Distributed energy solutions key in accelerating the transition towards sustainable electricity systems

​Electricity systems around the world are undergoing a transition from fossil-based to renewable production of electricity. The transition can, however, be accomplished in radically different ways. The results of Kristina Hojcková’s doctoral thesis indicates that decentralised solutions, such as Smart-grid and Off-grid systems, could outpace the global Super-grid system.

​What challenges do you focus on your research?

"The actual design of an electricity system powered by renewables remains unknown – and opinions on the direction of change differ greatly. Some believe that the renewable electricity system will be dominated by centralised global transmission (Super-grid), some imagine a future of local electricity distribution (Smart-grid), while others argue for self-sufficiency without the need for a conventional electricity grid (Off-grid). As a consequence, high-voltage transmission lines are being extended to supply electricity from large-scale remote wind parks; in parallel, local communities are building self-sufficient microgrids supplied by small-scale renewables and storage. The main challenge addressed in my research relates to the development of a diversity of competing system designs that make policy and investment decisions increasingly uncertain, hindering the pressing need to de-carbonise the electricity supply."

How do you address the problem with your research?

"I improve the existing knowledge by conducting in-depth case studies of real-world projects that promote alternative ways of building a de-carbonised system: the global high-voltage transmission Super-grid, and Smart-grid experiments in the shape of local blockchain-based peer-to-peer trading in Australia and the US. These case studies reveal the drivers and barriers for alternative electricity system designs and hence for the overall direction of the electricity system transition."

What are the main findings?

"The main findings of both the Super- and Smart-grid systems is that from the technological perspective, solutions already exist, though mostly in the form of conceptual and computational models. The real challenge in both cases is to turn technological novelties into real-world solutions, to trial and improve their performance. My research shows that the most significant hurdles are political and regulatory and highlights the particular bottlenecks and strategies that differentiate these cases, indicating their chances of becoming the new dominant configuration."

"The research in this thesis suggests that the main point of difference lies in the ability to overcome regulatory lock-ins and enable experimentation to de-risk investment and guide the changes necessary for all low-carbon solutions. The results indicate that with their comparatively smaller sizes and capital requirements, Smart-grid and Off-grid systems could outpace Super-grid system development. Given the possibility of implementing and testing distributed energy technologies behind the meter and in regulatory sandboxes, these solutions are currently undergoing faster trial-and-error cycles that accelerate learning, advance performance, and decrease costs."

What do you hope your research will lead to?

"I hope my research can challenge narrow-minded and siloed thinking about the future of the electricity system and invites collective action in addressing the transition-related unknowns and trade-offs. For practitioners and policymakers, the map of alternative futures and the empirical findings can guide communication and negotiation on the complex path towards a low-carbon electricity future."

Text compilation: Daniel Karlsson
The thesis defence will be online on Zoom, 26 November, at 10:00, see link on thesis’ page (pwd: 349829)

More about Kristina Hojcková

Page manager Published: Mon 23 Nov 2020.