Visionary ideas for digitising energy supply

Will we soon be exchanging electricity with our neighbours by using an app? Germany has pinpointed five model regions that seek to take the energy transition into a new era. The SINTEG kick-off conference brought together participants to discuss new ideas for tomorrow’s energy supply.

State Secretary Rainer Baake giving a speech© BMWi/Susanne Eriksson

By 2050, at least 80 per cent of our electricity is to come from renewables. We will not achieve this goal by simply increasing the number of wind turbines and solar installations that exist; instead, we need to make our electricity system smarter and more flexible. But exactly how do our grids need to change? How can industry and companies use their production facilities in a flexible manner and adapt to a fluctuating electricity supply? What role can storage units play in this? What can private consumers do? And what are the opportunities opened up by digitisation?

In order to find answers to these questions and provide an environment where practical solutions can be tested, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is providing funding for five model regions under its ‘Smart Energy Showcases - Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition (SINTEG)’ programme. In these regions, strategies for the future of energy are to be devised and demonstrated. If the tested solutions prove to be successful, they will be rolled out across Germany. The SINTEG programme is the largest pilot project of this kind in all of Europe and makes a key contribution to the digitisation of the energy transition.

All the showcases focus on digitisation

“We hope that the five showcases will provide practical indicators for the future development of our legal framework and will boost the energy transition”, said Rainer Baake, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy during the SINTEG kick-off conference that took place in Berlin last week. The conference brought together representatives of companies, research institutes, associations and municipalities, as well as guests from the world of politics and the media to engage in dialogue with one another.

Some of the model projects were launched at the end of 2016, others at the beginning of 2017. Each showcase is set in a different environment and focuses on different aspects. However, they all use digitisation as a tool to balance electricity generation and consumption, connecting all parts and stakeholders of the energy system with one another. For example, the showcases deal with creating digital market platforms for exchanging energy, or with testing smart control technologies in manufacturing. They also deal with combining private households’ small battery storage units so that energy can be stored and used at a later point in time.

Maybe in a not too distant future, we will be exchanging electricity with our neighbours by simply using an app, or maybe wind turbines will become so smart that they can autonomously control how much energy they produce. Across all of the model region, more than 300 representatives of companies, research institutes, municipalities, districts and the German Länder are working together on the future of our energy supply. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is providing €200 million in funding for this work. In addition, the companies involved in SINTEG are also providing financial resources. This means that over the next four years, more than €500 million will be invested for enhancing our energy supply.

New ordinance will pave the way for testing new innovations in practice

In order to help participants of the SINTEG programme to test new grid operation strategies, technologies, procedures and business models under real-life conditions, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy wants to create a number of testbeds. For this purpose, an ordinance has been drafted and will presumably be adopted by mid-May. The ordinance does not pre-empt any decisions about future regulations.

The model regions were chosen by means of a competition. They are based all across Germany.

  • ‘C/sells: Large-scale showcase in the ‘solar arch’ in southern Germany’: This showcase spans the states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse, and focuses on solar energy. The goal is to optimise the way in which energy is generated and consumed at regional level.
  • ‘Designnetz: a modular concept for the energy transition – from isolated solutions to an efficient energy system of the future’: The ‘Designnetz’ showcase spans North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland. It aims to supply solar and wind energy to urban and industrial consumers.
  • ‘enera: The next big step in the energy transition’: The ‘enera’ showcase is located in Lower Saxony and concentrates on regional ancillary services that stabilise the local grid and further improve the reliability of our electricity supply based on renewables.
  • ‘NEW 4.0: the energy transition in the north of Germany’: The ‘NEW 4.0’ showcase spans Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg. It is to demonstrate that 70 per cent of the region’s energy could be generated from renewable sources in a way that is both secure and efficient, and that this could be achieved as early as 2025.
  • ‘WindNODE: showcase for smart energy from the north-east of Germany’: This showcase spans the five states that used to be East Germany, and Berlin. Its goal is to efficiently integrate renewable energy sources in the electricity, heat and mobility sectors.