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Power retailers, networks told to make progress on data sharing

Friday 8th March 2019

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Electricity retailers and network companies have been told to speed up their efforts on data sharing or risk having the Electricity Authority and the Commerce Commission impose standards on them.

Industry and regulators have spent much of the past two years trying to change network pricing and simplify access to customer data so that households and businesses can get more direct benefit from the solar and batteries they are installing and so lines companies can also draw on those new technologies to reduce investment in lines and transformers and lower costs to all consumers.

Nick Russ, general manager for regulation at the Commerce Commission, said everyone can see the potential benefits from decarbonisation and lower costs the new technologies could deliver.

Distributors will play a really important role in facilitating open access on their lines which should speed the take-up of new technology, he told delegates at the Downstream energy conference in Auckland earlier this week.

The challenge is to make sure there is a genuinely level playing field and that network companies are open to buying in services from their customers or other providers, rather than trying to do everything themselves, he said.

Electricity Authority board member Lana Stockman, speaking on the same panel as Russ, said “pockets” of progress are being made and she is heartened to hear that distributors are talking more to each other about the type and form of data they will need from retailers to run an open-access network.

“The thing for the industry to focus on is to make it happen - because otherwise we will make it happen,” she said.

“The onus on the industry is to get this sorted out and work out how you can effectively share the data. Because if you don’t, you’re going to leave myself and Nick in the position of telling you how to do it, and I don’t think that’s something you really want us to do.”

Last month, the Electricity Authority received a report on equal access to lines networks by a technical working group set up to look at innovation and participation in the sector.

While its final report isn’t available, a draft in December said lines companies will have to make real progress on opening up access to their networks by the end of 2019.

The working group said distributors should take the lead in establishing what will evolve into markets for all forms of distributed energy resources – DER – including things like demand response, battery storage and discharge, and potentially hot water and heating.

Initially, that could be done “crudely to good effect” but networks will soon need much greater monitoring and analytical capability than many have now, the report said.

It recommended the authority work to establish common connection standards and protocols for DER across all networks, and the data and information that will required to support its uptake. It should report back on progress by September.

Contact Energy chief executive Dennis Barnes told the conference that customer data belongs to the customer and they must be confident it is being used in their best interests.

He thought there is already a lot of agreement within the industry on how data should be treated; the difficulty is in the detailed definitions of some of that data.

He is also wary of being too prescriptive with data standards and types of tools to be used, given that other bigger markets are also grappling with the same issues and may adopt solutions based on globally available tools.

He cited the example of Uber, which he said only exists because Google maps and the smart phone came together in a ubiquitous tool that enabled that firm to thrive.

“I think it’s going to be the same with data in the electricity sector - I just don’t think the tools are there yet,” he said.

“So I would hate to see the imposition of a set of data standards and a set of tools, because I think this will sort itself out in due course.”

(BusinessDesk)

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