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The New Energy Letter: January 2020

The energy system’s going to get much, much more localised. Maybe you don’t think that’s big news? With photovoltaics appearing on more and more rooftops, and storage in homes, isn’t this obvious? In my opinion what you see today is just the very tip of the iceberg.

In the past, economies of scale, dependence on bulk extraction of fossil fuel for generation, and inflexible demand dictated a paradigm of bigger is better, and optimisation of energy systems at the largest possible scale. The rationale for this paradigm no longer holds. Non-fossil fuel forms of generation and storage are deployable cost-effectively at small scale; demand is increasingly flexible; and data, software and analytics can be used for sophisticated optimisation of generation, network assets, storage and demand.

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Distribution System Operators and Energy Communities

The energy transition brings economic and socio-cultural challenges, as we move from high-carbon generation assets to low-carbon distributed assets. An increase of distributed energy resources (DERs) - such as in the Nordics where installed capacity increased by ~46% between 2005 and 2017 - is changing the nature of interactions between buildings, districts, cities, and the overarching energy system. 

The impact and control level of distributed assets on the grid varies depending on their nature and connection type, from medium voltage assets such as CHPs and small wind turbines to low voltage assets such as heat pumps, solar PV and EVs. While the higher penetration of DERs may have a positive impact on the grid with increased reliability, energy loss reduction and reduction of voltage fluctuations, it can also create congestion problems - a challenge for distribution system operators (DSOs). 

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The interactions between HEM, the electricity system and energy communities

As my colleague Alix Weil explained in her blog, a strong growth is expected in the market of Home Energy Management (HEM) and we believe over 2.3M homes will be equipped by 2023. This is mostly driven by the optimisation of self-consumption and of dynamic electricity tariffs.

We defined HEM as optimising the energy flows in the home, and this is only a part of a wider trend towards a more distributed, democratised energy system. Particularly linked to HEM, two other elements of the energy transition can see huge benefits from managing energy in the home:

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Home Energy Management in Europe: a rapidly evolving market with a growing potential

The European Home Energy Management (HEM) market has been quite slow to develop in the last decade, only reaching around 300k installations to date. But this is going to change.

By 2023, we expect the market to reach 2.3M units installed. While the overall HEM European market will grow, the highest potential for growth will continue to be in the Nordics in terms of relative penetration and Germany in terms of absolute numbers. France, the UK and Italy will remain behind even though we predict their HEM markets sizes will increase faster. With its high penetration of solar PV, one may have expected Belgium (and to a lesser extent the Netherlands) to be an interesting market, but its net metering system is clearly a barrier to HEM. Finally, Spain, and its interesting geography for sun power, could have been better placed, but there is a lack of incentives for customers to install and self-consume solar PV.

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Can the transition to new energy happen fast enough? A view from 2019 into 2020

This time last year we talked about the energy industry being on the cusp of change.

Our general feeling was that the tipping point for new energy had come – and we think events in 2019, such as the rise of climate change protests (for example, Extinction Rebellion) and increasing adoption of Net Zero targets, have shown this to be true.

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The time is now for air/air heat pumps

The market for air/air heat pumps (A/A HP) has long been established – it is a global, high volume market selling well-tested products, primarily for cooling applications (and therefore usually referred to as ‘air conditioning’). But based on our recent research under the Electrification of Heat Service we believe there is significant untapped potential for A/A HP to be used for residential heating in Europe. In some market segments, A/A HP could even threaten the incumbent hydronic systems.  

So why do we think the stars are aligning for A/A HP right now in the heating market, when the technology has been around for decades? Three reasons:​

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