Are consumers having their say on energy networks?

Consumers are playing a bigger role than ever in energy markets and in many respects are helping to shape the future of how gas and electricity is delivered to homes and businesses.

This is according to CEO of the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) Michelle Groves, who explained just how important people's input is to ensuring energy supplies are able to keep up with demand.

Addressing the 2014 Annual Energy Users Association of Australia Conference in Melbourne, she noted how competition is increasing in the market, so suppliers need to engage more closely with their customers.

Why should consumers be given a say?

The AER explained a number of benefits to enabling customers to get involved in how electricity and gas services are shaped.

The past 20 years have marked a period of considerable change for the market, with new methods of producing and consuming electricity being brought to the fore.

Solar power is one renewable energy resource that has become increasingly prominent over recent years and has changed the way in which many Australians receive their electricity.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences show solar power usage stood at 7 petajoules (PJ) in 2007-08 and could increase to as much as 24 PJ by 2029-30.

As the AER pointed out, electricity suppliers are no longer simply tasked with transporting energy from A to B - networks have instead become a two-way process.

Consumers need to be given a say on the services they receive and the costs involved in order for the market to remain competitive.

As more options for electricity production emerge, it's down to suppliers to make sure their standard of service is up to scratch.

What role is small-scale technology playing in energy markets?

It's not only large-scale solar systems that have started to come to the fore over recent years, as consumers are also showing a growing preference for small-scale technology.

Smart devices are just one example of this, as are technologies capable of small-scale generation, both of which lead to changes to electricity usage that haven't been seen in the past.

The AER explained how these systems increase the number of people who make use of the network, as well as give consumers greater choice when it comes to keeping an eye on how much electricity they use.

Customers likewise have a greater chance to invest in appliances and other energy efficient devices they believe will bring down their electricity prices.

Australian consumers have access to an energy rating labelling system, which enables them to make direct comparisons between appliances when they make a purchase.

This mandatory scheme works on a star rating basis, with the greater number of stars an appliance has, the more energy efficient its performance.

The scheme is particularly effective because it enables appliances to be compared on a like-for-like basis, taking out some of the guesswork when it comes to purchasing new technology.

What does the future have in store for electricity markets?

Electricity suppliers are constantly going through a period of change, which is why the pressure is on to make sure every new opportunity is used to its full potential.

Ms Groves from the AER pointed out there will need to be change and this change will involve consumers having more of an input in what happens throughout the energy industry.

They will act "as participants in the regulatory process" and "as active customers seeking out the best packages from retailers", which in turn will lead to a better customer service offering.

Electricity suppliers are therefore urged to use the opportunities that are provided by new pricing arrangements and metering technologies to keep people on side.

Posted by Richard West