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Can cities become energy islands?

Last June, more than 2,000 people attended 32 events in Brussels during the annual European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW). As a result another 700 Energy Days have been organised in more than 40 countries across Europe and beyond.

Demand response, energy storage, and other solutions to create a smart energy system have recently been mentioned in various events. Others plea for standardisation, and talk more to the importance of interoperability; all needed to coop with distributed generation and the fast growing number of renewable energy systems. However, what strikes me most is the passionate speakers sharing their experiences and results in local energy communities. They all took a step-by-step approach and have close relationships with the local people making them part of the energy community instead of treating them as “end-users.” Two examples came from islands—one from the Orkneys in Scotland and one from Krk in Croatia. People living on islands have a special bond with their fellow islanders and, thus, can create energy communities in a rather natural way.

This brings up my next question: Can cities create similar strong energy communities? I think they can, although, the drivers may be more practical and economic, rather than based on local (island) cultures. Solar energy could help to become more connected with your neighbourhood, and literally create islands. How come? Germany has broken new records with solar in June 2014, according to T&D World Magazine on June 22 (learn more about Germany’s performance of PV here). More than 1.4 million photovoltaic systems produced more than 1.26 TWh during one week, and covered more than 50% of total electricity demand at its peak on June 9, 2014. New records will soon follow, as the number of installed systems is growing fast—not only in Germany but in many countries also outside Europe, e.g., in the US and China. The more, the cheaper. So, organising your own virtual power plant as a local energy community, and then coordinating your energy demand, will become very beneficial within the foreseeable future. In fact, Marga Edens, Vice President Corporate Responsibility of the large utility RWE AG has experienced this development, and shares her thoughts in this recent article in the July-August 2014 edition of P+ (Dutch version and English version).

Just imagine thousands of these “islands.” Some will call this a dream, others regard them as nightmares. New legislation to unlock the value of demand response and innovations to develop cheap storage systems will be part of smart and green energy systems. And one thing is for sure—open standards and interoperability of products, services, and communication will be urgently needed to keep these systems reliable and affordable too.

What does your city island look like?

Solar house

Source: Tim Fuller, courtesy of Flickr. (Link)

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