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Switching towards a fully sustainable energy system will partly require switching from a centralised generation and distribution system, towards a decentralised system, due to the rise of decentralised energy generation technologies using wind and rooftop solar radiation. In addition, integrating the heat and transport sectors into the electricity system will lead to a very significant increase in peak demand. These developments require massive and costly adaptations to the energy infrastructure, while the utilisation of existing production assets is expected to drop from 55% to 35% by 2035 (Strbac et al. 2015). This poses a major challenge, but also an opportunity: if the energy flows can be balanced locally in microgrids, the demand for expensive infrastructure upgrade can be minimised, while providing extra stability to the main grid. For these reasons, 'microgrids have been identified as a key component of the Smart Grid for improving power reliability and quality, increasing system energy efficiency' (Strbac et al. 2015).
Microgrids can provide much-needed resilience and flexibility, and are therefore likely to play an important role in the energy system of the future. It is estimated that by 2050, over half of EU households will be generating their own electricity (Pudjianto et al. 2007). Unlocking flexible resources within microgrids is therefore needed in order to balance the intermittent renewable energy generation.
Urban agriculture systems, such as aquaponics (dos Santos 2016), can provide this much-needed energy flexibility (Goddek and Körner 2019; Yogev et al. 2016). Plants can grow within a wide range of external conditions, since they are used to doing so in nature. The same applies to fish in an aquaculture system, which can thrive in a broad temperature range. These flexible operating conditions allow for a buffering effect on energy input requirements, which create a large degree of flexibility within the system. The high thermal mass embodied by the aquaculture system allows for vast amounts of heat to be stored within the system. The lights can be turned on and off depending on the abundance of electricity, allowing for excess electricity generation to essentially be curtailed by turning it into valuable biomass. Pumps can be operated in synchronicity with peak power generation times (e.g. noon) to limit net peak power (peak shaving). Optimal distillation units (Chap. 8) also have a very flexible heat demand and can be turned off as soon as there is an oversupply of heat or electricity (i.e. the heat pump would then convert electric energy into thermal energy). All these aspects make aquaponic systems wellsuited to provide flexibility to a microgrid.
Next to providing flexibility in consumption, a multi-loop aquaponics system can be further integrated to also provide flexibility in production. Biogas is produced as a byproduct from the UASB in the aquaponic facility. This biogas can be combusted in order to produce both heat and power, by incorporating a micro-CHP in the microgrid. Integrating aquaponic systems within microgrids can therefore enhance energy flexibility both on the demand and supply sides.