The idea of energy independence was considered by many merely as a utopian concept. Yet approached with the right perspective, it can become a reality, as the direct consequence of virtual networking of owners of photovoltaic systems and storage units and simple consumers to form energy communities for collective self-consumption.
Grid independence is possible, but not in the way you may have imagined it. In order to launch our efforts and play an active role in the energy sector we need to change our perspective.
Originally, the concept of independence was viewed as the complete absence of a grid connection, such as in the case of stand-alone or off-grid systems that are often found in mountainous regions and areas poorly served by the national grid. However, this vision of energy autonomy is limited and rather out-dated. Energy independence is now viewed quite differently.
What does energy independence mean today?
Energy independence is understood as complete autonomy from the national electricity grid, which is based on a large-scale, concentrated energy model. According to this model, generation of electricity is centralised and primarily founded on transformation of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons into electricity at large power stations. From there, energy is transmitted through a hierarchical structure, first at high voltage, then medium voltage and finally through low-voltage distribution grids, using a very costly and wasteful process.
In this model, autonomy is understood as the capacity to support your own energy requirements with domestic or, rather, local generation of electricity and heat. To achieve complete independence, various steps are required: understanding how much energy needs to be produced, being able to produce the full amount required without relying on the national operator and having the possibility to use the energy when you need it.
In this rush towards independence, it is important to be aware that there are no tricks or shortcuts to reduce bills, but rather a methodical reduction of energy wastage that begins with assessment of your own consumption habits. Another important consideration is that it is not possible to succeed alone: as is so often the case, “there is strength in numbers”. This approach makes it clear that completely cutting your connection to the national grid is certainly not the solution. Instead, we must utilise it with a different logic and find a new way to exploit the available resources to achieve independence.
Let’s break things down.
Energy independence is the product of many small measures
Change will come with small, cumulative daily actions that contribute to the energy efficiency of our home. Above all, being independent means being aware of our consumption habits, allowing us to correct our behaviour and eliminate wastage. The second step in increasing efficiency is to monitor domestic consumption and understand when and for how long certain devices should be switched off and when to replace appliances because they waste too much energy. With this in mind, smart domotics can be a powerful tool, e.g. smart plugs combined with a SNOCU unit with Consumer programme can help us to define our energy profile.
This will help us to reduce the quantity of energy we need to produce.
Another essential element to improve our energy savings is thermal insulation for our homes: a well-insulated home saves energy. These types of actions are combined with the possibility to connect cutting-edge thermostats, heat-pumps and boilers to the Regalgrid® platform, improving system efficiency.
How to produce the energy required for energy autonomy
The only solution that allows you to achieve individual energy independence is to install a photovoltaic system. Measurement and monitoring of our consumption is a great help in identifying the most suitable solution for our needs, also in terms of system size.
Remember that a system without storage allows autonomy of around 35%, whilst systems with storage allow an increase in self-consumption to between 65% and 75% of energy required, depending on the size of panels and capacity of the storage system. This solution current represents the best-case scenario for energy independence based solely on individual self-consumption, whether instantaneous or deferred.
How to achieve complete energy independence
The current solution for full independence is identified by thinking outside the box and looking beyond the most obvious solutions towards a more sustainable future for all.
It is not viable to purchase a personal storage system big enough to cover the entire energy requirements of a household, as it would simply be too expensive and take up too much space. Instead, we should start to consider the many small storage systems of citizens, companies and public authorities, along with their photovoltaic systems as a single large-scale decentralised system, a distributed system, connected as a smart grid and constantly communicating via the Regalgrid® platform. This energy community allows us to share excess energy with all other members that need it at that moment and vice versa. By profiling consumption, we will be able to optimise the cost of energy that we need to receive from others.
Thus, self-consumption will pass from an individual model to a collective one and you will be increasingly less reliant on the medium and high-voltage grids for energy needs.
So, should you disconnect from the national grid? Absolutely not. As established at the beginning of the article, we need to make the most of all tools at our disposal. This revolutionary distributed smart grid is a virtual network supported by the physical infrastructure of the Grid Operator. Connection via the physical grid is therefore a necessary tool to share our energy.
True independence does not mean freedom from connections but rather a system of further connections that benefit everyone involved.
But is all of this really possible? Absolutely, in Europe since 2018, with the RED II, the Renewable Energy Directive 2018/2001/EU.
The answer to sought after energy independence exists and has been right under our noses the whole time: all we need to do is make efficient use of the truly amazing resource represented by the sun. In fact, with around 1% of the energy transmitted by the sun to the earth, the human race could satisfy all of its energy requirements, exactly as all other life forms have always done.
However, there are certain technological, political, economic and social aspects to consider.
Technological considerations begin with electricity grids: we have seen that the migration towards a small-scale, distributed model, both for generation and storage, brings many advantages for all involved. But the electricity grid was not designed and created for this energy model. Rather, it was conceived with a hierarchical structure running from power stations to the low-voltage grid. We are therefore moving towards a different usage of the existing infrastructure.
Another key aspect is the technological consideration of balancing supply and demand in local areas. This balancing requires real-time management and processing of huge amounts of data for all of the different users with different energy profiles, different requirements and different types of photovoltaic and/or storage systems. This is exactly the area in which Regalgrid operates and where there is potential for a truly “smart” grid. Thanks to its SNOCU units and patented algorithms, the Regalgrid® platform performs the highly complex task of establishing communication between inverters from different manufacturers and distributed storage systems, heat pumps and electric-vehicle charging stations, considering the needs of consumers and prosumers distributed in terms of location and time profile. The technology is therefore tried and tested, ready to be rolled out.
In this sense the question has political/administrative and social relevance. Legislation is moving in the right direction, and in Europe the Renewable Energy Directive 2018/2001/EU is a clear example. There is a long road ahead but the journey has begun. A certain amount of promotion is now required alongside legislation, giving the push needed to increase awareness and reach sufficient collective knowledge of this new energy model.
On the economic front, the end of fossil-fuel dominance can already be seen on the horizon, and clearly enough that traditional generation companies are now investing in renewable energy. This change has its origins in the United Nations sustainable development goals. This is coupled with an increasing awareness from below that this revolution of the energy market is a necessity: energy communities will not simply be a goal in themselves but will represent a starting point for a whole new vision of energy sustainability.