As well as assessing a power system’s flexibility by examining traditional supply-side flexibility sources, the Agency’s approach also encompasses demand-side flexibility, grid reinforcements, storage and sector coupling as additional flexibility sources and potential “game changers”. Furthermore, heat and hydrogen production from renewables can boost system flexibility and help with energy decarbonisation.
The approach is based on the fact that when coupled to a power grid, technologies at this interface effectively also become components of the power system and thus can be modelled as such. Electric vehicles (EVs), electric boilers, heat pumps and electrolysers for hydrogen production provide additional flexibility to the power system by 1) adjusting their demand profile based on price signals and 2) making any integrated electricity, gas or heat storage a source of energy storage for the power system, thereby decoupling the timing of demand for final energy from electricity demand.
With a high share of VRE, the production of carbon-free electrofuels such as hydrogen from renewable electricity could have a significant role in the context of the decarbonisation of the energy sector beyond electricity generation. The production of hydrogen can provide significant flexibility for the power system (depending on the type of electrolyser), as well as – most importantly – seasonal storage of renewable electricity by blending hydrogen into natural gas grids.
IRENA is actively working in this field; its past work on sector coupling includes the following: