Should consumers start predicting their own energy consumption?

UCWOSL study completed: 'Power to the People - Kleinverbruik en Programmaverantwoordelijkheid’

Energienet met ondergaande zon

Small-scale consumers of energy do not have the responsibility to fix their electricity consumption in advance in a programme, and then to behave accordingly. Nowadays, however, consumers can do more and more. They can generate energy and trade it. This raises the question of whether the current regulation of programme responsibility for small-scale consumers is still appropriate for their position. A study by Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Sustainability Law (UCWOSL) and TNO shows that when small-scale consumers in principle have their own programme responsibility, they have more opportunities on the energy market.

Selling the energy from your own solar panels to your neighbour, or using that energy to charge your electric car at a public charging station will become easier. And that in turn can help to solve problems in the electricity system, such as congestion: a shortage of transport capacity in the electricity network.

The study focuses on the relationship between small-scale consumers and programme responsibility. Small-scale users have a connection to the electricity grid with a limited capacity; all households and some SMEs have such a connection and are therefore small-scale users. Programme responsibility means that, in principle, every user of electricity is responsible for laying down his electricity consumption in a programme beforehand, and then behaving in accordance with that programme.

This can be explained with the responsibility of the traditional miller. When the miller starts grinding, he has to put the blades into the wind to make the grinding stone turn. If he stops grinding, he must turn the blades out of the wind to prevent losing control. This is no different in modern times: when the baker switches on his electric milling machine, somewhere in the Netherlands (or Europe) a power station has to be turned up a gear. In order to steer this in the right direction, the regulation of programme responsibility is necessary.

Nevertheless, small-scale consumers are excluded from the regulation of programme responsibility, partly due to technical limitations. Perhaps a different regulation of programme responsibility for small consumers would fit better with their changing position in the energy market, now and in the future.

In de energietransitie komen namelijk een drietal ontwikkelingen samen: decarbonisatie, decentralisering en digitalisering die het mogelijk maken voor consumenten om energie op te wekken en daarin te handelen. Decarbonisatie, het binnen enkele decennia terugbrengen van de netto CO2 uitstoot naar 0, zorgt ervoor dat elektriciteitsopwekking met behulp van fossiele brandstoffen in de toekomst worden vervangen door duurzame opwek. Dit gaat gebaard met decentralisatie van energieopwekking; steeds meer energie wordt lokaal opgewekt, al dan niet door de kleinverbruikers zelf door middels van bijvoorbeeld zonne- en windenergie. En, digitalisering biedt steeds meer inzicht in de productie en consumptie van energie door consumenten, waarbij zij automatisch hun energieverbruik af kunnen stemmen op de pieken en dalen van de markt. Daarbij zouden zij kunnen profiteren van prijsfluctuaties, of zelfs flexibiliteit op de markt kunnen aanbieden.

In the energy transition, namely, three developments come together: decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation, which make it possible for consumers to generate and trade energy. Decarbonisation, the reduction of net CO2 emissions to zero within a few decades, ensures that electricity generation using fossil fuels will be replaced by sustainable energy in the future. This goes hand in hand with the decentralisation of the energy generation; more and more energy is generated locally, whether or not by the small-scale consumers themselves through, for example, solar and wind energy. And, digitalisation offers more and more insight into the production and consumption of energy by consumers, allowing them to automatically adjust their energy consumption to the peaks and downfalls of the market. In doing so, consumers could benefit from price fluctuations, or even offer flexibility to the market.

The study shows that a different regulation of programme responsibility may be desirable. A new regulation could maximise the opportunities for small consumers to benefit from new services and technologies and thus contribute to the stability of the electricity system and a successful energy transition.

Read the full research report, or the policy summary of the study: "Power to the People": An investigation into alternatives to the current balance sheet irresponsibility of small-scale consumers. Be aware the reports are in Dutch!