Below average winter temperatures, souring heating costs and questions about secure supplies all add up to a winter of energy discontent in Europe. Alternatives are being investigated and increasingly used, from renewable sun, wind and bio-energy resources to fast-track solutions for stimulating more and better use of distributed energy resources (DER). EU-DEEP, a European Union-funded project, is keen to remove the barriers to deeper and wider application of DER in Europe.
Freezing cold weather is a reason to turn the thermostat up a degree or two. But as the winter season drags on, and the heating bills get longer, Europe is asking itself, is this sustainable? Latvia's capital Riga recorded -29°C in January and Brandenburg, Germany, was not far behind with -27°C – the lowest temperatures in the country since 1956. The cold was not limited to northern Europe, either. Central and southern parts of Portugal experienced their first snow in more than 50 years this winter.
|EU-DEEP's coordinator is Gaz de France whose motto is ‘Bringing energy to you. For today. For tomorrow'.|
© Gaz de France
Questions of climate change and its impact on the world's weather patterns aside, these cold temperatures put a heavy burden on Europe's energy supplies – and on its citizens' bank balances. A group of eight leading European energy utilities, together with manufacturers, research organisations, national energy agencies and even a bank, have joined forces to help bring down technical and non-technical barriers preventing large-scale deployment of DER.
With the help of €15 million in Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) funding from the EU, the Integrated Project is designing, developing and validating promising new business models (including markets, technology, actors and financing) based on market requirements to “amplify large-scale penetration of DER in Europe” from 2010 onwards.
‘Distributed' energy is defined by its closeness to the point of consumption. For example, a combined heat and power unit for a hospital, or a windmill for a factory. DER systems can provide electric and/or thermal power, which is generally below 10 MW and, in most cases, the generator is connected to the electrical grid. Several generators can also be inter-connected through interactive and sophisticated grids, forming a ‘virtual power plant'.
This differs from traditional centralised electricity production models with large-scale power plants (thermal or nuclear) located far from most consumption areas and requiring vast infrastructures to store, transport and distribute supplies.
Europe is not totally new to DERs, such as wind turbines, small hydroelectric plants and photovoltaic generators on houses and commercial properties, but much more could be made of them. Hence the “birth of a European Distributed EnErgy Partnership” which has moved away from traditional technology-led approaches to tackle a big issue affecting potentially millions of people Europe-wide.
EU-DEEP's nearly 40 partners from all over Europe opted to carry out its investigation from the demand up. The new approach is looking to provide fast-track options to speed up the use of DER across Europe by defining five market segments in three areas (industrial, commercial and residential) which stand to benefit most from DER solutions, and by stimulating the R&D required to adapt DER technologies to the demands of these segments.
To do this, the partners came up with a set of what they call “iterative R&D tasks” or work packages to be performed by the participating utilities, research laboratories, power generator manufacturers, storage and grid connection equipment makers, and investment bodies. These packages, of course, start with a description of the demand segments, strategies for integrating energy grids and markets, technical R&D and later validation, as well as training and dissemination measures. An expert group (European Competence Group) will also be set up to help exploit the project's findings commercially after 2009. Steps are also being taken to advise regulatory authorities and national agencies on how best to lift barriers allowing more widespread use of DERs in Europe.
EU-DEEP has a good website hosting up-to-date information on DER-related news and events. Descriptions of the initiative and its expected impact on Europe's energy markets can be found in the brochure located in the ‘Downloads' section of the site.