Green energy: managing surpluses!



The European FEVER project targets an electricity market that is being transformed by green energy . UCLouvain researchers are contributing to the ambitious project.

Say you live in a sunny country and have installed solar panels on the roof of your house. Sometimes you produce more electricity than you use. What should you do with the surplus? Do you store it in a battery or feed it back into the electricity grid? “If you’re the only person to opt for the second option, no problem: the grid can absorb your surplus energy,” replies Prof. Anthony Papavasiliou, a researcher at the UCLouvain Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) within the Louvain Institute of Data Analysis and Modelling in Economics and Statistics (LIDAM). “On the other hand, if all your neighbours are doing the same thing at the same time – while the demand for electricity has not increased – the overload risks creating a bug in the system and even damaging certain equipment.”

New electricity producers

Twenty years ago, this scenario was unlikely. Electricity was generated almost exclusively by a high-voltage network (see box). Such networks are managed by a Transmission System Operator (TSO). Distribution System Operators (DSOs) manage the medium and low-voltage networks and decide on the price of electricity. They distribute electricity according to need, nothing more. But things are changing.

Thanks to the growth of green energy, medium and low-voltage networks are expanding. Consumers no longer just consume: some generate electricity via solar panels. “However, there’s still no global strategy or centralised control,” explains Prof. Papavasiliou. “Everyone does a bit of what they want! DSOs just choose how big to make the distribution network. They price electricity to ‘break even’, without taking into account the growing contribution of green energy electricity.”

The FEVER project

So the networks and electricity markets have to be adapted accordingly. This is the focus of the “Flexible Energy Production, Demand and Storage-based Virtual Power Plants for Electricity Markets and Resilient DSO Operation” (FEVER) project. It brings together 16 academic, public and private partners from eight European countries,1 including UCLouvain’s CORE.

The project’s goal is to better organise the electricity market, at all levels. How can this be done? By proposing technical solutions and IT tools that can be implemented on a large scale, and by securely taking advantage of the flexibility inherent to medium and low-voltage networks.  

“Future DSOs should decide who can inject their surplus electricity into the grid, when and at what price,” Prof. Papavasiliou says. “They would be a bit like air traffic controllers, who decide the order in which planes land. The problem is that today only the TSO has the sophistication to make such complex decisions. DSOs are much less sophisticated!” In other words, the TSO control tower handles large aircraft very well. DSOs, on the other hand, aren’t yet capable of handling private jets ... which are rapidly multiplying!   

Goals: surplus and pricing

Within the FEVER project, Prof. Papavasiliou and Ilyès Mezghani, one of his CORE PhD candidates, will work on two aspects of this research problem:

  • Optimisation of the overall electricity production network (especially the medium-voltage network). Among other questions, how can we anticipate the production of green energy and manage surpluses automatically?
  • Electricity pricing. The aim is to set the price of electricity more accurately according to supply and demand, in real time. If consumers produce electricity, how much more do they have to pay for it? How much would they earn if they injected the surplus into the distribution network?

System improvement and automation

“Currently, electricity production management lacks precision,” Mr Mezghani explains. “Green energy isn’t used optimally. As for its pricing, it’s done almost manually, with all that this entails in terms of imprecision and even waste.”

Prof. Papavasiliou adds, “Through the FEVER project, we want to create IT tools – for example, algorithms and artificial intelligence – to automate DSO decision-making. Ultimately, this would allow us to consolidate the networks and the energy market, to adapt them to current developments, and to make 100% use of green energy. In this respect, the FEVER project is in line with the goals of our ICEBERG project. So we’re delighted to be part of it!”2

Candice Leblanc

1. Germany, Belgium, Cyprus, Spain, Denmark, Greece, Ireland and Slovenia.
2. The ICEBERG project aims to find ways to actively include the individual consumer in the green energy market.   

The three “levels” of electricity production

Imagine electricity production in terms of a large road network:

  • The high-voltage network, managed by the TSO, can be seen as the national “highways” via which pass very large quantities of electricity, produced by power plant equipment.
  • The medium-voltage network, managed by a DSO, would designate the major (provincial and regional) roads and boulevards, where surplus energy can be re-injected.
  • The low-voltage network, also managed by a DSO, would apply to the streets and alleys of a town or village. It’s a very local or individual power generation network


Anthony Papavasiliou bio
Anthony Papavasiliou has been a researcher at the Centre for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE) since 2013. He is an associate professor in the UCLouvain Mathematical Engineering Department. He holds the ENGIE Chair and the Francqui Research Professor Chair. In 2006 he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from the National Technical University of Athens (Greece). In 2011 he earned his PhD in industrial engineering and operations research at the University of California (Berkeley, USA). He has been a consultant for several national and transnational energy regulatory bodies. In 2019, he was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for the ICEBERG project.


Ilyès Mezghani bio
Since 2016 Ilyès Mezghani has been pursuing a PhD at UCLouvain’s CORE. His thesis is on electrical energy system optimisation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics engineering and a master’s degree in operations research, both earned at Grenoble INP-Ensimag (France) in 2016.

Published on June 04, 2021