Building our energy future through OpEN stakeholder engagement

2 Aug 2018
Stuart Johnston

Organisations that work in silos to implement change are typically left with unchallenged, poor-quality decision making. That’s why, when it came to our Open Energy Networks project with the Australian Energy Market Operator, we have practiced what we‘re preaching. The results have been surprising.

Australia’s energy landscape is changing rapidly, with ever-increasing levels of renewable energy generation being connected to distribution networks across the country. How best to manage this increasingly decentralised energy system to not only support the safe and reliable integration of renewables into the grid, but give customers a return on their investment in these resources, is the subject of the Open Energy Networks Consultation paper released by Energy Networks Australia and AEMO in June 2018.

A key objective of this work is ensuring all customers and communities across Australia benefit from this transition, so it has been crucial that we engage thoroughly with all stakeholders from this early stage of the project. The power of stakeholder collaboration, information sharing and transparent and timely dialogue cannot be overstated.

So across Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, Energy Networks Australia and AEMO have been holding stakeholder workshops to capture the most creative thoughts and ideas. Now you’d expect those of us working in the sector to be excited by the challenge of how best to integrate solar and energy storage into the grid, but even we have been surprised at the overwhelming interest and excitement in this project by a diverse group of stakeholders.

The roadshow

To date we have had more than 450 attendees from 100 different organisations, representing the entire spectrum of the energy sector including government, regulators, networks, peak bodies, private enterprise, community groups and private citizens, all keen to contribute to the consultation process to aid us in co-designing a distributed energy future.

It is clear that there is immense public appetite for conversation about modernising our grid. The Australian public is more energy literate now in 2018 than they have ever been. Part of this knowledge base is a direct consequence of living in modern times when energy has become highly politicised. A decade of policy inertia from furious and noisy disagreement about how to meet global climate change commitments, painful increases in energy prices and unrelenting media coverage has ensured all things power are front and centre.

All customers are affected and through feedback received so far through this consultation process, they have articulated their keenness for a plan to be developed that removes the politics from the energy debate and focuses on delivering solutions that benefit all. 

Solutions through collaboration

While consultation is ongoing, with submissions open until August 10, a number of key issues have been identified by stakeholders that have been common across all workshops. These include immediate ‘no regret‘ actions such as:

  • Visibility of all distributed energy resources connected to the distribution system for both the networks and AEMO;
  • Engaging better with the general public, through establishment of good communication and messaging (that is inclusive rather than talking at or down to them);
  • Pricing and tariff reform;
  • Possible rule changes; and
  • Collaboration, innovation and knowledge sharing.

We have also received many positive comments about the consultation process and how it is facilitating open dialogue with all stakeholders. All views have been welcome and heard. 

A key part of our work at Energy Networks Australia is to innovate and develop the opportunities presented by the changes in the energy system so we can provide better services for our customers. Our projects aim to facilitate the collaboration we know is required to unlock the best solutions for customers and the energy system.

This requires the right regulatory and policy settings and governments, the private sector and regulatory bodies working hand in glove at our workshops have ensured that we have started this project with the best foundation.

Stakeholder engagement is pivotal for us. We are proud to be listening to our colleagues, partners, peers and the public to inform our recommendations that will help define the role that networks can and should play in providing essential services for consumers in a rapidly transforming market.

The Open Energy Networks paper is available here and consultation is open until Friday 10 August 2018.