AGL Energy (AGL) has partnered with smart meter supplier PLUS ES in a project to test whether dynamically managing customers’ hot water systems through smart meters can support grid stability and lower energy costs for consumers. The program will take place in South Australia and involve up to 20,000 customers.

With the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding half of the $5.4 million project, the partnership utilises PLUS ES’s existing smart meters to take advantage of SA Power Network’s Time-of-Use (ToU) tariff, designed to help support the grid and lower energy costs. The ToU tariffs encourage more consumption of electricity during the middle of the day to take advantage of South Australia’s surplus solar generation.

PLUS ES is developing a control and integration portal to allow AGL to access and manage the hot water systems of participating customers with hot water systems on controlled load. The technology will allow AGL to shift controlled load to the middle of the day and manage hot water systems in near real time to respond to market signals and network constraints.

With electric hot water systems considered a predictable load for residential customers and with more than 15 GW of hot water systems across the National Electricity Market, PLUS ES and AGL will use the learnings from South Australia to advocate for recognition of the benefit of retailer-orchestrated Distributed Energy Resources (DER) for customers, retailers and the network.

AGL Chief Customer Officer Jo Egan said the learnings from this project will help consumers, other retailers and the broader market understand more about the benefits of retailer-orchestrated DER.

“This project has tremendous opportunities for our customers, for AGL, and for PLUS ES’s smart meters across the market. As AGL dynamically manages hot water systems in South Australia for thousands of our customers, we will be taking advantage of high renewable energy generation available during the day, to test if this can help with grid stability and support a reduction in energy prices,” Ms Egan said.

“This partnership with PLUS ES, which is supported by ARENA, aligns with AGL’s commitment to utilise our expertise, work with likeminded businesses and innovate to meet the changing needs of our customers, now and in the future. We are excited to apply the lessons learnt from South Australia to encourage similar programs across the other states for the benefit of our customers, other retailers and the market.”

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project strongly aligns with ARENA’s flexible demand goals supporting Australia’s renewable energy transition.

“Hot water control has been identified as a low cost solution that could help to address minimum system demand issues across the NEM, highlighting that with the right innovation and technology solutions, we can reduce some of the need for costly network infrastructure upgrades.”

PLUS ES Executive General Manager Jason Clark said hot water systems represented a significant untapped opportunity to assist in providing flexible demand.

“Dynamically controlling hot water can help to manage the grid and may allow more renewable generation sources into the market. We are delighted to be involved in the project.”

“The project with PLUS ES and AGL is the perfect example of this, showing us how dynamically managing hot water systems presents a scalable, low cost solution for controlling load assets that can provide benefits for both the customer and retailer.”