Electricity grid could become a type of internet

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This article is part of our special report Rural Energy.

The electricity grid could become a type of internet, in that everyone who is connected will be able to "upload and download packages of electricity" to and from the network, according to Dutch researcher Jos Meeuwsen from Eindhoven Technical University.

Meeuwsen says that growing demand for energy means that all possible energy options must be considered, because total network capacity must be increased. He identifies network and system integration and the development and implementation of new technology as the main challenges ahead. 

The author foresees the step-by-step integration of energy technology, ICT and power electronics that might result in an electricity system that is similar in many ways to the internet. In such a scenario, "everyone connected to the system could […] upload and download packages of 'electrical energy' whenever they want". 

The researcher identifies the technical feasibility of the centralised and/or decentralised storage of large amounts of electricity as the main obstacle to this process. 

Starting from the basis that 50% of consumption originates from sustainable sources in 2007, Meeuwsen has developed three scenarios for the evolution of the Dutch electricity supply in the year 2050: 

  • 'Super networks', involving large-scale production locations, transportation via high voltages, a considerable import of sustainable energy from biomass, and energy from offshore wind farms. 
  • 'Hybrid networks' also involves large plants with high voltages that originate from offshore wind farms and large biomass stations, as well as small-scale generation from wind, biomass and solar sources near cities and villages. 
  • The 'local scenario', dominated by local generators for small consumers (including micro-generation units, solar energy panels, small-scale neighbourhood biomass plants and land-based wind turbines), allowing large-scale production resources to be targeted at large industrial processes. 

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