'The grid is good' with Damien Moyse 11 March 2021

On Thursday, 18 February, Energy Efficiency Council CEO Luke Menzel was joined by Damien Moyse for a lively and informative discussion for First Fuel.

Damien had just stepped down from his role as Renew’s Policy and Research Manager after twelve years. Renew was formerly known as the Alternative Technology Association, or ATA.

Below is an edited excerpt of their discussion of Renew’s unique research and advocacy role, some of the key achievements of the last twelve years, and what still needs to be done to deliver an energy transition that works for consumers. To hear to the entire discussion, listen here or subscribe to the First Fuel podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts.

[Luke] I imagine within the Renew membership, there was almost a philosophical disposition toward self-sufficiency. The idea that you'd row your own boat and the whole ‘disconnecting-from-the-grid’ thing. But then, so much of your work is actually about how you scale up technology, and I think the consensus we've arrived at is the grid is absolutely essential to that. It is actually in the interest of consumers that we have that infrastructure which has evolved to incorporate new technology.

Do you want to talk a bit about the different currents in the membership of Renew and the conversations we've been having in Australia over the journey?

[Damien] It sort of makes me smile listening to some of those comments, because it's right on the mark. Unsurprisingly, Renew comes from that background. It was literally engineers, electricians, that started the organization. They wanted to do things in their sheds and stick it to the retailer man and not pay their energy bill. And they're trying to do as much as possible to be self-sufficient in lots of different ways, not just energy.


That self-sufficiency, off-grid thing has always been a core theme, and particularly in the first 20 years of the organization. So, I'm listening to the Renew membership at the time … and they've got things they want to do within that self-sufficiency, independence, banner. And I think it took us probably two or three, maybe even four years to really fully understand... what are we actually calling for here? Are we actually saying that, I don’t know, in 2030, we want 80% of Australian homes to be off the electricity grid? Is that what we're saying?

We used to have these debates internally about what the optimal house of the future looks like. This is a long time before the current narrative around gas started playing out… and it probably really wasn't until 2012 or 2013 when we formally started saying to the membership, ‘look, the grid is good.’

We've finally come to the view that the grid actually has a lot of benefit. We've all spent $50 billion between 2009 and 2015 on the grid, and all of the billions that were spent in the 100 years before that. When you are connected to [the grid], if you have the solar system, you can share renewable energy with your neighbors and further get better use out of that renewable energy.

When you have an off-grid system, you lose 30% of the annual energy in summer because it's just wasted and goes nowhere. And some members have competing views, but we really did change our philosophy. The grid has its own pros and cons, but in the end, we came out very strongly.

Around 2012-13, you've got these enormous solar systems going in … five kilowatt systems, where they're generating twice as much electricity that you need over the course of a year. If you're not connected to the grid, a lot of this stuff is going to be wasted. And if you don't have enough electrical load, you're exporting 90% of your energy to the grid. So, the grid is good for most people, urban big towns and so forth. And really, the question at that point started to become more around what's actually the role of some of your other fuels, particularly, mines or bottled gas.

This article was originally published in the March edition of Efficiency Insight.