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Solar, wind, storage and big data: Why energy may soon be free
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August 1, 2016 News

Global investment bank Citi is predicting that the combination of near zero-variable cost energy sources such as solar and wind, along with smart analytics and “big data”, may deliver what the nuclear industry promised nearly half a century ago – free energy.

“The notion of free energy came to prominence in the 1960s, as nuclear fusion was touted as a way to provide free energy,” Citi writes in the latest of its “Disrutive Innovations” series, in a section focusing on Big Data and the energy industry.

When those claims were made about nuclear fusion, the technology was in the embryonic stage, and it turned out nuclear energy wasn’t free at all, but incredibly expensive, and getting more so by the year.

But wind and solar, along with demand and storage optimisation, may finally deliver on that promise, Citi says.

“Big Data and advanced analytics are developing rapidly to improve forecasting, automation, customisation, and the democratisation of energy,” it says in its reports.

“The end result is that we are producing more energy with fewer resources ….. the goal of dramatically lowering energy costs for all, with the possibility of free energy in some corners, may finally come to fruition.”

Citi is not the only research institution making such forecasts, but it is in sharp contrast to the general public discussion in Australia, which is dominated by those who insist that the old centralised energy system – slow, inefficient and expensive – will not and cannot be replaced by new technologies.

South Australia is now the focus of that debate, and the push-back against wind and solar by conservatives and, of course, vested interests, seeking to protect their sunk assets is striking.

But Australia is already well down the path to this transformation, given its high level of rooftop solar and the fact that it is considered to be the world-leading market for household battery storage, and smart software.

Already, it has more than 1.5 million households and businesses with rooftop solar, totalling more than 5GW, and many will soon add battery storage. Smart software will allow households and businesses to pool their resources, and trade with each other – if regulators allow.

Citi says this “democratisation” of energy could see renewables and distributed energy resources (DERs) proliferate at the local level, and that will mean fewer new power plants.

Consumers could eventually “trade” energy with others, in the form of “transactive energy” – a concept that is already being trialled by utilities and community energy groups in Australia.

This article was originally published on reneweconomy.com.au and can be viewed in full

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