I am writing this blog on March 31, 2021, on the day after the day that the Netherlands had a record yield of solar energy. About 45% of the Dutch electricity demand was supplied from solar panels by mid-afternoon.
More and more solar fields and solar panels on roofs appear in our daily living environment. This won't be the last record yield. And where I am not looking forward to the next heat record, I am looking forward to new solar energy records, for example the first day in March on which 100% of the electricity is supplied from solar panels.
With the current growth rate of solar energy in the Netherlands, this does not even have to take that long, but I wonder whether it is possible and what it means for our energy system.
Because if 100% of the demand can be supplied by solar panels, what do we do with the remaining electricity production at that time? Will we shut down all power stations and windmills or can we export surpluses?
Or can we perhaps store that excess energy?
In addition, the question is whether it all fits in the electricity grids and how we keep the energy system in balance when clouds suddenly slide in front of the sun. We already have a shortage of transport and solar panel inverters fail because the voltage in the low-voltage grids is too high.
How will that be on a 100% day?
A day that 100% of our electricity is supplied from solar panels. On such a 100% day, not all solar energy may therefore fit into the electricity grid and we have to throw some away by cutting production. The headline of the news report then becomes: '100% record attempt brutally disrupted by solar energy cut-off'.
Incidentally, I am of the opinion that the occasional capping of the production from solar panels is an efficient solution that is socially better than making the grids so much heavier that all the desired transmission capacity can always be met.
At the same time, the question is how we do this smartly and how we can also put alternatives into operation. Because why not increase the demand for electricity locally so that the generated electricity does not have to travel a long way over the electricity grid?
This prevents additional load on the electricity grid. This can be done by activating flexible consumption at the right time or by charging the home battery or electric car at the moment. These are solutions known as flexibility solutions, various shapes have already been tested many times in pilot projects and are now technically proven.
Have we already reached the point where we can do this in daily practice?
I researched this issue with other members of the Flexiblepower Alliance Network (FAN) foundation. This has resulted in the FAN Flexmonitor. The Flexmonitor shows the extent to which devices in the built environment are able to provide flexibility.
This week, the third Flexmonitor was published on solar panel inverters. We have previously examined (hybrid) heat pumps and home charging points. The results are not encouraging, apart from the well-known pilot projects, the flexibility of the above devices is hardly used.
And that while home charging points are already suitable for this and many inverters also contain the right functionality. Heat pumps are still lagging behind in this area. This is worrying because hybrid heat pumps in particular can make an important contribution to the growing need for flexibility.
So it seems that the 100% day will be delayed. Not because there are too few solar panels, but because we have not yet sufficiently developed the options for local flexibility in the production of solar panels. Why is this and how can we ensure that the 100% day can be celebrated soon?
Maybe the problem isn't big enough yet. As a result, the value of the flexibility solutions is still so small that a household or small business cannot yet recoup the investment for unlocking flexibility. In other words: the financial incentive is still too small.
Yet it is strange that we subsidize all kinds of sustainable appliances such as solar panels, heat pumps and electric cars, but do not set any requirements for smart integration into the electricity grid.
Apparently, in making our energy system smarter, we have a lot of trouble putting the costs ahead of the benefits. In addition, many questions are still being asked about the flexible use of small devices, because is it really going to be necessary, how big will the problem become and what are possible cyber risks? Legitimate questions, but it is always possible not to use flexible devices. It is not possible to use flexible devices if the problem calls for it, while the device is not suitable for it.
If we don't ensure that people install smart devices now, we certainly won't be able to use those devices flexibly later on.
In other words: now we can realize options for the future by taking steps. Without these flexibility options, more expensive solutions such as upgrading the electricity grids, extra batteries and conventional power plants will become more necessary.
The bill for this will end up with the 'non-flexible' customer and he misses out on the possible returns that the customer could have obtained from his flexible devices. Unless we are now going to take the steps towards 100% day: a sunny day in March with clear blue skies on which the enormous peak in solar energy production is flexibly absorbed in every possible way by local demand and storage and does not lead to to problems in the energy system.
What needs to be done for this is not easy, but it is clear in outline.
Let's start by mandating an open flexibility interface on heat pumps, inverters, EV charging points, home batteries and e-water heaters. Partly thanks to years of effort by TNO on behalf of FAN, the European S2 standard will be available as an option for manufacturers this year. Stop subsidizing devices that do not meet this requirement.
Secondly, incentives must be accelerated to the market that reward the flexible use of these devices: in network tariffs and in supply tariffs.
Do this in such a way that the small customer does not run any Texan risks. So make sure that the customer is protected from extreme prices that can occur temporarily. And as a third step, organize stimulating measures from the government in a smarter way, in such a way that they combine a sustainable and efficient system integration.
Consider, for example, the netting scheme and postcode rose: phase out the 'free' elimination of energy tax or receiving a subsidy and replace it with a local netting scheme that rewards direct coordination between supply and demand.
And then let's have a vegetarian barbecue on that 100% day to celebrate it a bit sustainably.
Flexiblepower Alliance Network (FAN), founded in 2013, wants to stimulate the flexibility of the energy system. FAN wants to make an open and fair energy system possible, in which surpluses and shortages of sustainable energy are absorbed by means of flexibility in energy supply and demand.
FAN strives for maximum utilization and opening up of flexibility in the energy system through the use of open standards. Tariffs, regulations and markets can and must stimulate the flexibility of energy supply and demand. FAN aims to create broad support in Europe for its ideas, in which an open standard for flexibility, free access to the market, opening up as many potential flex sources as possible and freedom of choice for the end user are central.
As FAN we like to work together with end users, market parties and government with the aim of realizing a flexible, sustainable energy system. We focus our efforts in particular on end users who have so far provided little flexibility. Are you interested in partnering with FAN? Then please contact us.