By Kevin Kevaney
At stake right now is the right of the Kiwi consumer to control how much each household spends on electricity, while enjoying a standard of living and comfort appropriate for a fi rst world country. Instead, the ‘gentailers’ are again arbitrarily doing exactly what protects their short-term profi ts and postpones their deadlines for further investment in infrastructure.
The industry has not come up with any technological improvement in how we manage hotwater on tap, in a century. We never needed to bother before, and now the answer seems to be (1) shut it off when you go to work and get the kids to switch it back on when they come home from school, or (2) squeeze the showerhead and start the clock, so you learn to have shorter and shorter showers.
The on-going debate in the media and public forums between Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and, amongst others, the respected power industry consultant, Bryan Leyland, initially on (un)‘smart’ metering and lately on antiquated ripple control’ (big brother arbitrarily shutting off hotwater at the most inconvenient time), demonstrates the true interests of the New Zealand consumer have been grabbed by the ‘gentailers’. The situation has been further agitated by the Commerce Commission’s decision to prosecute bathroom fittings company, Methven NZ, for some of its claims on low-flow showerheads allegedly being shown to be questionable. “Yes, remarkably ‘gentailers’ is a self-generated description, inflicted on themselves by the electricity generator and retailing oligopoly, in a display of arrogance and total control few other industries dare to emulate,” says Brian Knolles, CEO of the Senztek Group, manufacturer of New Zealand’s leading solar hotwater heating controller, SolaStat, which is rapidly expanding its market share in Australia and further afield.
He points out that early 20th century ripple control punishes total suburbs randomly, taking away individual rights and responsibilities. “It is about as relevant to New Zealand today as opting for ‘6pm closing’ as a solution to binge-drinking.”
Knolles believes the real issue which should be concerning our electricity industry is the need for consumers to manage the temperature of the water in hotwater cylinders, in each and every home, automatically, to suit the desired usage profile of that particular household.
“It’s the householder who should be in control of the amount of energy used at particular times of the day, and most importantly, the lower-tariff night. The industry needs a modern technological solution to make the heating of stored water in a home more efficient,” Knolles says.
The massive Government funding to insulate homes (34 per cent of our electricity usage) and next to nothing on hotwater (29 per cent of consumption), according to EECA’s own figures, is an example of good intentions rather than an understanding of the total problem of energy wastage in homes.
“At the very least, the government should be splitting that funding across space-heating (insulation) and hotwater heating.” According to Knolles, the facts are: ‘selfish’ meters being installed provide no display for the consumer. They give no control to the bill-payer. And they are not linked to tariffs which favour the consumer, rather than the industry big boys.
“At stake right now is the right of the Kiwi consumer to control how much each household spends on electricity, while enjoying a standard of living and comfort appropriate for a first world country. Instead, the ‘gentailers’ are again arbitrarily doing exactly what protects their short-term profits and postpones their deadlines for further investment in infrastructure.
“And the higgledy-piggledy, ad hoc manner, supposedly shows the ‘competition’ in the industry, when it is nothing more than a cynically created illusion thereof.
“When they talk amongst themselves, the ‘gentailers’, of course, are hugely keen on the job-reduction capacity of their new meters, which will effectively ‘read themselves’, thereby putting more New Zealanders out of a job at the very worst time.”
Knolles believes Dr Wright to be a thoughtful and responsible bureaucrat who gets close to an individual consumer solution when she recently called for “sophisticated, subtler and far less intrusive control of smart water heaters and other appliances”, which will lead to every Kiwi home “gaining much greater individual control of their electricity use”.
“Bearing in mind that her brief is the ‘environment’, with all that goes with that word today, hers is a very positive outlook for individual rights and has a decidedly consumer-oriented tone. Consumers want to reduce their overall power consumption; reduce their household’s peak usage; and restrict their expenditure, with as little impact on their living conditions as possible.
“For those – the greatest majority by far – who care both for our degrading environment and shrivelling household budgets, the focal point of all this steam-letting will be in our hotwater cylinders, especially in a cold winter which is currently adding to the gloom.”
Knolles notes abundant, cheap hotwater in homes (when petrol costed less than a litre of Coke), were symbolic of the abundant lifestyle of the last 100-years, ‘sustained’, as they were, by “the massive investment in infrastructure that was de rigueur in those days”. “So what technological developments have we seen? Other than the very basic insulation blanket our hotwater cylinders and their delivery pipes are now lagged in: nothing.” Using technology as a starting point, locally-owned, West Auckland based Senztek, the major supplier of solar hot
water heating controllers to the local industry, and a rapidly growing force in Australia, recently adapted its technology to be the basis of the EcoStat hotwater management system. This will peak the water temperature weekly (to combat Legionnaire’s Disease); match the household’s hotwater usage pattern to ensure adequate availability; and reduce the power usage – creating a significant saving. The system pays for itself in a short time and continues to deliver energy-
efficient usage for the life of the house. And you will probably only ever change the simple settings once the kids have left home. Interest in the product from as far away as the UK has been dramatic. Kiwi ingenuity showing the world how and challenging all electricity industries to be more analytical, embrace modern technology and acknowledge less will not necessarily mean more – intelligent usage of a resource will. Knolles reckons we are all effectively doing the equivalent of driving our cars without a fuel gauge and having to follow a hunch on when to ‘fill-her-up’? Or having a kettle boil 24/7 to cover the three-to-four cups of tea we might drink in the period.