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Flexibility and security essential to future-proof energy system

Only by giving flexibility greater prominence in our energy system can it become more sustainable and future-proof. The innovations needed to do this, such as energy storage, are not being developed in the current energy market, thereby threatening the reliability and affordability of the supply. Parties that want to do real-life experiments in order to help develop practicable flexibility must be given sufficient scope to do so.

In its report “Towards a future-proof energy system: flexibility with value”, TNO describes a large number of innovations to enable fast exploitation of the fluctuations in demand and/or supply.

From security to flexible and secure

Our current energy system is geared to security: the production of electricity and gas is adjusted to a predicted variation in energy demand. The growth of wind and solar electricity production requires a system that is also geared to flexibility so that significant variations in demand and supply can be accommodated. Only then will the transition to a sustainable energy supply become feasible.

Anticipate instead of wait

It is uncertain how long it will take for the Netherlands to actually experience problems as a result of the increased production of wind and solar energy, and what the extent of such problems will be. By anticipating now and making the system flexible, disinvestments can be avoided and our country will be able to create a lead on neighbouring countries. In the publication TNO describes a large number of innovations that enable an adequate response to fluctuations in the demand and/or supply of energy, such as various forms of energy storage, continually adjustable energy production and systems like PowerMatcher that is able to adjust the electricity demand from owners of buildings, housing corporations and/or small business users to the supply. Each option has a specific functionality and application. A combination of different options is essential.

Emergence of decentralised energy supply

The Dutch energy market has functioned perfectly well to date. The grid has a high degree of reliability and is able to accommodate large energy surpluses from Germany. That security is vital to our comfort and our economy. Future scenarios reveal that the Dutch energy system will undergo significant change in the next 10 to 15 years. Between 49 and 53% of the energy generated in the Netherlands in 2030 can be expected to come from renewable sources, including fluctuating sources (wind and sun). Some scenarios estimate this share to be considerably higher. It is not likely that our current energy system will be able to continue providing a secure supply with an increasing share of sun and wind in the energy make-up.

New requirements for the energy market

The energy market has to change now if innovative sources of flexibility are to be allowed to develop and thus facilitate a gradual and secure transition to a new system. Flexibility then acquires an economic value in an energy market in which electricity rates are variable, where all parties can access the market in a level playing field and where pricing is transparent and external costs are calculated in the price. So SMEs in the market must be able to offer flexible capacity or purchase at the moment that this is required and profitable. In addition, people and companies want to have ‘security’ of supply, availability and affordability. In the current market key opportunities to make demand and supply flexible are being underutilised.

Real-life experiments

A blueprint for the future cannot be given. Real-life experiments are needed to offer the scope to innovative entrepreneurs and a dynamic society to come up with new solutions. Parties that want to use real-life experiments to help develop useful flexibility in the energy system must therefore be given every opportunity to do so. For example with storage, with variable rates for grids or in neighbourhoods, which residents will make more or less energy-neutral with heat pumps, electric transport, solar panels, storage and demand-based management. It is important that the government facilitates these real-life experiments and ensures that the legislation and market regulation allows the scope to develop innovative products and services.

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