In Belgium’s electrical network, the generation of electricity corresponds closely to demand at any given time. This is the principle that underlies the functioning of the network. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. Our traditional generation capacity is dropping: energy producers are shutting down older and unprofitable plants, and we are also in the process of gradually phasing out nuclear generation. At the same time we bring additional sources of generation online, mainly in the form of wind and solar energy. But those energy sources are driven by the weather, not by the demand for energy.
Sometimes this results in energy surpluses, as was the case in Belgium during the Pentecost weekend of 2012 and on Easter Monday of 2013, when we generated so much surplus energy that the power grid almost failed. By the same rule, this also increases the risk of energy shortages, which can arise on cold, grey and windless winter days when demand is high.
Demand-side management: a solution?
The current changes in the production model can be solved in part by reversing the inherent logic: by tailoring energy consumption to the supply. Via the Linear project, twenty different partners are researching the best and simplest ways for adapting residential energy consumption based on the availability of solar and wind energy with the help of 250 test households.
A Smart Grid integrates electricity, gas, heat and communication networks into a single system that maximises the generation and distribution of energy and which makes it possible to utilise a larger share of green energy. Smart grids do a better job of coordinating consumer demand with the supply of energy from producers. Linear is part of the larger global effort to study smart grids for supplying energy in the future, and is focusing on the consumer.
With the help of two remuneration models and four business cases, Linear is studying ways for households and producers or power grid operators to better tailor energy consumption in relation to energy generation.
Households can be encouraged to adjust their energy consumption patterns by providing them with a financial incentive (rate control) or by operating their equipment automatically (automated control) and rewarding the households for the degree of flexibility they provide.
The future of decentralised generation presents power grid operators and energy suppliers with many challenges. The trick is to deploy the right solutions for the least amount of cost. Linear is studying four challenges for which demand-side management could be a sound technical and economically profitable solution.
Throughout the entire field test, we will also be examining the best ways for energy suppliers to encourage consumers. We are encouraging participants by means of a financial incentive that corresponds to the actual cost savings.