“Baseload” is an obsolete pre-energy-transition concept?

“Baseload” is so much twentieth century… It is a concept widely used when demand was not flexible. When there was an uncontrollable consumption and industries were not adapting their production to availability of abundant energy. When the goal was to have nuclear and other conventional power plants running 24/7.

In the twenty-first century, the demand curve is not going to be flat, but is going to be variable and smartly adapted to supply of renewable energy.


The “base load” game. Image from Maria Yan (Yanovski-55776) on freeimages.com

Let’s look at the energy demand to challenge this concept…

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The grid as an emergency supply?

It’s official. Finally Spain has the most toll-intensive consumer power generation (what is called self-consumption) law in the world. The so-called “sun tax” is in place.

It is important to understand the worries of the regulator here;

Given the high fixed costs of the system, further reductions of electricity demand (as with self-consumption) increase the price of energy in a Grid independence cycle. The goal of increasing the toll on self-consumption is to ensure the system costs are covered, delay the implementation of self-consumption (starting in the islands and small systems), delay consumer energy storage (in fact it is also a “battery tax”) and (try to) avoid further political problems. Of course, it is not the best solution, academics and regulatory experts agree that politically fixed costs that have to be paid by all citizens shouldn’t be in the tariff but evenly paid from the nation’s bugdet (like the extra-costs for electricity in the islands).

Image by Cancia Leirissa on freeimages.com

“Grid Emergency Exit”                                                       Image by Cancia Leirissa on freeimages.com

What are the consequences? Rising prices, and the fact that fixed costs (for the contracted power) are surging, push the active consumer to look for the following solutions:

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Why I supported GravityLight (twice)

The concept of the GravityLight is simple and yet very innovative. It consists in a light powered by gravity, it is charged by lifting a weight and letting its descent run the generator and the light.

Of course, it is only possible now thanks to the LED lights and other efficiency gains. With old light bulbs, the duration of the same concept would be ridicule, but now, a simple lift of 2-3 seconds can provide for almost 30 minutes of light.

Gravity Light Image from Wikimedia Commons

The running costs are null, and compared to the alternative of kerosene lamps, the impact is enormous in reducing costs, environmental impact, as well as reducing fire risks and negative consequences of smoke on the health of the users….

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Flat? or wavy?

Smart grids are supposed to flatten the demand curve by reducing peak power (i.e. with demand response) and filling valleys (i.e. with EV charging). Price arbitrage using local energy storage is another driver for a flat demand curve.

So do you think in a few years the demand will be completely flat?

I bet it shouldn’t, let me explain why…

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Demand energy policy Vs supply; the Saudi Case

In my opinion, there is no better example of where demand energy policy is pivotal than in the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).

In KSA, peak demand is expected to nearly triple from 44 GW in 2010, up to 121 GW, in 2035 (Source: ECRA 2010). This is, of course, with the actual demand patterns and expected growth.

The supply energy policy takes these predictions as valid and focuses in covering the expected demand. How is it planned in the KSA case? By building 41 GW solar plants and 21 GW of nuclear, geothermal and waste-to-energy (source: KACARE, Saudi Solar Energy forum 2012). The lead time for building the capacity (specially in the case of nuclear) is difficult to synchronize with the aggregate demand behavior, and there can be frictions. An example of supply energy policy going wrong is that of Spain, where current excess power generation capacity has been (mainly) a consequence of decreasing demand opposed to predicted growth.

However, if we take a look at the demand (source: Saudi HVAC confex), the HVAC represents more than 70% of electricity consumption.

Cooling % in KSA

Given the importance of HVAC, we might agree that the first Saudi HVAC conference, should have taken place sooner than start of this year (February 2013) www.saudihvacconfex.com

Demand energy policy focuses, instead of building GWs of nuclear power to generate, transport, distribute and transform into cooling, in reducing the expected growth in demand. Solutions are building retrofits, HVAC efficiency improvements, renewable self-consumption, solar cooling, etc. Deferred investments in generating capacity are the best return on investment for these energy efficiency and demand response measures.

In fact, during the recent WEC (World Energy Congress), the SEC  Eng. Ali Saleh Al Barrak, President and CEO , highlighted the building retrofit as offering the biggest opportunities. That’s not only true for KSA, Spain, again an example, has a great opportunity in building retrofits to improve energy efficiency and reactivate the building industry.

Moreover, a 2012 paper on efficiency measures, described the opportunity for the future of the KSA, both on supply and demand:


In short, both demand and supply policies have to be considered, but in my opinion, demand measures are more sustainable, more efficient, faster to deploy and have a better return on investment. We’ll see what Saudi does…

Building the Smart Grid bottom-up

I strongly support the democratization of energy, understood as the access to energy for all and the open participation of the people in the energy market, for example by generating energy for self-consumption or through energy cooperatives. (I already posted on this subject here)

I see energy independence is of less importance. Having energy inter-dependencies with other countries may be positive. As an example, electric grid interconnections, even if they meant energy dependence, are built for increased efficiency and optimized use of generation assets. Increasing the interconnection of France and Spain, would increase competition and efficiency, although it could lead to greater inter-dependence. How about islands interconnections? That makes them dependent on the mainland, but energy less costly, more reliable and allowing greater renewable penetration.

Democratization gives an additional momentum to any change, with this I mean, once some technology market is democratized, accessible to all, and each individual can invest in it, the speed of it’s implementation and development is exponential. An example that anyone can understand is the development of apps for mobile devices.

In the energy industry, the democratization of power generation is mainly due to solar power. Germany has built more than 30 GW of solar power plants, thanks to individuals and cooperatives, not concentrated by traditional big utilities and concentrated power plants, now more decentralized.

Ulm church bottom up (tallest church in the world, built by the citizens of Ulm), by Szeder László (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ulm church bottom up (tallest church in the world, built by the citizens of Ulm), by Szeder László (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On this subject I wrote an article for Energética s.XXI on their international publication July-August. Individuals not only can have important effects on the grid, they have also have the responsibility to act with sustainability and energy efficiency.

Smart grids have brought the prosumer, as part of a more democratized system where the consumer can also be a producer of energy and participate in the energy market. Building rehabilitation, making homes prosumer microgrids increases the efficiency, the reliability, the sustainability, the security of supply and is also has a very good return on investment. (An example I also wrote about is the V2H business case, part of these home microgrids)

A widespread implementation of smart homes as microgrids would build a smart grid, from the bottom up, from where the energy is consumed, but with effects on the whole grid and energy landscape.