Creating an innovative energy future enabling communities to thrive
After distributing electricity in the Waikato region for 100 years, Hamilton-based WEL Networks is evolving from a traditional lines company into a multi-utility business and playing a significant role in the region’s economic development.
Fully community owned, (WEL Energy Trust is the sole shareholder), WEL Networks is also a major shareholder in local fibre company, Ultrafast Fibre Limited and Opunake Hydro, a generator participant in the New Zealand electricity market.
Technology and the opportunities it presents, sees the group moving swiftly through the development and trial phases of new initiatives, to their implementation within mainstream business. While this has major implications for the wider business, an openness to change demonstrates readiness to innovate in a disciplined manner, while keeping their communities top of mind.
Guided by diverse Governance, including WEL Board Chairman, Rob Campbell, the company’s business strategy sees WEL investigating opportunities and strategic partnerships which will enable consumers to benefit directly from emerging technology.
Emerging technology such as:
· electric vehicle fast-charging stations – installed across Waikato to help WEL understand their effect on the network
· smart meters measuring electricity usage, voltage and power quality in the home; storing the history, communicating usage and/or any outage directly to WEL networks operation centre via a meshed radio network. This information is collected in real time allows WEL to optimise electricity flows and provide advice to customers on energy efficiency.
· A ‘test’ microgrid built on WEL’s site with solar panels on the WEL depot roof, providing solar power for WEL consumption or exporting it to the electricity network, and a lithium-ion battery providing storage
Then there’s OurPower, an online energy retail solution which utilises smart solutions, to provide lower cost electricity supporting the wellbeing of our communities. It comes as power companies face pressure to reduce residential prices, after the Electricity Price Review, released in September, showed 100,000 households are experiencing "energy hardship”.
Customers receive cheaper power courtesy of a no-frills service that has been made possible by the smart meters. There is no call centre; all contact is through the online portal, keeping costs down.
So far around 230 customers have joined the scheme; the full service is set to go live next April. The scheme will be capped by legislation at around 10,000 customers, but it’s already providing savings for customers of about 25 percent.
CE, Garth Dibley explains “If the scheme takes off and people are really keen here, then we'll have to find a different owner. If that happens we’ll form a not-for-profit or philanthropic trust that would run it without mark-ups. We want to try and stay with the concept that we're trying to provide cheaper electricity to our community.”
“For us, it’s really about future-proofing the Waikato, so our region’s economic and social growth will continue for generations to come.”
“WEL benefits from being located in the ‘Golden Triangle’ of New Zealand, an area [anchored by Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga cities] that is experiencing strong population and housing growth so we need to be part of, and where we can be leading change.’
“We’re always open to fresh opportunities in technology, infrastructure and delivering to our community. We invite potential partners to come and take a look at what we’re up to.”