There’s a growing solar army in Europe, and it’s not just in the utility sector. Rooftop solar, microgrids, and efficient and affordable storage systems are nudging the European Union toward a very different looking electric power grid.
This new solar collective of prosumers, also known as “self-consumers,” includes single-family households, multi-family buildings, and industrial and office complexes. Legislation passed this past year in the EU, The Clean Energy Package, encourages self-consumption between neighbors, offices and even industrial complexes.
Europe has long-been a leader in utility-grade solar, but new technology is allowing individuals to move toward self-consumption. While the legislation helps, these new self-consumers are taking advantage of technology unavailable to previous generations. The shift began with a convergence of cloud computing, blockchain, AI, all processing the unending stream of data from edge-of-grid devices that are used in the rooftop solar community. These solar communities are creating microgrids in cities and hamlets throughout the European Union.
There’s an entire town in Germany that requires solar as part of any new construction. These solar installations on premise are called the “Mieterstrom” community where PV solar, on-site battery storage and an interconnected smart microgrid allow sharing power among residents in a tight area such as a neighborhood or a campus office park.
The French have Autoconsommation, or self-consumption, that permits energy sharing between prosumers on the same voltage branch.
The prosumer networks must implement battery storage in combination with the solar panels. Previously storage units were double charged for usage, for power going in, and then again when the batteries discharge the power. The new legislation eliminates the extra charge, and combined with new technology, lower production costs, and more compact storage units, new flexible options for microgrids are available to self-consumers. And it’s flourishing in multiple countries.
So, the prosumer is a proactive user, installing technological systems that provide power to an enlightened group. As such, The EU encourages their participation, giving them rights to create their own electricity, to share it within the community, and more importantly that these prosumers, these self-consumers also have responsibilities.
As the electric market, and the power grid becomes decentralized through self-consumption, the responsibility for “energy justice,” falls squarely on the prosumer participants. These responsibilities include equal access to energy services, and accountability for energy resources.
With these goals, and a bit of a mandate, the prosumers begin a transformation of European energy use. Rural areas that where under served by the old electric grid can enjoy consistent and affordable power. Lower income customers could see a “leveling” of costs with a decentralized, and more locally sourced power supply.
As stated earlier, a critical piece for the self-consumers is the upgraded technology that continues to evolve. Algorithms, machine learning and network management systems will enable the decentralized grid to balance shifting loads as prosumers share energy in an ever-widening community.
And since prosumers are assuming the installation costs, and then sharing excess energy in a cost-conscious manner, affordability becomes consistent.
Let’s keep an eye on these newest members of the power community. They obviously have some important contributions to make to their own neighborhoods, and the rest of the world.