The central role of end users in the energy transition

Position Paper | Year 2016
The central role of end users in the energy transition
Class of Technical Sciences

Events 

One of the key challenges of the 21st century is tackling the global climate change by limiting the emission of greenhouse gases. It has serious implications on the energy sector, which is until now to a large extent dependent on fossil fuel based generation plants.

In recent years, local renewable energy generation like solar and wind have seen a spectacular increase in the energy system. However, these forms of electric energy generation are intermittent in nature, availability of low-cost renewable energy is highly variable depending on weather conditions. For times with low renewable energy generation, back-up generation capacity or storage can be used to fulfill the energy needs of the consumer. In general, the time at which energy is consumed is becoming increasingly important compared to the total amount of consumed electric energy.

Meanwhile, there is a clear trend towards increasing electrification of appliances, such as the electric vehicle and electric heating. One of the big challenges of the energy sector in the 21st century is matching times of low-cost renewable energy generation and consumption.

The role of the residential consumer is rapidly changing as well. Rather than passively paying the energy bill, small consumers can now be generators of their own electrical energy.

In future, the small consumer must get a financial incentive for shifting consumption towards periods with abundant renewable energy generation. Nowadays this is impossible yet in Belgium, as there is no metered information available about the time of the electricity consumption during the day. When the consumption and generation are measured more in real-time (through the introduction of smart metering systems), the regulation can offer an incentive for shifting residential consumption to times with abundant renewable energy generation.

For a single residential consumer in Belgium, only roughly a third of the energy bill is related to the cost of actual energy generation, the other important contributions include grid tariffs and taxes/levies. The grid operator bases its bill on the total energy consumption, while its actual costs are more related to the real-time power flow. Therefore, a ‘variable’ connection capacity charge could be introduced in the future, where a consumer could have a certain minimal contracted capacity, which is not necessarily related to the physical capacity. In this way the distribution charge can provide an incentive to spread the power flow. In addition, in times of emergency the distribution grid operator could bring the consumer back to a minimal contracted capacity to prevent outages.

For a group of consumers, regulation still prevents to work together to improve the overall system efficiency. For instance, consumers in an apartment building could invest together in solar panels, a heat pump and/or a cogeneration unit. However, this is impossible in the current regulation, as every consumer has its own meter on which his energy bill is based.

All these types of innovations need to be tested in large-scale open living lab pilot sites, where new tariff schemes, new market models and new technologies can be simultaneously tested in a regulation-luke environment.  

Available documents

Author

  • Ivo Van Vaerenbergh
  • Ronnie Belmans
  • Pieter Vingerhoets

Co-author

  • Geert Palmers
  • Jeroen Büscher
  • Philippe de Raedemaeker
  • Stefan Grosjean
  • Erik Hendrix
  • Matthias Strobbe
  • Chris Develder
  • Peter De Pauw
  • Joris Lemmens