Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Direct Load Control – the SA option?

DLC - just stick your finger on A every ten minutes

As mentioned in the last post, South Australia has a greater percentage of air-conditioners in homes than any other state, by a long way, and this is the main reason why we’re the nation’s most inefficient electricity user, and Adelaide is ‘peak city’.
So ETSA here has developed a technology known as direct load control. It’s based on American technology and is already being used in some 10 million homes there. The South Australian adaptation utilizes a peak-breaker, a simple device connected to air-conditioners that turns off the compressor for five to ten minutes every hour, leaving the fan running. The technology’s proven, ETSA’s only concern is consumer response. They’ve already tried it in 20 homes, and the response was outstanding – the consumers didn’t even know it was operating, were delighted with the savings and felt it should be imposed statewide. ETSA are now about to trial it in 2000 homes.
These devices cost only $26 per unit, and La Luna could easily buy a unit for every home that requires it. They reduce the electrical cost of air-conditioning by about 20%, and, if introduced on a large scale, would reduce peak load, bringing the overall price of electricity down. That’s the theory anyway.
Apparently, there’s a battle going on between the proponents of smart meters, and the advocates of direct load control. Victoria has already backed the use of smart meters (which are considerably more expensive than our local peak-breakers), but ETSA argues that the direct load control approach is fairer. The argument goes thus: the direct load control technology operates within a fixed price system. The variable-price-dependent smart meter system will put peak prices up so high that people will turn things off because they can’t afford electricity at that price. Now, peak prices operate at certain hours – namely late afternoon to early evening. The people who will suffer from having to turn their aircons off in these hours will be the aged, the infirm, the sick, the housebound.
There’s also an argument that people don’t want to obsess about their electricity usage, and there does seem to be a falling-off-of-enthusiasm factor with smart meters, but I myself feel that there’s a place for both technologies. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out in South Australia.

Here’s an account of the trials ETSA is conducting. It also provides a rationale for South Australia’s choice of direct load control rather than critical peak pricing.

In Victoria meanwhile, the government is promising that taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill for its smart meter technology roll-out. Other commentators are skeptical, but the government hasn’t properly trialled the system yet, so again we’ll have to wait and see.



At 6:51 pm , Blogger genevere said...

I wonder about the morality of using air-conditioning except where it is essential. Surely it's a profligate commodity given the disparity of energy consumption world - wide - and it's finite. Anyway, I can't take the high moral ground I have air-conditioning in my car and office - plus I hate feeling cold during winter.

At 10:44 am , Blogger Stewart said...

It may be that SA has the highest rate of domestic air-conditioner use in the world, but it's not entirely because we're a profligate lot - we do have a unique climate, one in which air-conditioning works more effectively (hot and dry). There's no doubt that we switch them on more than we need to, but i think we need to combine awareness with more economic use, and more appropriate aircon systems.


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