The registry that underpins the country’s electricity market provides a world-class switching service but may not be fit for purpose within a decade, the Electricity Authority says.

The registry, which records customer switches among retailers and within networks, is at the core of the market and enables firms to bill users, pay distributors for their lines and reconcile purchases from the wholesale market.

While the ability to complete most switches within 3.5 days, and some within in a day, is world-leading, the system is doing things it was never designed for when it started in 1999, authority principal advisor Ron Beatty says. It was last “refreshed” in 2013.

He said firms are having to spend time resolving switching issues manually, and that may become more of an issue as more retailers enter the market and make greater use of smart meters and other technology to offer more sophisticated services.

“We think it may be limiting competition,” Beatty told an industry workshop in Wellington yesterday. “The last thing you want is to have that innovation limited by the switching process.”

The increasing use of new technologies like solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles is changing the way people use electricity and interact with the market. More consumers are using real-time pricing and peer-to-peer trading among solar panel owners is starting.

The authority wants to ensure its processes are ready if those sorts of changes take-off during the next five to 10 years. It is trying to gauge whether fixing current issues with the registry is sufficient, or whether it may be time to “start again.”

The registry records the details of more than 2.1 million active ICPs – customer connections on networks around the country. More than 1,000 users can be accessing the registry at peak times and there can be 300 million inquiries in a month. A record 558 million inquiries were made in June and 99.7 percent of all inquiries are resolved in less than 2 seconds.

Beatty said the switching system is “not broken”. It has achieved that performance because of the cooperation of industry participants, who have worked to evolve the system to keep it up to date and have invested heavily in their own processes to make that work.

But he said the industry has never stepped back and asked whether this is the best switching process for the future.

In future, it may need to cater for customers receiving services from more than one player, or dealing directly with the market themselves. Metering companies may also have a greater role to play in providing some data; load aggregators may also become more of a feature in the market and could potentially become a new class of participant.

“The industry could be a very different animal,” he said.

The authority is seeking feedback from participants on more than 20 potential issues it has identified with the current system, and whether it may be time for more fundamental change.

While some existing problems may be fixed quite easily, any major change to the registry would take time and would be expensive – particularly because of the complex systems retailers and lines companies have developed to work with the registry.

Beatty said any fundamental change would take at least three and a half years and probably five. A cost-benefit analysis would also be required to ensure it was worth undertaking.

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