Power to the people?


Europe’s energy supply industry could be turned on its head over the next few decades, first with fossil fuels and nuclear energy largely being replaced with renewables and, second, many consumers also becoming energy suppliers.

Indeed, half of all European Union citizens could be producing at least some of their own electricity by 2050 – together meeting 45% of the EU’s energy demand. This in a market no longer dominated by large utilities, in which people produce their own energy and help to manage overall demand, through demand response measures. So concludes a new report: The potential for energy citizens in the EU, written by research institute CE Delft for an alliance of renewables and environmental organisations.

Energy citizens would include small businesses and cooperatives as well as households, adds the report. With the right legal framework, energy citizens could overcome legal, administrative and tariff obstacles to flourish in a new system.

They would generate power from renewables at their own premises, mainly with micro and small-scale solar plant; using on-site energy storage and demand response tools to both maximise generation for their own consumption and to help manage wider system loads. Alongside their own power generation capabilities, energy citizens would bring smart ‘e-boilers’ and stationary batteries (or those within parked electric vehicles) to the system. Smart grid technology would do the rest, reducing system peaks and ensuring clean back-up capacity.

It’s a long term and radical view, but one that resonates with urbanization patterns – the continuing shift of populations around the world into cities.  Another recent report, this one written for the World Energy Council by UK-based consultant Arup: Innovating Urban Energy, looks at changes to the way energy is provided, managed and consumed in cities.

It says: ‘Power systems today are undergoing a profound transformation, driven by the diversification and decentralization of power generation... the twentieth century model of centralized energy production and distribution by a limited number of actors is evolving into a data-driven, multi-directional, market-based platform where divisions between roles – producer, distributor, consumer – are becoming blurred and overlapping.’

Maybe Arup and the World Energy Council have seen the emergence of energy citizens on the horizon too – power to the people!

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