Energy suppliers with renewable energy sources in their distribution mix would do better to use automatic control than rate control when managing demand.

This is one finding from the 5-year Local Intelligent Networks and Energy Active Regions project or Linear, which studied ways in which households can tailor their electricity consumption to the amount of solar and wind energy available, both in terms of technology and user interaction.

The Belgian-based researchers believe that by automatically shifting the energy consumption of families, energy companies can better respond to changes in the weather throughout the day. In contrast, rate controls only operate on predictions made up to a day in advance.

Demand control less effective

Linear also found that families within the program took little notice of the six rate categories supplied to them per day, and tended to move back into their old consumption patterns, suggesting that demand control was less effective.

Smart appliance automatic controlSmart appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines offer a good way for energy companies to respond to sudden drops in generation output from renewable energy, says Linear, but it's questionable how comfortable consumers would feel with their utility controlling their home gadgets.

How to cut imbalance costs 

While controllable energy consumption for family homes would allow energy companies to use more renewable energy in their portfolios, one key benefit that Linear sees is avoiding high imbalance costs, especially during the winter.

If a Belgian network operator is forced to activate additional strategic reserves this winter, costs could amount to €4,500/MWh (approximately 100 times higher than usual) as a result of the limited generation capacity, said Linear in a statement.

Energy suppliers are facing high costs due to this situation and are being encouraged to either purchase sufficient amounts of energy or disconnect clients, against payment, so as to prevent a blackout.

Demand Response for Families is the latest in a series of publication from Linear.