Back in August, the Australian Energy Market Operator issued warnings that more than one million homes in Victoria could lose power on extreme heat days if power stations in the Latrobe Valley are not returned to service after earlier faults.

In New South Wales, AEMO said the closure of the Liddell Power plant in 2024 could see 770,000 homes face blackout on extreme heat days.

Over recent years, the importance energy reliability in Australia has generated greater attention amid a shift toward intermittent sources of energy such as renewables.

At the same time, energy management within buildings, neighbourhoods and precincts is being transformed as devices are connected through ‘smart’ networks.

Now, a broader concept is emerging which sees the interconnection between energy consuming sectors such as buildings, transport and manufacturing with the energy production sector.

This is known as sector coupling – a term originally coined by German policy makers (in German it is Sektorkopplung).

In an interview with Sourceable, Ian Richardson, chairman of the KNX National Group in Australia which maintains the KNX protocol for home and building control that is used internationally, outlined several ways this could be applied.

As an example, if a given area was headed for a blackout on a hot day. Utilities and substations could send out a communication to nearby buildings to lower air-conditioning or lighting levels. Unnoticeable to building occupants, these small adjustments could help alleviate pressure on the grid.

Another example is electric vehicle charging.

At the moment, concern is growing that increased take-up of electric vehicles could add additional pressure on the grid should consumers charge their vehicles en-masse during peak periods after work– a time when energy demand is already at its peak.

Sector coupling, Richardson says, could alleviate some of this by charging vehicles on a staggered basis to mitigate maximum demand restrictions. Some could be charged between 5pm and 6pm. Others between six and seven. And so on.

All this, Richardson says, will deliver better energy management, lower costs and greater grid stability.

He says the concept stems from the conversation about smart cities.

“We have smart buildings and we are working towards smart suburbs,” he says.

“To have a smart city, you are looking at interconnectivity between different building sites so that they can talk to each other. If the various buildings can all talk to one another via a common platform and then within the buildings the devices can talk to each other and they are all communicating, all we need now is to get the utilities to talk to that service as well.”

To make this happen, Richardson says a standardised means of communication is needed between power assets and energy consuming assets.

Within individual buildings, one way this is being delivered is the KNX protocol. This is an open protocol which delivers a standardised means by which different devices can communicate with each other and enables the integration of lighting, heating, cooling blinds and shutters to interoperate using a common standard. Richardson says the protocol – which complies with Australian Technical Specification SA/SNZ TS ISO/IEC 14543.3 – can support the sector coupling vision.

Even in buildings, however, Richardson says not all systems are standardised.

He says the challenge of standardised communication needs to be resolved before the potential of sector coupling can be realised.

“Utilities have their own language that they talk, the buildings currently have a standardised approach but there are a lot of non-standardised systems,” Richardson said.

“There are other building automation systems which are quite deep within buildings but are not standardised.

“The only way we can do this (sector coupling) is through a communication ability which is standardised and has everyone talking the same language.”