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Energy: Net zero

Energy: Net zero | 38

Variable generation, flexible demand

Neil Mearns Senior Writer

The rising proportion of variable renewable generation in the electricity system is creating the need for more flexibility to balance supply and demand. Demand-side flexibility, or flexible demand, has become a vital aspect of maintaining a safe and functional network. In this Energy Perspective, we look at the issue of flexible demand as covered in the book Variable Generation, Flexible Demand, edited by Fereidoon Sioshansi and published in November 2020. The book comprises of 22 chapters from contributors from different disciplines and from all over the world. As we discuss, harnessing flexible demand makes a compelling business sense for key market participants. What is flexible demand? Sioshansi describes flexible demand as the solution to the “feast or famine” situation often experienced on electricity networks resulting from the abundance or disappearance of variable renewable generation. Turning flexible thermal plants – typically gas-fired peaking units – up or down is the traditional solution to accommodate renewable generation. In most instances, however, flexible demand can serve the same purpose at lower cost, with zero emissions, and often at a much faster response rate. Moreover, since solar and wind generation cannot be adjusted, managing demand flexibility becomes critical as networks approach 100% renewable targets.  The proliferation of flexible demand solutions has been enabled by three main developments: Smart meters are becoming the norm in many places. Smart tariffs providing incentives to respond to price signals. Smart connected devices becoming easier to monitor and manage. As we discuss, further advancements in digital technologies will be ...

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