IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019 - 22

Electricity and the Roadmap
Electricity is a secondary energy source. Apart from lightning discharge and some fauna (e.g., Electrophorus electricus) that use electricity to paralyze prey, we do not find it in
nature-at least not in harvestable amounts. Nevertheless,
electricity counts for about 20% of the final energy use in a
country like Belgium [1], and it is expected to rise to 33% by
2050, according to the Belgian Federal Planning Office [2].
Electricity is used widely because it is a convenient energy
carrier that can easily transport power from remote production sites into cities and then all the way to the end consumer. Further, it does not have an odor and-if cables are
underground-it is even invisible. Also, it possesses a very
small footprint and can be installed and handled easily if it
is tensionless. The physics of electricity, however, also
imply that it is difficult to store in large amounts in a
reversible way and with reasonable efficiency. Because of
this reason, the electric power system has always been
operated in a way that yields an instantaneous match
between the demand for electricity and its supply. Therefore, conversion toward electricity (i.e., production) has
been mainly implemented from controllable sources, both
classical (nuclear and fossil fuels) and renewable (biofuels
and hydropower).
When the demand for electricity is predictable, and the
supply is from controllable sources (that can be turned on
or off, or can be modulated), the task of balancing supply
and demand is straightforward by determining which
power plants need to run at what time. This technical goal
has been complemented by a market, which forces that
control to be executed in a cost-effective way.
Europe's "Roadmap for Moving to a Competitive Low
Carbon Economy in 2050" (COM/2011/0112 final) calls for

an enormous increase in the generation of electricity from
renewable sources. Hence, the current electrical system
needs a profound overhaul (technically and market-wise) to
deal with the associated variability if we expect to maintain the reliability, the security of supply, and the levels of
comfort to which we are accustomed. Smart grids are an
important enabler of such a roadmap. In line with the digitization of society, they rely on an information and communication infrastructure to monitor and control assets in
energy networks. Consequently, many smart-grid projects
are underway across Europe and elsewhere (Figure 1 [3]).
The path to a carbonless society will lead to more electrification of energy services. Homes and office buildings
will become better insulated, resulting, in many cases, in
less demand for natural gas or oil, making an investment
in a boiler heated by fossil fuels less cost effective. Consumers will turn more to electricity to fill demand for
residual heat. Examples are manifold. Heat pumps, which
use electricity to pump environmental or earth heat to
higher temperature levels, are increasingly used in many
European countries. In low-energy buildings, the heat and
cooling demands are often covered electrically, and new
requirements for ventilation and air conditioning are
implemented via electrical appliances as well. Sanitary hot
water, if ecologically produced via solar thermal panels,
often needs auxiliary heating, which is done electrically. In
addition, induction cooking and increased use of information technology and gadgets raise the electricity consumption at local levels. Meanwhile, the use of electric vehicles
(EVs) is gaining traction. The importance of electricity as
the energy carrier of choice will thus increase further. The
peak demand for power will increase, putting stress on
current power grids to respond to those demands.

Figure 1. A map showing locations of smart-grid projects in Europe (http://ses.jrc.ec.europa.eu/). Red dots:

demonstration sites. Green dots: research and development sites. (Source: Joint Research Center, Smart
Electricity Systems and Interoperability, European Commission; used with permission.)
22

IEEE SYSTEMS, MAN, & CYBERNETICS MAGAZINE Ju ly 2019


http://ses.jrc.ec.europa.eu/

IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019

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