Why is using MORE energy sometimes great for the environment?
+ what are 'negative prices'
The short version:
- In the past, using less energy was a great way to do right by the climate. Simply put, less energy used, meant less energy generated, meant less carbon emitted. It also meant less cost to you, the consumer.
- Today, there are times when using more energy can be the best possible thing you can do for the climate. It can also be the best thing you can do for your wallet!
- There are now times when the percentage of renewables in the grid gets really high and the wholesale price gets really low. Or even negative! This is because renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy.
- At times like this you'll see prices like '-10c' in the app - and you can even get paid to use energy!
- Using MORE energy at these high renewables/low price times creates additional demand for renewable energy at a time when it is otherwise not in great demand (during the middle of the day, when fewer people are at home to run their appliances or make dinner).
- More demand for renewable energy encourages more investment in renewable energy - and a faster transition to net zero.
- In short, when it comes to renewable energy, the more you use, the more we all get.
The longer version
As the renewable transition picks up pace, you could say we're living in a bit of an upside down world here in Australia in more ways than one.
In the past (and still today), "doing the right thing" when it comes to energy use means using LESS energy. Turn off lights when you're not in the room. Unplugging stuff.
This made sense. We all understood that the more energy you use, the more energy needs to be generated. More energy needed, meant more coal, gas or oil that needed to be consumed to generate it, and more carbon emissions. So using less energy meant cutting down on carbon emissions produced - not to mention saving on your energy bill.
That was all before Australia became a leader in worldwide renewable energy generation. Today there are times when it can be better for the environment and your pocket to use MORE energy. This is because when it comes to renewables, the main challenge today comes down to timing.
Times when energy is most in demand is out of whack with when renewables are available. So the key is to create demand for them at the times when there are more of them in the grid. This is never more important than when the wholesale price of energy goes negative (less than zero - yes it can happen with Amber!).
Here's how it works:
Negative prices are a sign that there are a bunch of renewables in the grid but not enough demand at those times. In a bit of Economics 101, the wholesale market for energy is sending a price signal that it has a whole bunch of energy available but not enough people who want to buy it.
So like retail stores who have an overstock of clothes, electricity goes on sale. And you'll see this reflected in the Amber app. At times like this, big power generators and regular Aussies with solar on their roofs may have to pay to send more energy to the grid.
The mismatch in the supply and demand of renewable energy are why the Amber model exists. We let you see the real time price of energy in the Amber app so that when prices get super low (or even negative) thanks to lots of renewables in the grid, you can see that and use MORE energy.
That's right. At the stage of the renewable transition we're at now, MORE is the new less when it comes to doing right by the environment.
By using energy when prices go super low or negative a few things will happen.
- You are increasing for renewable energy at the times when it's being generated (mostly in the middle of the day, when the sun is shining)
- This supports more investment in renewable energy. After all, just imagine if you went to investors to say you’re going to build a solar farm and sell all the solar for less than zero - not a lot of takers there.
- You get to run your appliances for a super cheap cost. Or if the price is negative, you can even get paid to use energy. Bonkers but true.
- You get to feel like a winner. Because you are. And so is Australia.
So if you see a super low or negative price in the Amber app, feel free to use MORE energy. You can even run things that you don't need to run - because it's a GOOD thing.
But probably more useful is to run things you might not normally run at that time, like shifting the times when you put on your dishwasher or laundry, or pre cooling or heating your home (depending on the season).
Check out Amber's Guide to Loadshifting for more tips.