1/2017

The electrical peak power spike occurs at nightfall

When woolly socks are not enough, a radiator is hooked up to the socket. In freezing temperatures, electricity consumption can temporarily increase tremendously. A study on the record spike revealed the reasons behind the consumption and can help the planning of the future electricity system.

Juhani Heljo

 

"We must prepare for peak power spikes, and the information that we are producing can help,” Juhani Heljo says.

 

The EL-TRAN Consortium

  • A research project funded by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland and led by the University of Tampere, involving the University of Tampere, the Tampere University of Technology, TAMK, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the Universities of Turku and Eastern Finland.
  • Duration: 2015–2017 (+ a possible additional term)
  • Objectives: What is a resource-effective electricity system, how can it be realised, what policy problems will we encounter while realising it, and how do we ultimately solve these problems?
 

On 7 January 2016, conditions in Finland were icy. The temperatures between Hanko and Utsjoki hung around -25°C and there was no wind. A new Finnish electricity consumption record was made at nightfall: 15,105 MW.

“The weather was very cold in the entire country simultaneously. At around 5 pm, some people are still at work while others are already at home, which meant that significant amounts of electricity were consumed in both locations at the same time,” Juhani Heljo from TUT’s Laboratory of Civil Engineering says, explaining the reasons behind the spike.

As a civil engineer, Heljo studies the development of the building stock energy consumption. He has participated in the EL-TRAN Consortium in forming an analysis of the record spike, and the analysis was published at the end of last year. Before the EL-TRAN study, no precise information existed on how the electricity consumption spike was formed and what it consisted of. The analysis is the first of its kind, and it will provide both researchers and authorities with new information on the power requirements in Finland.

Industry uses electricity evenly

A typical assumption is that the biggest electricity consumer in Finland is industry. However, researchers discovered that, during the peak load spike, as much as two thirds of the electricity requirement was due to the power consumption in buildings.

“Industry uses a lot of electricity, but it happens evenly. On an annual level, the industrial sector uses more than half of all the electrical energy consumed in Finland. A surprise in the analysis was how significant a role the electricity consumption in buildings had in the total amount. In cold weather, buildings that are not normally heated with electricity were using additional power for warmth, which caused the biggest rise in the consumption. It is difficult to estimate the effect of additional heaters, because they have not been included in the buildings’ energy calculations,” Heljo explains.

Similar spikes in power consumption occasionally occur when the conditions are suitable, like on the record day last year.

“Although peak power is seldom needed, the system must still be built so that it can handle the peak load spikes. Either domestic or imported electricity must also be available if a spike does occur. We must prepare for these, and the information that we are producing can help,” Heljo says. However, flexibility in the consumption can also aid in managing the peaks.

Light the fireplace

Electricity is a cheap and handy way for consumers to heat up their homes in freezing-cold weather: a radiator will not cost much at the hardware store, and electricity is very inexpensive. For society, however, it causes problems. The electricity network must be able to withstand the consumption spikes, and we must figure out how to guarantee a sufficient supply of electricity – with more power plants or with more imported electricity? Or with load management? Who will pay for it? Is there a way to lower the peak load spikes?

“Currently, electricity costs the same for the majority of small consumers, regardless of the conditions. This, however, might change. At the moment, for example, a dissertation is being prepared at the Laboratory of Electrical Energy Engineering at TUT which aims to study and determine new power-based distribution tariff structures that would take the peak power acquired by the consumer better into account. No power plant constructor would wish to finance more plants just for short-term needs,” Heljo says.

Electricity consumers can themselves influence their consumption by being aware of the weather effects. All unnecessary electrical equipment, such as heaters for outdoor staircases or rain pipes, should be checked so that they have not been left on needlessly. Reasons for why the home feels colder can be inspected and fixed. There is no need to heat the car if you can use the bus.

“Lighting a heat-storing fireplace will warm up house and heart,” Heljo says.

Knowing the instantaneous power is important

TUT’s Energy Group

  • A group that has operated for three years and combines the research conducted in 12 laboratories’ energy and eco-efficiency profile areas
  • consists of approximately 50 professors and 200 researchers
  • produces approximately 100 MSc theses, 20 dissertations and 150 international articles a year
 

The debate over electricity often revolves around energy consumption. However, as a researcher, Juhani Heljo wants to talk specifically about power.

“Energy is power times time. If we do not study power alongside energy, we cannot understand the big picture. Information on power helps us study consumption in real time, whereas information on energy consumption can only be attained after the fact. Measuring the power leads us straight to the causes for the electricity consumption,” he explains.

Issues relating to power are becoming an ever more important part of energy consumption monitoring and even the energy regulations of buildings.

“TUT, University of Tampere, TAMK, and other research organisations have already been cooperating successfully in the field. In addition, TUT has formed an Energy Group with researchers from various fields. Such a multidisciplinary approach is needed when studying matters such as country-wide power spikes.”

Text: Sanna Schildt
Photo: Mika Kanerva

 
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