Can industry be partially electrified without more grid capacity?

In Norway’s Nedre Glomma region, decarbonisation and industrial development have been put on hold due to a lack of available network capacity. It takes years to build out new grid capacity. In this feasibility study, we explore whether it would be possible to connect more consumption, faster if the consumers are more flexible.

In recent years, the demand for more grid capacity has grown exponentially across Norway. This growth comes from new industries such as battery factories and data centres, as well as the electrification and decarbonisation of both existing industry and heavy-duty transport. Demand from industry and society more broadly will require the construction of as much network capacity over the next ten years as the network companies have managed to build over the last one hundred. Yet despite this, large grid projects usually have longer lead times than industrial development projects. Thus, it is interesting to investigate what measures grid companies and industries can take in the short term to facilitate the energy transition while awaiting grid reinforcement.

Commissioned by the environmental foundation ZERO, THEMA has carried out a feasibility study for smart system solutions in Norway’s Nedre Glomma region. The purpose of the study is to look at how different solutions can work together to ensure the rapid and rational electrification of industrial players in the region while awaiting grid reinforcement. The measures considered include consumer flexibility, conditional grid connection agreements, local energy production and storage, energy efficiency and increased use of thermal energy.

Industrial actors, grid companies and generators in Nedre Glomma face many of the same challenges as those in other parts of the country. By 2030 they must

  • Reduce emissions through the electrification of existing industries,
  • Make room for new, green business and industrial developments (mainly relying on electricity as an energy source), and
  • Set up a network of charging stations for heavy-duty transport.

Nedre Glomma is an industrial hub, with large industrial clusters in both Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg. Through interviews with eight industry players in the area, THEMA has uncovered a need for 128 MW of increased power withdrawal from the grid by 2030. This demand growth is mainly due to the phasing out of fossil-fuel boilers (decarbonisation) and the expansion of production capacity. In addition to existing players, a possible industrial park will need between 150–350 MW. In sum, this corresponds to a significant increase in both power and electricity consumption in the region.

However, the power grid in the area is not dimensioned to respond to the companies’ needs in the short term. Until a transmission transformer supplying the area is reinforced and regional network bottlenecks are resolved, there will be little scope to connect new loads. According to current grid development plans, the most extensive network measures cannot be completed before the end of the 2020s or the first half of the 2030s.

Our feasibility study indicates that there are opportunities for those actors able to restrict their consumption to periods with spare grid capacity

The biggest barrier in the region to new consumption is seasonal variation in loads, mainly caused by variation in household consumption. Households use electricity for heating and their consumption is, therefore, a lot higher in the winter. In addition, the study shows that there are some day/night load variations in one of the industrial clusters. These relatively predictable variations in load represent an opportunity to increase the utilisation of the existing network for those customers who can be flexible and use the grid only at times when it is not already heavily loaded. It is up to the grid companies to assess the real potential for exploiting these variations and, in turn, what conditions conditional grid connection agreements would need to include.

Several of the industrial players in the region have some technical flexibility in terms of the energy source used for their heating processes. Our analysis suggests that opportunities to use this flexibility to exploit variations in grid utilisation should be examined more closely. After all, an 80 percent reduction in fossil emissions is better than nothing. Flexibility from existing customers with heat processes might also be helpful as a means to make room for new customers that necessarily require electricity.

The study also finds that more local power production, more district heating and energy storage can help. None of these measures can, however, support the provision of a normal grid connection agreement for new industrial actors, since the local sources of generation considered are variable and there is, therefore, no guarantee that they will be generating during peak-load periods. New generation capacity would, however, help to improve the energy balance in the area and reduce the likelihood that customers with conditional connection agreements need to be disconnected.

The identified opportunities are still at a theoretical level. To evaluate the proposed opportunities more closely, the interested industry actors and the grid company in the area, Elvia, would need to carry out more a thorough analysis of the specific opportunities available to them during periods with excess network capacity. Elvia would also need to explore the development of new products able to make use of the flexibility available in the area.

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