Recreating the electricity grid to face the challenges of new energy needs
Being in a community means sharing something in common: energy and the network through which it circulates. Whether as a producer or a consumer, everyone in the community is linked to the others by the strength of the network they participate in.
Why an energy community?
Patterns of energy use are changing very quickly. For decades energy production and distribution – particularly for electricity – were organized like a pyramid: some very powerful production units fed into a transport network and then a denser distribution network before delivering electricity to consumers.
With the advent of micro-production capacities – wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy in particular – consumers are now able to become producers. The network and all the stakeholders involved in it must now adapt while maintaining the same objective: producing enough to meet consumption needs.
What does ENGIE do to help improve the energy community?
Developing an energy community means ensuring that the network is as good as possible so that renewable energies can be included while ensuring the permanent availability of electricity. It also helps everyone become a stakeholder in the energy transition. In November 2016, ENGIE launched a "Community Solar" project in Massachusetts (United States). The goal there is to help individual customers who don’t have access to solar energy to become virtual co-owners of a nearby solar production plant. It could involve up to 5,000 customers.
A smart network
"Flattening" the electricity grid makes it more difficult to control the how various stakeholders interact, particularly because renewable energies are intermittent. In a network composed mostly of renewable energy sources, proper management requires a supervisory dashboard that can continuously analyze essential parameters like the actual state of production, storage or load of production units. This is the core business of Opus One Solutions, a startup that ENGIE invested in in November 2016.
A resilient network
A sudden increase in electricity consumption can lead to overall failure of the electricity grid if production does not ramp up in time. To prevent this risk, it is important to be able to immediately reduce consumption when network stability is threatened. Peak load shaving is one response to this challenge. ENGIE’s response is Nextflex, a solution that pays customers who reduce their energy needs for a limited period.
While more than 84% of the world's population has access to electricity, in some countries only 50% of people have access, sometimes even fewer in rural areas.
While waiting to be connected to the national or regional power grid, communities can get organized and set up their own independent mini-grids. This is what ENGIE is helping to do in a pilot project in Tanzania.
These solutions can be extended to other contexts like isolated areas (islands, distant mines, or areas covered by a failing power grid).