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A new associate partner

2013-10-15

TNO, a national research organization, is joining the Energy Delta Gas Research to model the energy transition 

TNO is an independent research organisation (Image: TNO) TNO is an independent research organisation (Image: TNO)

Distribution system operators, which control physical flows of electrons and gas, have to constantly meet the energy demand requested by users. A company installs a new wind turbine. A new residential area goes all-electric and relies on a range of decentralized production and storage systems. A farmer decides to invest in a biogas installation. All these behaviors, and many more, can be modeled to see how distribution systems will evolve over time.

A team from TNO, an independent research organization, will produce this sort of complex modeling as a contribution to the project Integrating local and regional energy supply to ensure the for enhancing sustainability. “TNO adds up to the existing modeling capacity,” said in an interview the head of the project Rolf Künneke, a professor of economics of infrastructures at Delft University of Technology and member of the Program Steering Committee. “It is good to have them on board.”

Modeling the energy transition

Several models portray how energy will look like in the future. “Yet, there are no models of how energy systems evolve dynamically as a function of external and internal drivers,” said in an interview Christian Bos, a senior researcher on oil and energy at TNO, and a participant to the research project. He said that most current models define some desired point in the future, say, the energy system by 2050 in Europe, and then calculate what is required to achieve that.

“What we are doing is different,” he claimed. “What we model is how the system, stepwise, gradually changes, and what choices are made at each time-step to shape dynamically the, as yet undefined, future.” TNO’s models embed both the physical and the economic dimensions of the energy transition.

Mr Bos said the models simulate the physical flows that come from the generation of electricity, gas and heat. They take into consideration the many types of hardware composing the energy system, the requirement to balance energy demand and supply at each time-step throughout the network, and the connections between electricity, gas and heat systems.

On the economic dimensions, TNO models the behavior of the actors in the whole chain. “In this particular case, it would be producers, distributors, distribution system operators, consumers, traders,” Mr Bos said. The result is a multivariate dynamic, mathematical model of the energy system over time, capable of studying how external drivers (such as alternative government policies and macro-economic conditions) will impact the dynamic behavior of actors using the energy network.

Joining a research team

The projects’ main research question reads, “How the sustainability of the energy sector can be increased by stronger integrating electricity, gas and possibly heat systems at a local and regional level?” TNO’s team will therefore model the articulation between electricity, gas and heat systems. They will focus on how actors dynamically make operational and investments decisions as a function of the total system’s behavior.

TNO’s researchers Frank Wilschut and Alin ChiĊ£u are experts in the applications of modeling to geosciences. Lilya Ghazaryan specializes on the application of mathematics and modeling to industrial activities. Mr Bos, apart from his work as a petroleum reservoir engineer, also specializes in complex mathematical modeling of integrated socio-economic and technical systems.

The other participants of this €1.2 million research project are from Delft University of Technology, ECN, Enexis, Kiwa, Liander and Stedin. “I am quite convinced that in order to make a difference you have to team-up,” Mr Bos said. “One plus one makes three.”

Sensitivity analysis

“We can help distribution system operators in better understanding the stepwise evolution of distribution systems under certain scenarios, and assess which governmental and other actor’s strategies are likely to be effective and efficient,” Mr Bos explained.  “We can do a lot of ‘what if studies’.”

An analyst, by doing a sensitivity analysis, tests the effect of changing the value of one or several variables in a scenario, in order to design a robust strategy for achieving some desired future and/or avoiding some undesired future. “For example, subsidy strategies by the government may be studied in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, or how the impact of the European Emission Trading Scheme will influence the behavior of investors,” Mr Bos said. “Last but not least, the role of gas in enabling the energy transition can be studied explicitly”.

TNO’s cooperation with the EDGaR program found its origin in researches carried in the past with EDGaR’s Scientific Director Catrinus Jepma, who is also director of the EDIaal program at the Energy Delta Institute and professor of energy and sustainability at the University of Groningen. Together, with doctoral and master students, they have constructed several physical and economic models of the energy sector. 

Mr Bos shows enthusiasm about continuing this scientific work in the new project. “The way we collaborate and the way we exchange information is quite promising,” he said. “I am looking forward for when we will have the first prototype model running, where we can really sit at the table with partners to see how to further develop the model and how we can learn from it.”

By Jean-François Auger