Electricity is a resource we expect to naturally have at our disposal. But what if it isn't always the case?
DC: the solution for our outdated grid
A less known but essential issue is that our current power grid is totally outdated and does not meet the requirements of the modern technological age of today. Although solutions are obvious, there is much resistance from the conservative energy market, and outdated regulations inhibit further initiatives.
Available Power = ?
Electricity is considered a basic need in this day and age. And though it is not an unlimited resource, society goes on to use and abuse it. With our world being highly digitized, our current power grid is completely outdated and does not meet today's massive electronic requirements of the modern technological age.
Case and point: the local power grid in the Netherlands.
The Electrical System
The current system of energy generation and transportation in the Netherlands is on the brink of revolutionary changes. Firstly, the system becomes quickly overloaded. On the other hand, it is technically possible to make a district completely energy self-sufficient. To give a clear view on the issue, we start with a description of the current electricity distribution system. There are four key takeaways from our current electricity network:
- Current problems: Costs
- Users: need more energy!
- Renewable sources and decreasing position of power
- International transportation: HVDC
DC working with AC
Current problems: Costs
Most modern devices like phones, laptops, and now electric vehicle chargers as well as PV panel connectors use Direct Current (DC), while the grid distributes electricity in Alternating Current (AC). This conversion from AC to DC leads to power loss and increased costs.
Our research and development focus on a more efficient power distribution system that yields the benefits of working with DC:
- 15 to 25% energy savings by harvesting braking energy
- Up to 10% less CO2
- 35% Copper reduction
- Systems simplified by moving complexity to components
- Autonomous, self-regulating systems that match demand with supply
- 3 P's: Protection for People and Property, with our innovation Solid State Protection
Three factors are important in order to chart the current problems: unbalance, network quality, and CO2 emissions. Currently, the biggest problem for our energy network is the so-called imbalance between production and consumption of energy. Our current grid has great difficulty to match the same amount of energy that is consumed with what is produced within the same time span, resulting in a natural imbalance. The quality of the current infrastructure is outdated. This infrastructure dates from the time that only light bulbs, jet stoves, washing machines and TVs were to be served. The increasing electrification of our society - every household has more electronics in use - makes the electricity grid increasingly inefficient. Even if all of us switch to producing sustainable energy, there will still be a need of power plants to supplement the shortage of energy whenever the solar or wind power is insufficient.
A new protocol
Users: more and more!
The electrical world is more familiar with AC systems, which are not well-adapted for DC distribution. This requires a new protocol to ensure resilience, safety and cybersecurity curated for cutting-edge DC systems.
Energy consumption will grow explosively in the coming years. If we massively switch to electric vehicles, which is already taking place, the current system will not be able to handle this. And since charging your own electric car at your front door is certainly not possible in the current structure, it is bound to lead to gigantic charging issues. In addition, the increased energy usage in the IT sector is becoming a serious problem. The Netherlands is by far an interesting location for data centers because of its geographical position, good internet infrastructure, and stable political climate. The expectation then is that the number of data centers will also grow, a burden that the existing electricity infrastructure cannot bear.
Renewable energy sources and decreasing position of power
As the years go by, sustainable energy is a topic that is gaining more importance. The large scale development of offshore wind farms creates an enormous strain on the existing electricity grid, and the transportation of renewable energy has an adverse side effect. It has to be supplemented by traditional power plants in order to deliver energy at the moment when, for instance, there is no wind or sun, which requires additional investment. Energy companies, who hold the same price, do not opt for these additional costs and thus delay sustainable innovation. Moreover, renewable energy generators are their competitors who reduce their monopoly position. For that reason, energy suppliers obstruct the innovation on renewable energy. Additionally, the long write of period (30 years) of coal-fired power stations also impedes transformation of sustainable energy.
The current Dutch electricity grid is linked to an international network. When the Netherlands has an electricity surplus, this is transported to Norway in order to deliver extra capacity. This also works vice-versa when we have a temporary shortage. For transport over long distances, direct current (DC) is neccessary. Converting the energy into direct current for transportation is unnecessarily expensive and complex with our infrastructure of alternating current (AC).
Restructuring Energy Grids
We stand at the dawn of a new era where several transformations are taking place in the energy market. The government, energy companies, local governments, and citizens play an important role and should consider the impact of these changes. We need to tactfully consider the most effective introduction of a new energy system. We must not only focus on energy consumption, but also ask ourselves how we should deal with energy generation in the future, and the management and commercialisation of renewable energy. In today's technological age, a phased transition to DC would be a logical solution. In this transition, the government and scientists play an important, innovative role.