Henrik Madsen, Professor at DTU Compute. Credit Mikal Schlosser

Should our energy system be digital?

Monday 24 Oct 22


Henrik Madsen
Professor, Head of section
DTU Compute
+45 45 25 34 08
Professor Henrik Madsen estimates that digitization and flexibility, which are two crucial ingredients in the future energy system, are already possible to a large extent and can help us in the current energy crisis.

Given that the energy system of the future will largely be powered by solar and wind, it is necessary to think in terms of both data and flexibility in order to ensure coherence between the production times of wind and solar and our own consumption. DTU’s Professor Henrik Madsen, who is an expert in digitalization and smart energy systems, argues that both aspects are already largely possible and can help us in the current energy crisis if this approach is prioritized and legislation is amended to enable us to use them.


“The basis for a digitalized energy system is data. Much of this data already exists - it takes the shape of data about the various forms of energy: electricity, district heating, and gas. There is also data on wind and weather, as well as data on our consumption,” says Henrik Madsen.


“In addition to data, flexibility is a crucial factor. We must be able to nudge elements of our energy use - whether as citizens, businesses or utility companies - so that it adapts to the energy production we have in place. It’s no different to what many people already do when running their washing machine at night.”


Henrik Madsen highlights that if we are to achieve sufficient flexibility as a society, it is necessary for us to be able to both store energy and connect the different sectors in the energy system together.

The electricity systems that are supplied by solar and wind energy are not inherently all that flexible. Power can only be stored in very small quantities in batteries. District heating systems are able to store energy for a few days (and for months in large water stores) and in the case of gas the EU already has storage capacity for several months’ use.


“Our access to energy storage solutions must be expanded, while at the same time we join up our energy sources so that they better complement each other,” says Henrik Madsen.


Tools to use data must be developed

There is also a need to leverage data. However, digitalization cannot occur through the use of data alone - there is also a need to develop solutions that use it.


“If we are to derive any value from the mass of data we have at our fingertips, this requires tools that are based on artificial intelligence and Big Data technologies for forecasting, the development of digital twins, the optimization of market participation, and the control of things such as heat pumps and district heating systems,” says Henrik Madsen.


A wide variety of tools have already been developed and are awaiting an ongoing supply of data from various energy supply sources in order to be put into use. These developments are taking place in a number of locations, including the Center Denmark digital energy hub, to which all Danish technical universities and several major utility companies are affiliated.


“Technically, some of the solutions are already feasible, but they require adjustments to regulations and legislation in order to allow for the data to be used for that purpose. Hopefully, this will happen soon since the tools are not only important to our energy supplies of the future, but will also have a marked impact on mitigating the current energy crisis. They will significantly help to increase both the flexibility and the efficiency of the energy system,” says Henrik Madsen.

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