The rapid increase in the number of solar power plants for self-consumption in Serbia and the region has delivered many benefits, but it has also triggered regulators’ response. Fearing their intermittent production could endanger the power system, regulators have limited their connection capacity, but such policies also limit the vast benefits offered by solar energy. Fortunately, there is a solution already implemented in Europe, which allows households and firms to harness cheap green electricity based on smart meters and flexibility services.
There are a variety of measures to enable prosumers to make their electricity consumption more flexible through the digitalization of distribution grids. Their main result is a reduced need to balance prosumers and a lower risk of jeopardizing power systems.
The adoption of the latest amendments to the Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources in Serbia introduced restrictions on the total capacity of solar panels for households and businesses. For households the ceiling is 10.8 kW, and for firms 5 MW until July 1, 2024, and after that, 150 kW.
Jovan Vujasinović, an electrical engineer and smart energy management expert, has told Balkan Green Energy News that these restrictions discourage the installation of solar panels.
Vujasinović believes it is necessary to change the law and set the limit at 100%, or maybe 80%, of the consumer’s approved capacity for initial connection to the grid.
But what about the concern of distribution system operator Elektrodistribucija Srbije (EDS) and the guaranteed supplier, power utility Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS), that the stability of the power system would be threatened without restrictions?
Vujasinović: Instead of restrictions, there are smart meters
Vujasinović says that the balancing of consumption and production by the DSO was the reason cited by the legislator to introduce restrictions.
However, as he claims, this can be more naturally resolved by introducing smart meters with relays for managing the consumption of individual consumers in households or firms. Smart meters are accompanied by an interface through which owners of households or firms receive the data they need to manage consumption and production.
We can start with the example of Slovenia, where this solution has been applied, he added.
Slovenia’s law allows households and firms to install photovoltaic facilities of up to 80% and 100%, respectively, of their approved capacity for initial connection to the grid. Smart meters are installed and used for balancing.
This is done by the DSO, which signs contracts with consumers to manage their heat pumps, or other larger consumers by using relays. In return, they receive compensation, Vujasinović explained.
Of note, in February the Slovenian DSO, Elektro Ljubljana, invited its customers to apply for flexibility services.
There is no energy transition without a major rollout of smart meters
Vujasinović says that in Switzerland smart meters and relays are also used to manage consumption, but the country has gone one step further by installing energy management devices in households under a pilot project.
The devices are used to manage production, for example, in solar panels, or energy storage in batteries, and consumption, for example, via electric vehicle chargers or heat pumps. The decisions are made based on data received from the meter via the user information port.
Similar projects exist in the Netherlands, where, according to Vujasinović, they are testing the use of artificial intelligence.
The devices ensure energy optimization with all possible savings in consumption and the greatest benefits from electricity production, he stressed.
One cannot manage the grid if there is no access to data or control over each point in the energy grid
These two examples, in his words, represent the same solution, but the one in the Netherlands is technically more advanced. Both bring flexibility to the network by giving the DSO the ability to manage consumption on the consumer side.
Vujasinović underlines that there is no energy transition without the mass installation of smart meters because it ensures digitalization and decentralization – two of the four cornerstones of the energy transition.
You simply can’t manage the grid if you don’t have access to data or control over each point in the energy grid, he said.
Consumers also benefit from the supplier’s or DSO’s advice on how to save energy based on the analysis of data about their consumption, and possibly production, collected from smart meters.
Vujasinović says that Belgium has started installing a port on smart meters to collect data from all measuring devices in the house – for water, natural gas, heating. This move ensures that citizens have data about all their measuring devices in one place. It is the first step in the implementation of smart cities, he stresses.
What is needed to apply these solutions in Serbia and the region?
Vujasinović says Serbia needs to change the Law on the Use of Renewable Energy Sources and abolish the capacity restrictions.
Next, the digital transformation of the distribution grid should be accelerated by introducing smart meters, which is the job of the DSO. At the same time, it is necessary to continue with state support for the installation of solar panels and heat pumps, as well as the purchase of electric vehicles.
The ultimate goal is for a household to become energy independent
Also, we should work on raising citizens’ awareness, because this concept can be successful only with an active consumer, Vujasinović says. That means a consumer who monitors consumption, adjusts it, and follows the advice from the DSO or supplier.
The basic level is the production of energy in solar panels, then there is the installation of batteries and heat pumps, then the purchase of electric vehicles, and finally the sale of surplus electricity on the market, he stresses.
The cherry on top is when a household becomes energy independent, which means that it produces as much energy as it consumes.
A future that seems far away, but maybe not so far away.