Smart grids around the world: Denmark

energy efficiency, energy 3.0, electricity consumption, renewable energy, smart grids

Existing energy grids must be modernized in order to adapt to a changing energy world as well as to the gradual emergence of decentralized production sources. More and more smart grids are being built in Europe and worldwide and seem to be an adequate, effective solution to this challenge. Our overview of the most advanced achievements in this field includes the Danish EcoGrid EU project.

A radically changing energy model

In March 2012, the parliament and the government of Denmark agreed on an ambitious energy transition scheme to gradually increase the share of renewable sources in the national mix. The goal is nothing less than 100% of green energy consumption by 2050, be it for electricity, heating or transport: that is to say, a genuine revolution.

With 60% of its energy generation relying on fossil fuels (90% in the early 1970s) and its deep-rooted distrust of nuclear power, Denmark is now compelled to implement ambitious energy strategies if it is to protect the environment while ensuring affordable energy costs and meeting increasing consumer demand.

Boosting renewable energy generation, with a special focus on (offshore) wind power, whose production has skyrocketed in the last years (60%-increase since 2004), is a way of addressing this challenge. At the same time, the Danish government soon decided to reduce energy consumption by implementing thermal regulation for buildings as well as tax incentives. Denmark aims at producing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050 (Energy Strategy 2050, The Danish Government).

In this context, the energy-saving potential of smart grids is extremely valuable; no wonder that they were placed at the heart of Denmark’s strategy to push for a swift energy transition.

Bornholm’s Ecogrid, Denmark’s future energy model?

Like many other islands, Bornholm has always faced supply problems, including electricity. Within a period of ten years, the submarine power cable connecting it to the mainland was severed four times by the anchor of passing ships. As a consequence, local solutions had to be found early on. Today, a large wind farm of around thirty turbines covers 75% of the island’s 41,000 inhabitants’ electricity needs. It is an ideal setting to experiment smart grids, before implementing them on a nationwide basis.

The Bornholm EcoGrid project, still in its test phase, is one of the first of its kind in Europe. Half of the 21 million – euro costs were paid for by the European Union. Overall, 1,200 homes and about one hundred companies are involved.

The underlying principle is the same as in any smart grid: efficiently matching energy supply and demand 24/7, in spite of peak hours and bad weather in the North Sea. Relying on smart metres and monitors capable of sharing real-time measurements with various devices as well as with the energy provider, the EcoGrid project allows for both user involvement and automated consumption adjustments to grid capacity.

On the one hand, users are empowered to manage the grid, as they have access to real-time information on their consumption levels as well as on the price of the power they use compared with prices on the Nordic market (which encompasses the four Scandinavian countries), thus adjusting their consumption habits according to this information.

On the other hand, the grid can self-regulate thanks to complex algorithms which enable smart metres to switch on and off the various appliances connected to them according to the grid’s needs, time, weather and market prices. Electric heating in around 700 of the 1,200 test homes is included in this automated regulation. Each home having been audited to determine its energy needs, a few excess degrees can be taken from one home to help meet demand somewhere else on the grid, while maintaining the same level of comfort for all inhabitants.

Rated “the world’s smartest grid” by US magazine IEEE Spectrum, EcoGrid anticipates what the Danish – and maybe global – energy model might resemble in the years to come. Maja Bendtsen, engineer at energy provider Ostkraft, the entity in charge of developing EcoGrid, definitely shares this view, as her optimistic statement made in August 2013 shows: “We are a kind of microcosm within Danish society, in many respects we are the future of Denmark’s energy model.”

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