Caution over off-grid electricity options

Going "off-grid" is probably not the best move for most Otago electricity consumers, despite Aurora Energy's plans to substantially increase line charges.

That is the view of Regan Heal, general manager of Cromwell-based solar energy company Infinite Energy.

Mr Heal said yesterday the increase was likely to encourage people to look for alternatives, particularly where outages were common and voltages were unstable, such as parts of the Central-Lakes region.

However, Mr Heal said the grid was "very good" at meeting peak power demand, and while going completely off-grid - with photovoltaic panels and batteries - was "entirely doable", it could be expensive.

Mr Heal said for the past couple of years, about 60% of his customers who installed panels also installed a lithium ion battery.

But, mostly, they stayed connected to the grid.

"The grid is certainly not the enemy, and in fact we often encourage people who are grid-connected ... that they should maintain that and work with it."

In the long term, Mr Heal did not think there would be a "mass shift" away from the grid, but he believed the whole system could be smarter.

"With distributed generation and batteries deployed in the grid to manage peak demand, I think we can actually defer a lot of infrastructure upgrades.

"I think there is very much an argument, and a trend globally, for renewable, distributed energy resources to be integrated into grids to actually improve that infrastructure.

"The attitude of us and them is dated."

Mr Heal said "distributed" energy was that produced at the site where it was being consumed "which obviously reduces the peak load requirement on the poles and wires network".

"If electricity's not needed to be shifted from one location to another ... then you are reducing the demand on that line and on those transformers."

Mr Heal said Vector in Auckland had examples of battery storage at suburban substations helping manage peak demand periods.

"That sort of investment has delivered some pretty good results and is something that is being trialled globally as an alternative to having to increase transformer capacity and increase the size of the poles and wires network for those peak demand periods."

Asked to respond, Aurora chief executive Dr Richard Fletcher said "safety, reliability and price" were at the forefront of its proposed $400million infrastructure upgrade of poles, wires and transformers.

"However ... we are actively participating in how smart electricity networks will develop in New Zealand.

"We have developed a network evolution plan which sets out how we will enable the uptake of distributed energy resources."

Dr Fletcher said he envisaged a network in which Aurora partnered technology providers to deliver electricity in "smarter and more efficient ways".

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