The Australian government has announced that the country's largest energy supplier and retailer, EnergyAustralia, will lead a $100 million "Smart Grid, Smart City" project in the state of New South Wales that will begin later this year. The project will be a little bit of everything when it comes to smart grid, from substation automation and charging stations for electric vehicles to home area networks and time-of-use pricing.

The focus for this demonstration will not be world-renowned Sydney, but rather the small city of Newcastle, about 100 miles to the north. The consortium led by EnergyAustralia also includes IBM Australia, AGL, GE Energy, TransGrid, Newcastle City Council and the NSW Government. 

Although Newcastle is the center point of the project, there will also be trials in Scone, downtown Sydney, Ku-ring-gai and Newington.  There will be a total of 50,000 smart meters and about 15,000 homes that will be given in-home energy management systems to track electricity, water use and CO2 emissions.

"These homes will test remote control of appliances, including air conditioners, and innovative pricing packages to help reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions," said George Maltabarow, Managing Director for EnergyAustralia. "Winning the Smart Grid, Smart Cities bid is an exciting opportunity to expand our smart grid rollout even further, at a much faster rate and on a greater scale than we've seen."

About 200,000 EnergyAustralia customers with first-generation smart meters already have time-of-use pricing.

Some homes in the project will also have battery storage trials to help power local streets and there will also be battery storage trials and EV charging stations in Sydney's downtown business district.

The trial will also include updates to the grid itself, including 12,000 smart meter sensors that will allow for faster fault detection and self-correction in some places. EnergyAustralia is using 4G for a communications network on the grid; however, the project also will look at opportunities to use broadband for smart grid projects as part of the country's planned National Broadband Network, which will bring fiber optic cable to 90 percent of homes Down Under.

But this will not be broadband's first foray into smart grid in Australia. GridNet, which champions WiMax, and its partner General Electric signed a deal last year with the Australian utility SP AusNet. The utility plans to use the next-generation wireless technology to link about 680,000 household customers with smart meters.  Future uses of that grid could include linking distribution grid sensors and controls, rooftop solar panel monitors, "smart charging" systems for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, and a host of other smart grid applications.

The country also already has one of the first energy and communications bundling project (at least known to Greentech Media) down in its capital territory, ACT.

While any one of these trials on its own is not novel, the convergence of metering, grid automation and EV integration and battery trials is more than many other utilities are taking on all at once (although the impending arrival of EVs later this year may force them to do so).

Australia only has about 22 million people, making it a far less compelling market from a numbers standpoint compared to China or India (or even the U.S.). But many Aussies are already actively conserving energy and water, and have been for much longer than their U.S. and European counterparts -- so once this continent gets its large smart grid projects underway, it could easily surge ahead.