The complex market for green energy


Prof. Anthony Papavasiliou, a specialist in energy algorithms, just received an ERC Starting Grant. His research project, ICEBERG, aims to find ways to integrate the individual consumer into the complex green energy market.

About 80% of global energy production is of non-renewable origin. Its deleterious impact on the environment is proven. The combustion of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) releases enormous amounts of CO2.1 And as abundant as they are, sooner or later, they’ll be exhausted.

In this context, green energy is perfect: unlimited and perpetually renewable, it produces neither CO2 nor radioactive waste. In short, green energy is a comprehensive and sustainable solution to our growing energy needs.

Unfortunately, in a broader context, it’s not perfect. It has three disadvantages: expensive to install, difficult to distribute, and an availability that’s difficult to accurately assess. Engineers are trying to solve these problems.

Managing unpredictability

Sunshine and wind are uncontrollable’, says Prof. Anthony Papavasiliou, a researcher at UCLouvain's Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE). ‘Their energy efficiency is therefore variable. In addition, storage solutions are imperfect and too expensive, especially for the individual consumer. These are reasons why we should adapt our green energy consumption to its availability. This means I won’t use my washing machine when I want to, but when I can.’ Two problems arise at the individual level.

First: people aren’t necessarily at home to turn on a machine when the wind blows or the sun shines. New technologies could help solve this. After all, there are already apps to remotely manage some energy settings such as the thermostat. But in Belgium, it’s especially at the level of the energy distribution network, especially in homes, that there’s a snag: the system isn’t adapted to massive use of green energy.

New contracts

Which brings us to the second problem. Why would individuals change their behaviour to use green energies which, to date, are more expensive than non-renewable energies? ‘It would take financial incentives’, Prof. Papavasiliou says. ‘Green energy contracts should be attractive enough for the average consumer to give up unlimited use and demand for energy. Unlimited use would still be possible, but it should be more expensive.’

In all cases, it would require a mixed distribution network as well as commercial offers tailored to individual needs and preferences. But that’s far from simple.

The price of wholesale electricity changes rapidly’, Prof. Papavasiliou explains. ‘However, the average consumer wants simple contracts, which allow him to monitor his equipment, protect his privacy and save money on his electricity bill. But the price of these contracts should also depend on the cost of building and managing the network (generators and power lines) that transports energy to people. We also need to understand how we can manage the entire energy chain, from the power station to the individual home. At CORE, we’re looking for algorithms that allow us to calculate network management and consumption regulation, in order to make the best use of green energy. Our goal is to convince the various players in the energy market to make the necessary investments and to take the energy transition leap.’

Calling meets ambition

For Prof. Papavasiliou, this ambition fulfils a true calling. ‘When I was 12, my cousin was a member of Greenpeace. One day I found literature about fossil fuels on his desk. This is when I understood that energy was a major issue for humanity.’

Later, in his second year of studying engineering, he chose to specialise in energy and mathematics, which led him to the prestigious University of California, Berkeley. After six years in the United States and despite an American proposal to stay, he accepted UCLouvain’s offer in 2013. He welcomed the opportunity. ‘CORE is a very renowned research centre. It’s a multicultural environment, with high quality researchers and a friendly atmosphere. My ambition is to develop internationally recognised expertise on local and individual green energy consumption, using powerful algorithmic and economic models.’

Candice Leblanc

(1) Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a cause of global warming

A glance at Anthony Papavasiliou's bio

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

Published on October 23, 2019