¿centralised or distributed energy?
Energy communities are already a reality. One of the most outstanding characteristics of these projects is their promotion of a distributed energy system, complementary to or independent from the centralised one. However, which of these two alternatives, a distributed or centralised system, is more sustainable in terms of energy and resource consumption?
To begin, since the transport of electricity always implies losses, the distributed system of Energy Communities is more efficient. Thus, in a distributed system, it’s not necessary to increase the voltage to avoid transmission losses because the distances between places of production and consumption are relatively short. The distributed model can lead not only to higher energy efficiency but also to lower resource consumption. By reducing transport needs over long distances, the infrastructure required for transport is reduced, meaning less amount of copper, for example.
It is said that renewable technologies are dependent on certain minerals, but their dependence is much less than that the oil needed in non-renewable energies. In addition, there are more and more alternatives to the materials used for renewables, so the physical limitations are not as big and in process of decreasing.
All in all, an improvement in sustainability can be observed in the distributed energy system due to the greater efficiency it offers compared to the centralised one. However, some caution must be exercised; in a free-market scenario the efficiency gains in the distributed system may lead over time to an aggregate increase in energy consumption. A dynamic known as rebound effect. But the energy transition does not only consist of a change in the technology used, it is also about the energy use. In this way, Energy Communities address not only energy production but also energy consumption aspects, thus combining efficiency and sufficiency. For instance, in the Dutch pilots of the Lightness project, efforts are being driven to increase the energy literacy of end-users to enable them to make informed decisions.