With the rollout of smart meters, the hardware for a networked all-electric society is being introduced in many thousands of households, and it will soon be millions. While bees seem quite comfortable with the idea, however, most people are not yet aware that the plan is for them to become an active part of an integral system. “We have to learn to communicate better on this topic. This debate needs to be featured on talk shows, and the advantages of flexibility have to be explained simply and comprehensively,” declares Alexander Nollau, head of the energy department at the DKE, which he also represents on the German federal government's advisory board on system stability (see box, p. 23).
To encourage electricity customers to take part, they need to be able to see the added value in market- and grid-oriented behavior. This type of incentive is already coming into view: Providers such as Tibber and awattar are now offering dynamic electricity prices, which are due to become standard by the middle of the decade. Automotive corporations and wall box and heat pump manufacturers are also itching to win new customers with lucrative marketing that promises flexibility.
In principle, this is in the interest of grid operators, as well. “The aim is to control electricity flows via the market whenever possible,” emphasizes Heike Kerber, who also sits on the system stability advisory board, representing VDE FNN. However, she says, it’s also necessary to prepare for situations where that simply does not work. “For instance, if lots of wind energy pushes down the electricity price and many customers want to charge their electric vehicles at the same time, that could also cause shortages in the distribution network. Grid operators then need to be able to intervene and throttle the power supplied to flexible consumers down to a guaranteed minimum.” Those providing the flexibility agree with this arrangement – in principle.
But would such throttling be permitted regularly, or only in an emergency? Would these rules apply automatically to all flexible consumers, or is participation voluntary? How would this flexibility be rewarded? It will take some time before these matters are settled. To make sure the smart meter rollout doesn’t end up taking even longer, it needs to be agile: The devices will be installed, and the rules on grid management will be provided later via a software update. We just can't spend another 10 years on this endeavor – because an all-electric society without clear rules is definitely not a good idea.
Eva Augsten is a freelance journalist in Hamburg, Germany, who specializes in renewable energy.