On March 13, the wind was blowing briskly across much of ireland. After nightfall, gusts of wind—called ‘gaoithe’ in Irish—continued to move the wind turbines of the more than 300 wind farms currently operating in the country. The strategic wind sector is considered, as there is little doubt that, in the era of climate change and rising energy poverty, wind is a true green blessing in reducing reliance on pollutants.
In 2022, the blades of Irish windmills and their turbines generate 34% of national electricity consumption, that is, 13,213 gigawatt-hours (GWh), which is equivalent to the needs of no less than three million Irish people. during some particularly windy months, such as November, peaks close to 50% were reached. A milestone that saved consumers in that country around 2,000 million euros in the middle of the gas war. CO2 emissions will also be avoided.
This cheap and clean electricity bonanza, however, presents numerous challenges exposed that March 13. That night, as wind turbines churned out from northern County Donegal to southern Cork, 5,520 megawatt-hours (MWh) of power was wasted because there simply wasn’t enough demand. It was between 23:00 and 07:00, when most of the Irish sleep and when factories and offices are closed. With contained consumption and without storage capacity, energy was lost. A true nonsense in a country where energy poverty reached its historical maximum in 2022: about 500,000 homesabout 29 percent of the national total.
It is in this context that an initiative was born whose objective is to direct this surplus of electricity to homes in vulnerable situations. The project, led by the company EnergyCloud, brings together various actors from the public administration, NGOs, and energy distribution and trading companies, as well as technology companies such as Amazon. The mechanism that allowed surplus energy to be donated to those who need it most is extremely simple, despite the multiplicity of actors involved to make it possible. First, the family concerned with the device agrees to install a network-connected device in their home. This, controlled by the distribution center, is activated when there is a surplus of energy production, which usually occurs during windy nights. At the moment, the use given to that energy is very specific: heating the resistance of the domestic electric water heater. Thus, During the next morning, the user knows that he has between 80 and 100 liters of hot water available. to shower the children, make tea or wash the dishes without making your bill more expensive. It knows this in advance because the system, when the supply cycle is complete, sends an SMS to the user to notify them that they have been the beneficiary of a hot water tank at zero cost.
“This is an ambitious and creative project,” Irish Environment Minister Eamon Ryan said a few days ago, as he attended the installation of some of EnergyCloud’s remote devices in public housing. “It is an example of what we need to see in Ireland if we are to help fight energy poverty and meet our climate targets.”
The EnergyCloud project was launched on an experimental basis during the pandemic. Now, after obtaining promising results in 40 homes, is being implemented in a thousand houses. amazon, what is Ireland has already invested in its own wind farmshas joined by offering its ‘know how’ on ‘cloud’ or cloud technology issues.
But the goal is to reach a larger scale and achieve 65,000 beneficiary households in the coming months. The government supports it and has incorporated it into its recent Climate Action Plan as an innovative solution to the double challenge of complying with the Paris Agreement and reducing social inequalities.
One of the keys to the success of the EnergyCloud initiative, recently reminded the Minister of Housing, Darragh O’Brien, is its simplicity and the low investment it requires. “It uses already existing infrastructure, such as domestic electric water heaters, to receive surplus renewable energy at times when it is not needed by the grid,” he said. Another fundamental issue, as the founder of EnergyCloud, Derek Roddy, said, is that various actors in the value chain (especially electricity producing, distributing and trading companies) have agreed to «generate less profit for investors» in exchange for fighting against energy poverty.
The challenge of electrifying
It is not difficult to imagine the social and environmental potential of this initiative in other countries, although for this it is essential to invest in improving and expanding the electrical network. In the neighboring United Kingdom, according to a study, there is projected to be a 53% excess production of renewable energy by 2030, which without storage capacity (batteries, for the manufacture of which we depend on lithium) means that this energy is either it loses, or it becomes a ‘commodity’ that is sold to a neighboring country. Energy poverty is growing there too, with 3.5 million British households affected by 2023, according to the latest official report.
In Spain, where in the coming years there will be an unparalleled boom in photovoltaic and wind projects that will profoundly transform how we produce and consume energy, initiatives like this could also work. One possibility is that the production of solar panels installed in schools and public buildings go to families in need when these centers are closed, for example, in the summer months, where energy poverty also manifests itself in the form of households without the economic capacity to assume the continued use of air conditioning. It is not a trivial matter: In Catalonia alone, energy poverty affects more than 240,000 childrena silent and worrying scourge in times of hyperinflation that is the source of other problems, such as respiratory complications or lower school performance.