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14 Feb 2019

BLOG Decarb Diary #1: Cake, and how electricity demand could balance supply

The popular English proverb states that “you can’t have your cake and eat it”. It suggests that you can’t have two good but incompatible things at the same time. You can’t both keep and eat your cake; it’s one or the other.

But what on earth does cake have to do with electricity demand and supply?

Well today, the power sector meets demand by turning the supply up and down according to need.

This morning, we turned on our lights and kettles, used our power showers and hair dryers, and put on our microwaves and toasters.

For this, we rely on a mix of gas, coal and other power plants to meet our electricity demand. We do not have to be too careful about when we use electricity because this mix of power plants has been built to provide such flexibility.

However, by 2040, the need for clean energy will have led to the closure of many conventional power plants. Most of our electricity will be produced using wind and solar resources.

And these resources lack one key feature: the ability to turn supply up and down with demand. And if the power sector does not have this flexibility, it would need to come from elsewhere.

It could be suggested that, therefore, large amounts of back-up power plant capacity, storage and even more renewables will be needed to balance the electricity grid.

But Pöyry’s hourly whole system simulation shows that this issue could be addressed from the demand side: demand could be flexible enough to balance this inflexible and intermittent supply.

The chart on the left shows inflexible demand in a week in January 2020 in Pöyry’s hourly simulation. The chart on the right shows the same week in 2040, and demonstrates how flexible demand could move around in order to meet a very volatile and uncontrollable supply.

The chart on the left shows inflexible demand in a week in January 2020 in Pöyry’s hourly simulation. The chart on the right shows the same week in 2040, and demonstrates how flexible demand could move around in order to meet a very volatile and uncontrollable supply.

So in order to have a clean energy supply, will that mean we will have to forego our morning coffee when the air is still or the sun is hidden behind the clouds? After all, “you can’t have your cake and eat it”.

Perhaps not.

We might have to schedule more energy intensive tasks for later. Or maybe even tap into some of the energy stored in our electric cars.

But Pöyry foresees that through collaboration between public and private sectors, all of these processes could be automated for us. Demand will balance supply behind the scenes, through the application of smart electricity networks by suppliers and aggregators.

The challenge will be how to design these smart systems and automated demand side response so we can go about our lives without interruption.

So just because demand could become more flexible to match a more variable supply, that doesn’t mean we will need to change our habits.

We will be able to have our cake and eat it. Or, in this case, have our electricity and use it.

Find out what a decarbonised future could look like by reading our recent Point of View Report: Fully decarbonising Europe’s energy system by 2050, or by contacting .

Contact information

Benedikt Unger
Principal