Talking about distributed energy

At a time when the debate on a new energy model is more alive than ever, distributed energy is postulated as a real alternative to ensure a more sustainable energy for the future.

Today we talk about the key operation and advantages of this form of energy generation and its management.


What is distributed energy?


Also known as in-situ generation, embedded generation, distributed generation, distributed generation or distributed energy consists of generating electricity in a decentralized manner through many small energy sources in places as close as possible to their place of consumption , mainly, renewable energy sources.

How does distributed energy work?

One or more generation sources (solar, wind, biomass, biogas, or others) are installed, and sometimes storage connected to the consumer's internal network, which can be a private individual or a company. Depending on the complexity of the system installation can be of three types:

  • Generation distributed: The user maintains its connection to the centralized network, which uses at times when there is no availability of generation due to the natural intermittency of renewable sources. The energy generated can be used fo own consumption (self-consumption) or to be poured into a network. This type of distributed generation projects are the most common and it is an increasingly frequent practice.
  • Generation distributed + Storage systems integration: At the previous level, electricity storage systems are added, such as batteries. This reduces network dependency, and the excess energy can be managed by storing it for later use. This type of systems is increasingly common thanks in large part to the dramatic reduction in battery costs in recent years. With an ambitious self-consumption project combined with storage, the electrical network ends up being a mere backup system.
  • Off-Grid installation: The user is not connected to the centralized network, since all the energy consumed comes from renewable sources generated locally in a small network created in their facilities. This network, as well as storage batteries, requires a system capable of guaranteeing the stability and operation of the network. It is usually known as microgrids, because it has the same capabilities as a large network. These microgrids can supply a single consumer or even larger communities in remote areas, which is why it is currently one of the keys to the electrification of rural areas in developing countries.

What advantages does it have?

  • Greater energy efficiency: Losses by conduction of electricity in the networks of highly advanced transportation and distribution, such as Spanish, representing approximately 8% of the total energy generated. This figure is even higher in less sophisticated networks in countries with greater geographic dispersion. Distributed generation, by bringing the generation point closer to the consumption point, reduces these losses to a large extent.
  • Reduce the costs of electricity supply: Allows the use of energy generated for self-consumption, proportionally reducing the electricity consumption of the network and saving costs. In fact, distributed generation is considered in some countries as a measure of energy efficiency, since the purpose of the net balance network consumption decreases. It is not the case in Spain, where net consumption reduced by in-situ (consumption) generation is taxed with tolls and interference by the administration and electricity distribution companies.
  • Promote sustainable generation: Most of distributed generation facilities leverage renewable sources. The development of these allow greater penetration of these technologies in the energy mix, reducing harmful emissions and contributing to more sustainable and environmentally friendly system. 
  • Less landscape and environmental impact: it reduces the need for large installations that affect the landscape and ecosystems, also taking advantage of the existing network, without requiring strengthened. Generating facilities to be lower power and size, it is better integrated into the environment.
  • Facilitates the economic independence of isolated regions: Up to 17% of the world population does not have access to electricity. In developing regions with large tracts of land like Africa or Asia, implement centralized networks it is a great investment. In this scenario the development of microgrids that respond to the growing demand more efficiently and effectively in economic terms is preferable.
  • It is more flexible: It allows a more flexible operation of the electrical system, especially if a future contemplated with a multitude of linkable microgrids each other, working in a coordinated manner, as an evolution of the Smart Grid.

Some interesting facts:

  • In the coming years an exponential growth is expected in the number of distributed generation facilities connected to the grid for self-consumption in developed countries. This is due in large part to the reduction in costs of generation and storage equipment.
  • Since 2010, the cost of installing photovoltaic energy has decreased by 70%, wind by 25% and energy storage by batteries by 65%, which is progressively favoring its implementation in distributed energy installations.
  • Distributed generation will be key in the development of Smart Cities, where power and data networks converge and can thus be optimized power consumption to the maximum thanks to technologies such as Big Data and Blockchain.
  • The industries with the greatest potential for integrating distributed energy in Spain are the most intensive use of electricity: automotive, logistics, port, hotel and agriculture, among others.
  • Some examples of advanced countries in distributed generation in our environment are Germany and the United Kingdom, whose legislation supports their use. France has also developed very interesting legislation to favor what we know as virtual self-consumption.

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