In the first post in the blog series, we looked at the home of the future and saw an energy-optimised, networked work of art. For this vision to become reality, the infrastructure – i.e. the grid – must keep pace with digitalisation and the transformation of the energy system.
Marc Vogel, Senior Specialist Market & System Design, focuses on strategic grid planning at Swissgrid. Here he tells us why he bakes cakes when the sun is shining and what this has to do with Swissgrid.
Marc, does a smart home really bring added value, or are these kinds of gadgets just expensive gimmicks?
It’s probably a bit of both: there are certain gadgets that are just for entertainment, but some technology really does make your life easier, whilst saving electricity and money at the same time. I built a house for my family a few years ago. For me, the most important thing was that it should be well insulated and meet the Minergie standard. I opted for geothermal heat pumping technology, which is the most efficient heating technology of all. Financially, it was a major investment. But if you look at the running costs compared to oil or gas heating, it’s definitely worth it. Especially if you generate electricity on your own roof. That’s what my solar panels do, very effectively: I have a really smart gadget, «Solar Manager», that shows at any given time how much electricity is being generated on the roof and how much is being consumed in the house. This allows me to check whether I have to obtain electricity from the grid, or if I can feed my solar power into the local distribution system. If this is the case, the Solar Manager automatically starts the heat pumping technology, reducing energy recovery. This is how I heat my home. I’m usually able to generate hot water with solar power from my own roof. Heat is stored in the boiler and in the building shell – so I hardly ever have to leave the heating on at night. My own solar power has virtually replaced the low load tariff, which I previously used mainly at night. If possible, I always do my laundry and bake cakes when it’s light outside. Using smart helpers and changing old habits will make us less dependent on electricity price fluctuations on the market and help us to save money.
Could a new tariff system provide an incentive?
Absolutely, the tariff system is very important. In Switzerland, distribution system operators pay solar power producers different tariffs for the electricity that is fed into the grid. The remuneration is currently between 4 and 41 cents per kilowatt hour. Large regional differences and certain monthly adjustments due to market prices are difficult for solar power producers to comprehend and create uncertainty about the investment. I believe that the tariff for procuring electricity from the grid should always be higher than the amount received for feeding solar power into the grid. This is the only thing that encourages me to consume my solar power in my own home whenever possible. This relieves the electricity grid and reduces the need for grid expansion – which will have a positive effect on grid utilisation costs in the long term.
«Using smart helpers and changing old habits will make us less dependent on electricity price fluctuations on the market and help us to save money.»Marc Vogel
Does that mean that all you need now is an electric car?
We’ll be getting one in the next few months. We’re replacing our diesel-powered car with an electric model. It’s the obvious next step, as we now generate the «fuel» for the e-car ourselves, and will drive it mainly for leisure. That means we can charge it entirely from our own solar power at home during the day – even in winter. The car we have ordered is even a battery on wheels, as it supports bidirectional charging. So our car can not only be recharged from the solar power we have produced ourselves, but will also emit energy again whenever we need it. The vehicle’s 80-kWh battery can supply our single-family home with electricity for around five days. As bidirectional charging stations are still very expensive, we’ll have to wait and see. I expect that the acquisition costs will drop significantly in the next two years. This is true in most instances when demand increases, which drives competition between manufacturers.
Solar panels, e-cars as batteries: suddenly, customers are feeding electricity they have produced themselves into the distribution grid and becoming «prosumers». Is the grid, which was designed as a one-way street, actually ready for this?
The aim is to be able to store electricity for the night. E-cars could be a substitute source of electricity for the nuclear power stations that will be taken off the grid in the medium term. If we charge the batteries of 100,000 electric cars so that they can feed electricity back into the grid at night, this is roughly equivalent to the output of a nuclear power station. In the future, electric cars will be a means of transport and a battery, all in one. Until now, our cars have been standing around uselessly for around 95 percent of the time. That’s set to change. In order to harness this great potential, bidirectional grid connections will be needed, both at home and at work. A clever load management system will have to be implemented to avoid creating charging peaks when large numbers of cars are being recharged at the same time. Energy poolers will develop market products that electric car owners like me can use to provide and obtain electricity wherever we are. We will earn real money with our electric cars in the future. Swissgrid is also involved in the «Equigy» platform, which aims to make use of decentralised, flexible storage systems such as batteries to stabilise the grid.
«The aim is to be able to store electricity for the night. To help us, we can make use of large pumped storage power plants and all the electric cars that are just parked somewhere 95% of the time.»Marc Vogel
That’s easy to say, but will this actually become a reality in the future and what will it mean for grid operators?
We are all in the same boat: if we do not address the issue of our own consumption of electricity, there will be a greater need for grid expansion. All the way from the distribution system to the transmission system. For example, in order to manage grid congestion, especially in winter, Swissgrid must intervene in the way power plants are utilised, or modernise and expand the existing infrastructure to increase capacity. More control energy will be needed to keep the grid stable. These measures involves costs in the billions that will be incurred by all grid operators. These costs will be passed on to end consumers via grid utilisation costs. So everyone who buys electricity in Switzerland will ultimately pay for the measures. The aim must therefore be to avoid running up costs for expensive storage facilities, for grid expansion and for measures such as redispatching and the use of control energy. We can do this by consuming electricity where it is produced whenever possible – by making intelligent use of the storage units we have at home anyway (such as electric cars or hot water boilers). This is how we will achieve an overall system that functions efficiently from an economic point of view.
In the third article in the «our grid» blog series, we will explain how coordination between Swissgrid and its partners in the industry works and how this ensures that all the necessary changes are incorporated into grid planning.