Energy and Agent-Based Models

On September 10, I Skyped with a researcher at the Institute for Future Energy Consumer Needs and Behavior (FCN) at RWTH Aachen University. His work applies agent-based simulations, or models of interacting autonomous actors (“agents”) with encoded needs and/or preferences, to energy-related problems. He’s co-authored a number of papers in this area, including one on German biomass plant installation and one on the spread of solar PV systems in Italy. He is also working on projects involving techno-economic analyses of large energy systems and pricing/regulation in power markets. We talked primarily about the merits and limitations of agent-based modeling for Smart Grids and renewable energy.

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Dr. Klaus Kubeczko on Smart Grid Transitions and International Collaboration

On March 15, I Skyped with Dr. Klaus Kubeczko, a researcher at the Austrian Institute of Technology. As mentioned on his profile, Dr. Kubeczko studies research, technology, and innovation policy, with “a strong interest in socio-ecological-economic transitions and system innovations for sustainable development.” He is also the Operating Agent for the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN)’s Smart Grid Transitions Annex, which is why we first met. Dr. Kubeczko told me about some of his projects and gave me his insights on European and global Smart Grids.

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Energy and Venezuela’s Work Week

Note: I’m not in Venezuela; I’m in Japan. However, I found this news development particularly interesting.

Energy crises can have weird consequences. Recently, Venezuela’s government reduced its governmental work week to two days in order to save energy and avert energy shortages. The short Reuters article about it (linked here) is an interesting read.

It’s interesting to observe the (unconventional) energy-saving approaches the Venezuelan government has taken. Besides reducing the public sector work week, the government also did an impromptu “daylight savings,” shifting the clocks by half an hour so the sun shines a little later into the day (saving on energy for lighting). The government also ordered malls to have their own electricity generators (which isn’t as much about reducing energy usage as much as it’s about shifting strain away from the main electricity infrastructure). One can argue about the efficacy of these approaches, but I won’t get into that discussion here.

This crisis is also an important reminder of how inextricable energy and water issues are. Venezuela depends primarily on hydroelectric power from its main dam. However, drought has reduced water levels and thus the amount of electricity available in the country. Oops. Such interlinkages between energy, water, and other utilities/services provide a huge challenge (“In a crisis affecting some service, how do we keep interlinked services running?”) but also a huge opportunity (“How can we use one type of utility infrastructure to solve problems with another?”).

Dr. Kaoru Yamaguchi on Japanese Smart Grids and Communities

On April 11, I met with Dr. Kaoru Yamaguchi at the Institute of Energy and Economics Japan (IEEJ). Dr. Yamaguchi is a Senior Research Fellow and Assistant Director of IEEJ’s New and Renewable Energy & International Cooperation Unit. He also moderated a panel on the Integration of Smart Grids and Renewables at the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN) Public Workshop in Yokohama last month. Dr. Yamaguchi shared some of his thoughts on Japanese Smart Grids and Smart Communities with me.

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Some Background on Japan

Hello friends, and greetings from Yokohama! I’ve been in Japan for a little over three weeks now, but in many ways it still feels like I’m barely getting started. I just got my Japan Rail Pass (which gives me unlimited travel on Japan’s major railway network), so I’m excited to travel around the country and generally “embark” on this chapter of my Watson journey.

In addition to doing some sightseeing, I’ve done some reading and conducted a few interviews during the last few weeks. I’ll start publishing some interview writeups shortly, but first, here’s some relevant background about Japan’s Smart Grids and power sector.

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A Chat with Jennifer McIntosh of the International Solar Energy Society

On September 2, I met with Jennifer McIntosh, Head of Secretariat at the International Solar Energy Society (ISES). ISES is a global membership organization of researchers that, as stated on its website, “works to achieve 100% renewable energy for all, used efficiently and wisely, by providing the global renewable energy community with a collective, scientifically credible voice and up-to-date information gathered and synthesized by its talented members.” I met Ms. McIntosh at the organization’s headquarters in Freiburg.

Ms. McIntosh told me that ISES is just starting to bring Smart Grids into its fold, since Smart Grids become important as renewables scale up. In order to advance the global transition to a 100% renewable energy world, Smart Grids are an important area of focus. In particular, smaller grids can play an important role in not only increasing energy access but creating efficient and reliable networks of decentralized renewable energy. While many emphasize the necessity of building large scale “renewable energy highways” of power lines running from north to south, local approaches that give power to the people are already feasible and working. Community-owned renewable energy brings in stakeholders beyond the big energy companies and minimizes the losses that come with transporting power long distances. For these approaches, Smart Homes, storage, power-to-gas techniques, and other large infrastructural changes become necessary. Ms. McIntosh pointed out that we’ve gone through such large infrastructural changes before — specifically, when transitioning from buggies to combustion engine-driven transport — so we can do it again.

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