just, equitable. Yet the way in which democratisation is envisioned to occur is, in contrast, blinkered – households are seen to gain political power as a consequence of their generating and controlling electrical power from rooftop solar, batteries, and electric vehicles – but what about those without?

This prevailing narrative of democratisation overlooks, amongst other things, the connection between privilege and ownership of these technologies, and the structural realities of social, as well as techno-economic, power. In particular, it ignores the systemic effects of managing energy through markets and, consequently, ignoring energy’s role as an essential service underpinning modern life.

The starting point of this essay is that the energy transition is not on track to improve equity. This is because equity will only be improved if it is prioritised above competing values, such as profit, in the millions of design choices that constitute the transition.

Such prioritisation is impossible within the existing (artificially) constrained policy landscape, in which the only options are those within the framework of indistinguishable individuals interacting through a market. This eliminates any space for unequal redistribution in recognition of the differing circumstances within the collective, and thereby contributions towards equity.

Progress towards equity rests on expanding the policy imagination. This essay offers one such suggestion: the establishment of a Basic Energy Right that provides all households with a modest amount of energy free of charge to meet their essential needs.

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Bean nuclei

There once was a bean farmer called P. For years, he’d supplied his local shops and cafes with tasty black beans. But then along came a new farmer whose green beans were much cheaper, and what’s more didn’t make people fart.

Everyone in town was excited to switch to these new cheap fart-free green beans. Farmer P was facing ruin.

So P decided to remind everyone that there was also a third type of bean that they should consider. This is an exotic purple bean that no local had ever tried.

Now P knew that these pink beans were expensive, hard to grow, and were suspected of making people’s hair fall out. No customers was going to choose the pink beans over the cheap, clean green beans.

But by making his customers spend time researching these pink beans P hoped to sell them another season or two of his old familiar black beans.

Inspired by question from students at Cringila Public School as part of a DeadlyScience session | Image from deepai.org

Ignore variability, overestimate hydrogen production – Quantifying the effects of electrolyzer efficiency curves on hydrogen production from renewable energy sources

In this new paper with Dan Virah-Sawmy and Fiona J Beck we show that neglecting the variable electrolyzer efficiency, as is commonly done in studies of green hydrogen, leads to significant overestimation of hydrogen production in the range of 5–24%



This study investigates the impact of including (or neglecting) the variable efficiency of hydrogen electrolyzers as a function of operating power in the modelling of green hydrogen produced from variable renewable energy sources. Results show that neglecting the variable electrolyzer efficiency, as is commonly done in studies of green hydrogen, leads to significant overestimation of hydrogen production in the range of 5–24%. The effects of the time resolution used in models are also investigated, as well as the impact of including the option for the electrolyzer to switch to stand-by mode instead of powering down and electrolyzer ramp rate constraints. Results indicate that these have a minor effect on overall hydrogen production, with the use of hour resolution data leading to overestimation in the range of 0.2–2%, relative to using 5-min data. This study used data from three solar farms and three wind in Australia, from which it is observed that wind farms produced 55% more hydrogen than the solar farms. The results in this study highlight the critical importance of including the variable efficiency of electrolyzers in the modelling of green hydrogen production. As this industry scales, continuing to neglect this effect would lead to the overestimation of hydrogen production by tens of megatonnes.

SwitchedOn podcast on Energy Equity

Delighted to be on RenewEconomy & Boundless Earth SwitchedOn podcast kicking off a discussion of how to *truly* improve energy equity https://reneweconomy.com.au/switchedon-podcast-free-electricity-to-cover-essential-needs/

“A popular refrain of the renewable energy transition is it will deliver an energy system that is more democratic, as well as decarbonised. That the political power of generating energy will shift from big power companies to households, as a result of us being able to generate and control electrical power from our rooftop solar, batteries, electric vehicles, etc.

But this decentralised, democratic narrative isn’t a foregone conclusion…”

EnergiZines: 43 personal interpretations of the energy transition

Last year I had the pleasure of working with the creative team of Engaged ANU (The Australian National University), Brad Riley and the inspiring Tristan Schultz on a pretty out there engagement that we called “EnergiZine – Nurturing Energy Transitions”. We’ve just uploaded the Zines created in these workshops for all to read and be inspired by https://dev.mtchl.net/energizine/viewer/

They represent 43 members of the public’s personal takes on the energy transition story, where it comes from and where it should lead to.

This short video gives a sense of what the evenings were like https://vimeo.com/847972505

Australian vehicle-to-grid expert says research shows even greater benefits are possible

Dr Björn Sturmberg, who is the research leader of ANU’s Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program says vehicle-to-grid offers multifaceted solutions to Australia’s energy woes including reduced prices and increased grid resilience. Sturmberg thinks EV owners can get an even better deal than free charging when it comes to V2G.

“The opportunities for V2G to generate revenue in Australia are significant, due in no small part to the volatility of an electricity market with concentrated market power and aging fossil fuel generators as illustrated earlier this week in Victoria.” said Sturmberg.

