The people of Senja have generally been eager to adopt new technologies. They were among the first global movers in a energy revolution to build hydroelectric plants that could light up homes and businesses. Just three months after Edison built the first commercially used hydroelectric plant in the world, the second was built at Senja. Since then, there has been tremendous industrial development on the island. In particular, the seafood industry has grown rapidly. Advanced processing facilities have been established which not only require lots of power, but also stable electrical voltage and frequency. More recently, tourism has expanded at an equal pace. Also, the demand for power in private homes has increased substantially, as electric cars and high-power electronic devices have become common household goods.
Even though the power grid to Senja has been modernized in recent years, the industrial development is pushing the electrical infrastructure to its limits. The rural communities are supplied through very long overhead power cables that are not necessarily designed to handle the additional loads from the expected industrial growth. Significant challenges in stability and security of electrical supply are already apparent. The problem is most serious in the winter season, when fisheries’ activity is at its peak, as local households use a lot of energy on heating. These challenges are expected to intensify in the coming years. The establishment of new businesses, the electrification of aquaculture and the fishing fleet, as well as the electrification of transportation in general, are going to require more power than the current transmission lines can handle.
The situation seen on Senja is not unique. Similar challenges are surfacing in many aging electrical grids, both in and out of Norway. The traditional solution is to construct new power lines with more capacity. There are several drawbacks to this solution. Firstly, it takes a very long time. Secondly, there are often conflicts of interest concerning the choice of routes for new transmission lines. Environmental considerations, traditional land usage and the public use of outdoor areas have to be weighed against security of supply and industrial interests. Thirdly, the investment cost is very high, which translates in an increased grid connection fee for all consumers in the area. According to NVE (The Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate) the electricity sector is going to invest 135 billion NOK (about 13,5 bn Euro) in power grids all over the country, from 2018 to 2027. However, due to the large number of aging grids, with similar challenges as faced in Senja, it is not realistic to solve every capacity problem through traditional approaches alone.
In this project we aim to relieve pressure on the current grid by distributing consumption more evenly over the day, thereby securing enough power to sustain the development of the communities. Due to the way people and societies have organized their activities, it is only for a few hours per day that everyone is simultaneously using so much power that the grid is at risk of being overloaded. The rest of the time, there is still available capacity. Therefore, solutions that re-distribute consumption to utilize this available capacity, are both sustainable and socio-economically viable. This is the primary focus of the innovation activities of Smart Senja: to develop and demonstrate how new technologies and local flexibility markets can solve the challenges of stability and security of power supply in an efficient and elegant way.
Smart Senja is about innovation developping energy systems for the future - not just for Senja - but also to support the global transition towards renewable energy and an electrical future.