Energy technology and business innovators will now be able to access new tools to help them trial energy products and ideas through the online Energy Innovation Toolkit.
Virtual power plants, microgrids, new models for paying for and trading energy, electric vehicle charging and battery storage are just some of the many innovative projects that have already received assistance and regulatory guidance through the online service.
Since its launch in August 2022, businesses with innovative ideas have been taking advantage of the Energy Innovation Toolkit – that connects innovators directly to energy regulation information, advice and expertise.
Following new energy laws passed in December 2022, businesses are now also able to apply for rule waivers and temporary rule changes for trials of new products and services.
Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Chair Ms Clare Savage said applications approved through the new trial portal will enable energy businesses, innovators and technology start-ups to test innovative products and services in a real-world environment, while still protecting consumers.
“Regulation is an important function to ensure energy markets are operating efficiently and competitively, and to protect consumers, but it’s important we don’t let it be a barrier to the adoption of new technology and innovation.
“Australia’s energy transition will be influenced by how quickly new technology and innovation can enter the market and the ability for businesses to undertake trials is a crucial step.
“Helping energy innovators and start-ups trial new products and services will deliver greater choice and cheaper options for consumers,” Ms Savage said.
“Using rule waivers and time-limited rule changes provides businesses with an opportunity to conduct trials and gather evidence on the feasibility of their ideas and helps progress them through the innovation adoption pipeline.
The AER has also released updated trial project guidelines to inform industry about how it will consider and grant rule waivers, as well as how the conduct and outcomes of trial projects will be overseen.
Businesses interested in undertaking trials are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the guidelines, contact the Australian Energy Regulator to discuss the proposed trial and then lodge an application via the Energy Innovation Toolkit Portal.
The trial application will then be considered and assessed against innovative trial principles which will assess the benefit to consumers and the broader market for each proposal. If the application meets these principles and other listed requirements, the trial will proceed to public consultation and ultimately be put forward for decision by the AER Board.
The Energy Innovation Toolkit is led by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and supported by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), the Essential Services Commission of Victoria (ESCV), and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). The Toolkit forms part of the AER’s Regulatory Sandboxing function.
The National Energy Rules, amended by the South Australian Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy following the passage of the Statues Amendment (National Energy Laws) (Regulatory Sandboxing) Act through the South Australian Parliament, provides the AER a new waiver power, which can temporarily exempt innovative projects from any regulatory barriers.
Similarly, the amendment provides the AEMC with a new power to temporarily change existing Rules or temporarily introduce a new Rule of limited application to allow a trial to go ahead.
In line with the commitment to be a “first stop shop”, applications to both the AER for a trial waiver or to the AEMC for a trial Rule change are made through the Energy Innovation Toolkit website.
Case study – Microgrids in Cobargo
One project that has been utilising the services offered by the Energy Innovation Toolkit is a microgrid proposal for the remote south-east NSW town of Cobargo, which suffered devastating losses during the 2019-20 bushfires.
Cut off from the national electricity grid, and with no battery backup, the town’s residents were left with extended power outages that impacted water supply, sewerage, petrol pumps, and telephone and internet services.
As a result of this experience, the Cobargo and District Energy Transition group (CaDET) hopes to build an electricity microgrid that would allow a portion of the town to continue to operate, using locally stored and generated electricity when the network connection to the National Electricity Market (NEM) is offline.