Text: Lotte Krull
Who can be bothered to get up at 1.00 a.m. to put on a load of washing? In the future, night time might be the time it makes the most sense to start the washing machine.
When all of our electricity production has moved away from fossil fuels and is based solely on renewable energy, we cannot expect the sun and wind to produce exactly the amount of power at exactly the time of day we consumers find it convenient.
“In our current electricity system it is the power stations that ensure the electricity supply is flexible, such that the production of electricity always matches the need. We can raise or lower production from these plants so that the two match. But as we phase out the large power stations and phase in renewable energy, we lose the ability to control the production of power. So we lose the flexibility that the plants give to the electricity supply. In the future, it will be the consumers who must be flexible instead,” says Henrik Madsen, a professor at DTU who has headed projects for many years that create solutions for the integration of solar and wind power into the energy system through digitalization.
An algorithm creates flexibility
In one of the projects, researchers have developed a flexibility function, i.e. an algorithm that can help society move towards flexible electricity consumption. The flexibility function has been tested at a water treatment plant with good results.
“We have shown that with the help of digitalization and our flexibility function, it is possible to postpone some of the power-intensive processes in a water treatment plant to times when there is plenty of power and thus also low prices. That is, we were able to shift the plant’s electricity consumption in relation to electricity production,” says Henrik Madsen.
The algorithm also knows that at some point the processes can no longer be postponed, and must be executed, reports the professor, who sees a great potential in disseminating the flexibility function.
“Both companies and consumers alike can adapt to more flexible electricity consumption. This might mean delaying when we start our washing machine or dishwasher, charge an electric vehicle, or turn on the refrigerators in a supermarket, until a certain critical point. This could be a given time or a temperature or something else that the user defines,” says Henrik Madsen.
“This flexibility requires digitalization. This means that the power grid has data on wind power generation etc., and our appliances, cars, and refrigerators can communicate with the grid so that they can react to the data and adapt to it.”