Why demand-side flexibility is so important for the energy transition
Imagine you knew where a treasure was hidden, but you lacked the right tools to unearth it. Flexibility in the power grid is similarly within reach but elusive. We need it to balance the increasing volatility of renewables in the energy system, but we are largely unable to use it yet.
The rapid deployment of PV and wind power plants and the electrification of the heat and transport sectors are even making this problem worse. If power generation becomes more volatile while demand is growing and the grid expansion is unable to keep up the pace, bottlenecks become more likely, because generation and consumption increasingly deviate from each other.
The result: Germany had to spend 2.3 billion euros on power grid and system safety precautions in 2021, compared to 1.3 and 1.4 billion euros in 2019 and 2020. Rainer Stock, Senior Manager of the Department of Network Industry at the German Association of Local Public Utilities (VKU) warned about exploding costs for redispatch at the conference Future Power Grids (“Zukünftige Stromnetze”) in Berlin at the end of last January. In addition to an accelerated grid expansion, it needs any and all flexibility from consumer’s side that is available in order to adapt electricity consumption to the volatile generation, according to Stock.
Where is this flexibility going to come from?
To achieve a sufficiently large flexibility potential, we need to electrify more, says Dr. Dirk Biermann, Chief Markets and System Operations Officer (CMO) of 50Hertz Transmission GmbH in Berlin: “This is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, and sector coupling is the only means to achieve it.”
The possible extent of the potential in Europe by 2030 was determined by the association smartEn and the consulting company DNV in a study published this past fall. With a forecasted peak load of 752 gigawatts (GW) in the 27 states of the EU in 2030, flexible capacity could account for about a fifth of it. According to the study, electrical heating and electromobility has the greatest potential to provide demand-side flexibility. Other potential sources include combined heat and power (CHP), load control in industry (demand-side response) and behind-the-meter battery storage systems.
How can this treasure be unearthed?
Secretary of State of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Dr. Patrick Graichen has no doubt that this large flexibility potential needs to be integrated into the entire system. “A lot depends on whether we have the necessary data, how it can be controlled, which roles the grid operator and the marketer play, so that we can put this untapped flexibility to use for the entire system”, Graichen stated at the conference, summarizing the main questions about the use of flexibility.
If you are interested in learning more about unearthing this treasure and making flexibility available, there are numerous possibilities to inform yourself at EM-Power Europe. The issue is a common thread among the EM-Power Europe Conference, the EM-Power Forum and many of the exhibitors.