How energy lights your home

The simple act of flicking a switch instantly lights a room – it would have been unimaginable a couple of hundred years ago.

Energy
7 min read
When you flick a switch, light appears instantly. How does this happen?

The act of flicking a switch lights up the room. Simple, right?

In fact, it’s not as simple as it appears. There is a lot more going on behind the scenes of this everyday action than you might think.

Consider this: Australia’s electricity system has almost no storage capability. So while we might think there is just electricity there for the taking whenever we need it, a balance of energy flowing into the system (generation) and energy flowing out of the system (load) is necessary to keep the system stable. If that balance is disrupted, the system fails and that’s when you get blackouts.

Think of those incredibly hot or cold days when thousands of people turn on air conditioners, fans or heaters. The load increases drastically – and generation has to match it.

The increase in solar panel uptake, meanwhile, brings the opposite effect – households supply some of their own energy on sunny days, decreasing the energy supply required to meet their needs.

So our energy needs have more peaks and troughs than they previously did.

Because we can’t increase solar and wind generation whenever we want to, that increase in generation usually has to be met by fossil fuels.

As we transition away from fossil fuels, batteries are becoming an increasingly useful way for us to balance energy input and output, and keep the system stable. 

Batteries can react very quickly as either load or source, maintaining that stability. It is, however, very expensive to store large amounts of energy using batteries and they have a limited lifespan of around seven years.

Other conventional storage solutions will need to come into play then, as we continue to move away from fossil fuel generators.

For example, pumped hydro storage uses excess renewable energy to transfer pump water uphill on sunny and windy days when solar and wind are supplying energy. Then the energy the water creates when running back downhill can be used to generate power at night or on low-wind days.

Pumped hydro solutions can provide energy that can be activated quickly during peak periods and whenever renewables aren’t available.

Infographic - How energy lights up the home

Man using digital tablet in living room

AGL Energy Insights

Want to know more about how you’re using energy in your home? Energy Insights breaks down your electricity usage to estimate how much you using on heating, cooling, lighting, laundry and standby.

Find out more