A community asset, privately owned. We can influence its future

15 Jul 2020

SA Power Networks owns and operates one of our great community assets: the electricity distribution network that runs from the South East through to the West Coast. This connects households and businesses to each other and to the ElectraNet Transmission network which, in turn connects us to the state’s large Generators and the rest of the National Grid.

Some analogies might make it clearer:

The body: If electricity was our blood, SA Power Networks are the veins and capillaries, but not the arteries (that’s ElectraNet) or the heart (that’s the Generators).

SA Water: In comparison, SA Power Networks manage the pipes and connect your new home, but they don’t have a role in sourcing the water from dams, the Murray or the Desalination plant.

In the past, the distribution network was essentially a one-way road delivering energy to customers from big centralised coal and gas generators. In 2020, as our electricity system transforms, the role of the distribution network is shifting to being the platform for how we share the power we are generating on our rooftops. And to be clear, South Australia is an absolute leader in this.

Believe it or not, the price for SA Power Network’s services has remained below general inflation (CPI) since privatisation in 1999. This is the only part of the electricity supply chain where prices haven’t gone up.

July 2020 marks the beginning of a new five-year regulatory cycle for SA Power Networks.

Revenue and expenditure for this new five-year period from 2020 to 2025 has been set by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and follows two years of SA Power Networks developing a proposal while engaging with customers and other stakeholders.

Over the previous five years we have seen some genuine success in stakeholders influencing outcomes: much improved tree-pruning procedures and real progress on getting LED streetlighting rolled out after much effort from councils.

I now chair SA Power Networks’ Customer Consultative Panel, or ‘CCP’, and the AER has approved expenditure for 2020-25 in a number of areas in direct response to consumer engagement from the CCP and others. This includes a focus on low reliability feeders – improving the reliability for those worst served (usually at the edges of the grid), a new approach to charging for using the network for households – making it cheaper in the middle of the day when we have a lot of solar power – and investments to make it possible to get more solar from our rooftops into the electricity supply mix.

The Customer Consultative Panel brings together a range of views to be a sounding board, advocate and influencer. My colleagues on the Panel will be challenging the business to understand what customers want and need and to respond again in 2025. We will be focussing on some key areas but will also be ‘plugged in’ to the community through our personal and business contacts.

Our initial focus is on six areas:

  • Customer Experience;
  • Future Networks;
  • Remote and regional customers;
  • Ageing Assets;
  • The COVID-19 response; and
  • SA Power Networks being a leader in protecting the most vulnerable in our community.

But opportunities and challenges are everywhere. The Electricity Trilemma of Affordability, Reliability and Sustainability is far from solved.

So where do we want to be in five years’ time? And what role should SA Power Networks play?

How can consumers shape the delivery of these current initiatives and influence the priorities for the period 2025-30? Will we be setting up solar and battery microgrids rather than having electricity poles and wires stretching out across the state? Will we be charging our electric cars at home or catching electric buses? How will we heat our water? How will we get the cheapest power around (solar) to those with the least capacity to pay their bills?

We encourage everyone in South Australia to feel they can make a difference too and to connect with us and the business via the Talking Power website, SA Power Networks website, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Dr Andrew Nance, Chair of SA Power Network’s Customer Consultative Panel

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