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Features 21-03-2024

3 min read

Grid flexibility will be key to handle increasing complexities

Clean energy transitions are gaining momentum with Europe in the vanguard and the power sector at the forefront. While electricity is only one quarter of the energy we consume in Europe today, it is expected to increase to over 50 percent by 2050. To achieve these ambitious targets, we will need around four times the power generation capacity by 2050 while also transferring up to three times as much electrical energy compared to 2020. Much of this new generation capacity will come from variable renewables such as wind.

Wind, like bulk solar, can be a cost-effective resource for decarbonizing Europe’s energy system. However, there are inherent limitations to the controllability of wind power, making life difficult for system operators who are trying to continuously balance supply and demand. To progress with the wind revolution which we have seen transform our power systems over the past 10-15 years, we must deliver a power system able to cope with high levels of variable renewables, based on power electronics and monitored and controlled by digital systems. This will require more focus on flexibility. 

According to the proposed EU Electricity Market Design Reform regulation, “flexibility means the ability of an electricity system to adjust to the variability of generation and consumption patterns and grid availability, across relevant market timeframes.’’ The traditional paradigm which focused more on adequacy, reliability, and stability is now shifting toward prioritizing flexibility and resilience.  

Power systems have always needed some degree of flexibility to balance supply and demand, however these flexibility requirements will grow in the coming years. According to a study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the flexibility requirements for power systems in the EU are projected to increase significantly, growing from 11 percent of total electricity demand to 30 percent between 2021 and 2050.

During the Wind Europe Annual Event in Bilbao, Spain in March 2024, Wind Europe and Hitachi Energy launched a joint report on Maximizing the power of wind through grid flexibility. The report explores what levers can be utilized to meet the flexibility needs of future power systems, while also discussing the fundamental enablers supporting the provision of flexibility: digital technologies and power electronics, as well as the role of policy, regulation, and business models.

Addressing the increasing complexity introduced to power systems through more variable renewables, coupled with electrification of transport, heating and industrial processes, as well as growing demand from data centers, requires we leverage sources of flexibility across supply and demand, storage and active grids and interconnectors. The integration of digital technologies and power electronics further improves the ability of the power grid to make cost-effective use of these sources of flexibility.

“While we focus on grid capacity additions and enhancements, we must not lose sight of the significant increase in supply and demand complexity driven by electrification, more variable renewables and new loads like electric mobility and datacenters. Grid flexibility will be key to help us address the challenge. Digitalization and power electronics will play a critical role in enabling this flexibility,” said Massimo Danieli, Managing Director, Business Unit Grid Automation, Hitachi Energy.

Policymakers and regulators will play an important role in ensuring that power system flexibility needs are assessed at the regional European level and to ensure that flexibility requirements are regionally coordinated. In addition, innovative approaches to policy and regulation as well as the facilitation of new business models also play an important role in creating the enabling environment needed for flexibility solutions to flourish.

WindEurope report 2024

Maximising  the power of wind  through grid flexibility