Energy consumers, and not energy producers, will provide security of supply

Throughout Europe, these days heated discussions are raging about the risk of energy shortages. A constant theme with regard to security of supply is that it always relates to the supply, about how much more energy we can generate to meet demand. The conservative energy sector does not want to hear this, but the discussion is completely outdated. To solve the mismatch between supply and demand, in these times of smart monitors and flow regulators, we must dare to shift the focus radically from producers to consumers. The solution is in the negawatts, the megawatts that we don't consume.

Renewable energy is on the rise. Logically, because it is not only vitally important for the future of the planet, it is also much cheaper. Solar panels easily have a payback period of 7 to 8 years, large wind turbines ever shorter. Once the capital cost has been paid back, only the maintenance costs remain. The raw material itself – whether this is sun or wind – you get for nothing.

One problem with this renewable energy is that we cannot turn it on and off like a nuclear or gas-fired power station. Most days we can perfectly provide our energy consumption with renewable energy, but sometimes we even have to stop our wind turbines because they supply too much energy and even create negative electricity prices. But now and again, on darker and/or calm days, we consume more than our solar panels and wind turbines produce and we get into difficulties.

The discussions about security of supply that the large energy producers are keen to stir up relates primarily to what is known as the capacity remuneration mechanism. Put very simply: we need to subsidise energy sources such as gas-fired power stations – which are completely priced out of the market by much cheaper, renewable energy sources, even if we perhaps only need them for a few days a year? Even in the most optimistic scenario, that is not at all the case. Therefore do we simply subsidise the possibility of, perhaps, needing a hand in case of emergency?

Smart flow controllers in smart homes

This is an interesting discussion, but it is the wrong discussion. After all, it actually ignores the most immediate solution. It focuses exclusively on the energy supply, while the key, in these digitised times, is in energy demand. so with the consumers and not the producers.

Today, industry is doing everything it can for this: switching off equipment when there is too little electricity while temporarily switching over to emergency planning, etc. But the real benefit is with the ordinary energy consumer. Studies show that the lazy consumer can reduce their consumption by 20 to 40 percent without having to shower with cold water or warming themselves around the camp fire. If you know that private individuals account for almost 40 percent of electricity consumption, a quick calculation shows you that households can regulate 16 to 17 percent of electricity consumption. They can increase or decrease, depending on the energy sources that are available.

Let me give you a simple example of how a smart flow regulator in a smart home can control energy consumption perfectly. Imagine, and in Belgium you don't need much imagination to do this, that the ever more accurate forecasts say that over the coming days there will not be much sun and wind. But today is a windy day, where the wind turbines produce so much energy that they have to be stopped to avoid an overload of electricity. The hot water boilers then get a signal to heat up fully, now that there is a surplus in electricity that is available very cheaply, so it can then rest for a day. A smart fridge then gets the signal to cool at full capacity, so that it can rest a bit over the next day without the food being wasted.

Reward the consumer for their negawatts

Negawatts instead of megawatts: instead of having to produce additional Watts, the consumer reduces Watts. In contrast to electricity supply, electricity demand can be controlled. Am I producing 500 Watt more than I consume? Click, the swimming pool pump switches on. 1000 Watt too much? OK, let's charge the electric car.

Very simple, and thanks to new technology, it is getting more realistic by the day. Only when industry can pay customers for their flexible consumption will households be willing to get behind this. A big thank you for their idealism and altruism, but the excess in energy consumption will then be able to help solve the mismatch between supply and demand when it comes with a lower bill. Planet and wallet.

Although the solution is available, it demands a serious mind shift to transfer the power from the producer to the consumer. In a ultra-conservative sector such as energy – where electrical power stations have done the same thing for 200 years – resistance to change is particularly high. But the only sustainable solution comes from the bottom up and starts with the consumer. Unless we actually want to subsidise gas and electricity plants for 95 percent of the year to waste resources?


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