Unilever Research & Development has once again recognized the exceptional contributions of young scientists to a sustainable future. This year, 12 Master of Science students were awarded the Unilever Research Prizes, each receiving a cheque for € 2.500 and a piece of artwork known as helping hands. One of the winners is ET student Geert Buis.
Geert Buis has been awarded with the Unilever Research Prize, following his nomination by Dr. Frans Coenen. Within his Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Technology, Geert delivered an outstanding thesis applying game-theory to evaluate incentives for cooperative behaviour between households within the distribution grid. His research presents promising and societally relevant results, earning him a well deserved place among our winners (Unilever Research & Development).
"Electricity grid congestion is a key issue holding back the transition to renewable energy. The lack of available capacity prevents further electrification of transport, heating, and industrial processes, and limits the expansion of wind and solar generation. In their quest to combat grid congestion, both grid operators and academics alike have overlooked the potential of local communities. Rather, the focus has been on top-down solutions such as aggressive grid expansion, congestion pricing, and automatic scheduling. Each of these solutions faces significant hurdles to implementation and avoids addressing the need for change in society's relationship with energy. My research suggests that communities could successfully self-manage congestion if given the responsibility and resources to do so."
"Sustainable management of common-pool resources is an active field of study with regards to protecting natural resources such as forests, water sources, and fishing areas. The Nobel-prize winning researcher Elinor Ostrom has identified 8 conditions which must be met for communities to sustainably self-govern a resource without intervention from a government. Using game theoretical analysis, I reviewed how each of these 8 conditions apply to grid congestion. My analysis showed that rational economic actors can successfully manage congestion under various circumstances. In case of a locally designed ruleset, a relatively small economic incentive would be needed to ensure the rules are followed."
These findings open up the discussion for including community management as a possible solution for grid congestion. Rather than pitting users against one another for use of grid capacity, users can be empowered to work out long-term agreements between themselves, which could also enable lasting behavioural change. This type of solution would create green jobs for community organisers, lower the financial burden for grid users, and encourage local collaboration to further enable the energy transition. Game theory has proven to be a fantastic tool to study these dynamics. If combined with practical experiments, real progress could be made towards the sustainable management of all kinds of socio-technical systems.