On Wednesday after storms in Victoria cut transmission lines leaving 500,000 households without power, wholesale electricity prices spiked as high as $16,600/MWh.

Sturmberg thinks that V2G has the potential to provide a lot more financial benefit than free charging to EV owners.

Our research shows that the potential income from V2G will in many cases far exceed the cost of EV charging, meaning drivers ought to receive more than just free charging.”

He also believes EV owners should be incentivised to keep their vehicles connected as much as possible.

“For the grid – and thereby for the reliability and affordability of all Australian’s electricity supply – the most important aspect of EV usage is that EVs are plugged in to chargers (or a regular power outlet) as often as possible,” he says.

“This provides the greatest flexibility in their charging, to reduce the cost of electricity generation as well as, critically, the costs of network maintenance and emissions. This requires a shift in drivers’ behaviours, to habitually plug in their EVs whenever parked.”

Sturmberg says he wants to see innovation and trials of tariffs that provide incentives for every minute that EVs are plugged in and available for managed (‘smart’) charging and says this has the potential to be very effective even before including V2G.

On the impacts of V2G to EV battery life Stumberg thinks provided systems are well managed, there’s no need for concerns around battery degradation.

“The impact of V2G (and driving) on batteries is primarily determined by the state of charge of the battery and the rate at which power is injected or drawn out of the battery,” says Sturmberg.

“Well managed V2G, that keeps the state of charge of vehicles within batteries’ comfort zone (generally 30-80%), will have a very modest impact – and in some studies has been shown to improve battery health compared to unmanaged charging by reducing the amount of time that batteries are at a very high state of charge.”

Full story https://thedriven.io/2024/02/16/costs-down-resilience-up-first-vehicle-to-grid-tariff-to-save-drivers-1640-per-year/

Participation and sensemaking in electric vehicle field trials: A study of fleet vehicle-to-grid in Australia

We have just published a new article from the REVS V2G trial about how participants in a field trial – in this case, the fleet, sustainability and asset managers – make sense of and influence technologies when a group comes along wanting to deploy and test them.

We found unexpected effects which revealed insights about what configuration of V2G might be acceptable to fleet end users. If energy market participants want V2G to solve their problems (and make them profit), they need to do the flexibility work.


Vehicle-to-grid is a niche technology that has the potential to benefit electricity markets and support more renewable energy in the grid. However, interest from prospective users in adopting V2G is not well understood, particularly in the context of fleet vehicles. Technology-oriented field trials can contribute to the development of niche technologies. Trials usually focus on making engineered systems work, institutional embedding and testing business models. However, through the participation of users they also provide the opportunity to explore processes of problem definition and the formation of social, ethical and cultural meanings. This article presents findings from the Realising Electric Vehicle-to-grid Services project, an Australian trial of vehicle-to-grid in a government-owned light passenger car fleet, aiming to explore co-productive processes as essential aspects of participatory technology development. Our data comprises interviews with organisational actors responsible for facilitating and mediating the trial, as well as others in similar organisational roles. Adopting ecologies of participation as a framework, it reveals the productive effects of these actors in mediating the local embedding of vehicle-to-grid. These findings challenge the framing of vehicle-to-grid as being a question of consumer acceptance and suggest that, for this promising technology to contribute to a more sustainable future, the electricity sector must accept more risk.

Full article: https://lnkd.in/eukchts2

Strata solar in Qld

Story in SBS about how an Australian physicist found a way to shave 10% off his neighbours’ power bills.

Arkadiy Matsekh changed the billing system of the embedded network of his housing complex. As a result, his neighbours are saving up to 10 per cent on their power bills.

Dr Sturmberg believes that the greatest achievement of this particular body corporate is that the community was able to reach an agreement and embrace change.

“Dr Matsekh seems to have done a lot of work by actually talking to his neighbours and getting their support,” he says.

“The bigger impact of what he has done is not kilowatt-hours of solar that he has produced. But the social expectations that he is setting in his neighbourhood.

The message to the broader society says that ‘everyone deserves access to cheap and clean power’.

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NRMA supporting the ANU Solar Car team and the BWSC (from Darwin to Adelaide)

“We see our (NRMA) partnership with the ANU Solar Racing Team and the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge as a great opportunity to support young people who are the leaders and policymakers of tomorrow. This is just one of many steps we’re taking to help Australian motorists in their transition towards an electric future.” NRMA CEO, Carly Irving-Dolan

ANU Project Lead Isaac Martin said the Solar Racing team had spent the last six years working to develop sustainable innovation within the ACT and were looking forward to working with the NRMA for the BWSC.

“Our team is so lucky to be made up of such diverse individuals from different backgrounds and experiences, and we’re excited to continue to push the boundaries of sustainable technology together,” Mr Martin said.

It’s wonderful to have The NRMA continue to support #electricvehicles and get behind Australia’s solar race (from Darwin to Adelaide) and the ANU Solar Racing team! The team’s making their final preparation for next week’s departure and I can’t wait to join them for the 3022km trip down the Stuart!

Full story in the Canberra Weekly