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In a not too distant future, heat and electricity customers will also act as producers, generating electricity, heat and cooling for an ‘intelligent’ energy system.
By drawing on the sun, wind and biomass to generate electricity, the network will ensure that homes, offices and electric cars work together with combined heat and power plants, wind farms and district heating stations to meet our power needs.
For the individual household, the intelligent energy system will make it possible to programme washing machines to turn on when there is excess capacity on the network – normally at night – when rates are also lowest.
The only futureRooftop solar panels, meanwhile, can generate electricity for use elsewhere on the network. At night, excess electricity can be used to recharge the family’s electric car, or be sent out to the network should there be a demand for it. Even though this vision of the future will not be coming true tomorrow, Head of Department and energy expert Jens Ole Hansen believes the intelligent energy systems are the only future possible if we are to break our reliance on coal and oil.
“As it is today, we have a ton of ‘dumb’ networks for electricity, cooling and heating that operate totally independently. What we need to do is to integrate them so they can communicate with each other,” Hansen says.
Make better use of renewableDoing so, according to Hansen, will allow us to make better use of renewable – but unpredictable – energy sources like wind and solar.
“In Denmark we get more than a fourth of our electricity from renewable sources, but sometimes our excess production is so high that we wind up delivering it to the German electrical grid for almost free.”
Being able to use more renewable energy sources, Hansen says, requires creating an interactive system that allows power to flow to and from the end-user, in contrast to the one-way orientation of today’s networks.
Electrical grid overhaulIn addition to being the foundation for our independence from fossil fuels, Hansen sees intelligent energy systems as necessary for preventing global climate change.
“If we do not want temperatures to rise by more than 2° C by the end of the next century, we need to begin using more renewables right now. But even if countries’ renewable use amounts to less than 30 per cent of their total needs, the world’s electrical grid still needs a major overhaul.”
By Kathrine SchmeichelPublished: 30.09.2010
Jens Ole HansenHead of Department and energy email@example.com
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Read the article: Getting smart about power grids (pdf)