Phasing out our use of fossil fuels is essential to the success of the energy transition. However, our growing electricity consumption, driven by assets such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, coupled with ever-increasing intermittent renewable electricity generation presents a challenge to the balance of our electric system. But heat pumps and electric vehicles also contain the root of the solution to these problems. If these assets can be made intelligently controllable, they can help balance the system. FlexSys (A Flexible System contributing to security of energy supply), a project of the Energy Transition Fund, is studying the many barriers of a technological, legislative, economic or organizational nature that remain to fully exploit the flexibility of these assets.
Let's chat with EnerGhentIC colleagues Sam Hamels, senior researcher at the department of Economics, faculty of Economics & Business Administration, and Joannes Laveyne, researcher at the department of Electromechanical, Systems and Metal Energineering, Faculty of Engineering & Architecture, Ghent University. Both are involved in the FlexSys project.
A Flexible System contributing to security of
09/2021 - 08/2024
FOD Economie/FPS Economy
Involved UGent professors
Prof. Lieven Vandevelde, Prof. Jelle Laverge,
Prof. Marten Ovaere
Hi Sam and Joannes, assets like heat pumps and EVs can help balance the electric system, but is this flexibility really needed? Can you explain why it is important to look at their potential?
“We will rely more and more on electricity being generated from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Today, during moments of high energy consumption but low availability of renewable energy, for example during winter evenings, the most expensive and polluting fossil energy generators must operate to meet peak consumption. On the other hand, during times of low energy consumption but high availability of renewable energy, for example summer days, excess energy will have to be curtailed. If we would use the enormous flexibility potential of heat pumps and EVs, for example, we could avoid the use of these polluting fossil energy generators or the curtailment of renewable energy.”
We already see many research projects on flexibility. What sets this project apart?
“That’s certainly correct. There are already a lot of studies done by engineers with a very technical approach looking at the potential of certain distributed assets. Of course, we also look at the technical potential but in FlexSys much of the project also focuses on human behavior, the rollout of this technology and market acceptance. These things are often neglected or under-researched. When you work with real people who have to use the technology and pay for it, the question is really: how much of the technical potential can be fully exploited in practice?”
Can you give an example of how you get data on actual human behavior?
“In the project, we are installing flexibility technology in 50 households of actual families. For example, we can change the software from time to time and see what works best. We can easily track these 50 households. Interestingly, the households also get an "off button" that stops the flexibility algorithms trying to control their heat pump or EV. This gives direct insight into when and how people might act as obstructionists if we were to ask for more flexibility. Communication in these experiments is very important. The people in the experiment must still feel in control. In fact, they are still in control at all times.”
"As a recommendation to our fellow academics: make your project multidisciplinary! The EnerGhentIC team can certainly help you with this."
If you also want to investigate the roll out and market acceptance of this technology, you probably need non-academic project partners as well?
“Yes, that's the key to this project. The project has an academic base, but our partners are very diverse. We have both industrial and commercial players such as energy suppliers and technology suppliers. Most of our partners are even cooperatives. This makes it very interesting but also very challenging. Each partner has its own priorities. This means that you are always challenged by someone. For example, we are sometimes made aware of practical constraints by our industrial partners that we would otherwise more easily ignore if it were a purely academic research project. Additionally, there is also an advisory board with relevant stakeholders.“
This project started in 2021 so we will have to wait a while for the final results, but what are you most proud of so far?
“We’re most proud of the diversity of the partners. This project goes beyond a purely technical academic project and also looks at the human behavior. We, as academics, have to work together with partners who will actually have to implement and roll out this technology. This is very rewarding. We know that this project provides an important foundation for the hardware, software and knowledge needed to scale this up. As a recommendation to our fellow academics: make your project multidisciplinary! The EnerGhentIC team can certainly help you with this."
FlexSys graph showing high peaks and low consumption points
Interested? Check our the website: https://www.flexsys-project.be/