Evolutions in the Balancing Market & Opening Up Balancing Services to All Technologies and Voltage Levels: Exclusive Interview with Pieter Vanbaelen, Product Manager of Ancillary Services at Elia - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Grid Professionals Group
image credit: Pieter Vanbaelen
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester 185558
Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Sep 25, 2019

In a future decarbonized and digital world, managing the power system becomes increasingly complex. Dependence of renewable sources on weather, the presence of millions of assets connected everywhere across the grid, and power flows becoming more volatile across the entire grid, with variable renewable capacities online that far exceed the peak loads in today’s system, will all transform the grid. The increasing fragmentation of the sector, characterized by more decentralized generation and the increasing number of players to interact with (including potentially millions of prosumers) makes the system more complex to run.

Both transmission and distribution system operators will need more flexibility: transmission system operators to keep the system in balance and distribution system operators to manage congestions and voltage issues in their grids. Such flexibility needs to come from different sources, particularly from decentralized resources and consumer-side flexibility, given the expected decentralization and electrification.

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The challenges related to integrating these decentralized resources and consumer-side flexibility in our current system is thus an increasingly important aspect in the power industry of today and tomorrow. Pieter Vanbaelen, a Product Manager of Ancillary Services at Elia, is tackling these problems head on in his work, and he’s going to be sharing his insights at the upcoming Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference with his presentation entitled “Evolutions in the Balancing market – opening up balancing services to all technologies and all voltage levels.”

To give attendees of the Smart Grid Flexibility conference among Energy Central’s readers (as well as to entice those of you who were on the fence about whether to attend this event coming up in London), Pieter shared his time in an interview with me to share with the Energy Central community:

Matt Chester: To start, you work as a Product Manager of Ancillary Services at Elia. Can you share a bit about what exactly that means and how you found yourself going down this career path?

Pieter Vanbaelen: I work on a project basis and I am focusing on the development of our balancing services: FCR, aFRR, and mFRR. The last few years, I was focusing on the integration of demand response in our current balancing products via a mechanism called Transfer of Energy. Recently, my focus has shifted more on technologic and innovative aspects, such as the Internet of Things and blockchain, as well as to investigate via proof of concept how these technologies disrupt our current way of working and can create additional value for our services and the system as a whole.


MC: One of the main points of the presentation you’re giving at the Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference is that there needs to be a level playing field for all voltage levels in order for smaller sized grid participants (namely residents and businesses who want to participate via distributed assets like solar and storage) to participate. What is the current status quo in this area and can you describe why it’s not currently equal for consumers who want to participate?

PV: Elia has as target to open all its balancing products to all technologies, all players, and all voltage levels. Traditionally, our main sources of flexibility were sourced from large power plants on the high voltage grid. The integration of renewables challenges the way we balance our system and increases the need for additional sources of flexibility. Furthermore, digitalization and new players enable new opportunities.   

FCR (Frequency containment reserve) and mFRR (Manual frequency restoration reserve) can be offered from both medium and high voltage grid by all technologies and/or market players.  The automatic frequency restoration reserve (aFRR) will be opened as of July 2020.

FCR can also be provided from the low voltage grid (residential level), off course as long the requirements set by the associated distribution system operators are met. For aFRR and mFRR, Elia works closely together with the DSOs, such as via Io.Energy, to investigate the requirements for both products on the low voltage grid.

A level playing field is a pre-requisite for a fully competitive market in which all plays, small or large, have equal chance to participate, resulting in lower costs for society.

MC: You’re also going to discuss the data challenges in this area, specifically the collection of authentic and reliable data. What are the challenges in ensuring the quality of this data, and what are the consequences of that data not being entirely clean and accurate?

PV: Elia is closely collaborating with the DSOs to build robust data platforms to handle the data coming from all voltage levels for balancing purposes, such as a common data hub for mFRR that already exists and one for aFRR that is in the making.

Challenges mostly relate to issues such as:

  • Data authenticity; and
  • Data reliability; and
  • How to integrate behindthe-meter solutions;
  • Data size (for example, how to handle large amounts of data like 4second values for aFRR); and
  • Data validation (how to validate data, for example through selflearning algorithms).

MC: Conferences like Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 are one of the best ways for professionals in the industry to participate and learn from colleagues. Are there any specific hot topics you’re particularly excited to learn about and discuss with your peers?

PV: The topics I’m excited to share and learn about include vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services, embedded microgrids, and DER forecasting.

If you're interested in learning more about balancing market for the smart grid, be sure to attend Pieter Vanbaelen’s presentation this topic at the Smart Grid Flexibility 2019 conference this upcoming October in London, UK. You can learn more about the agenda and register for the conference here.


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Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Sep 25, 2019

No arguing this point: "Both transmission and distribution system operators will need more flexibility: transmission system operators to keep the system in balance and distribution system operators to manage congestions and voltage issues in their grids. Such flexibility needs to come from different sources, particularly from decentralized resources and consumer-side flexibility, given the expected decentralization and electrification".

The only real question in my mind is "how do you properly value and acquire the right mix of resources needed to achieve system operator reliability goals and Green Buyer goals to acquire emissions free supply"? There is a proposal under consideration for NAESB's 2020 annual plan that attempts to answer this question through a strawman proposal, that applies a priority services hierarchy to acquire just the right mix of services to achieve both goals. I'm working on an article describing the priority services hierarchy, which I plan to publish on Energy Central shortly.

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