A glimpse of what our energy future could look like

As part of the ‘Smart Energy Showcases – Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition’ (SINTEG) programme, five model regions are showing how digital networking can be used to transform the energy sector.

Bundesminister für Wirtschaft und Energie Peter Altmaier auf der SINTEG Jahreskonferenz 2018© BMWi/BILDKRAFTWERK

The digital transformation is a trend that is changing all parts of our lives. In the area of electricity supply, digital innovation can provide answers to issues surrounding the energy transition and the rising share of renewables in our energy mix. How can we make sure that our electricity supply remains stable even as the largest share of our electricity supply is based on volatile renewables such as wind and solar power? How can electricity generation, grids and storage be combined in an intelligent manner? How can a larger share of the renewable electricity that we have available be used for heating, transport and in the industrial sector? Digital innovation provides answers to all of these questions. But how exactly can it be used in practice?

This is exactly what the five model regions that have been set up under the Smart Energy Showcases – Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition (SINTEG) programme are to find out. Each showcase is designed as a ‘reality lab’ where solutions for addressing the technical, economic and regulatory challenges of the energy transition are to be delivered. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is providing more than €200 million in funding for the projects. Factoring in the investment provided by the more than 300 companies involved, the programme has a budget of more than €500 million. The aim is for the showcases to develop blueprints that can be used across different regions and countries. The results and experience gained will be documented, assessed and shared. The five Smart Energy Showcases were launched at the beginning of 2017.

Minister Altmaier said: An energy system for the future ‘made in Germany’

At the 2018 SINTEG annual conference entitled ‘Insights into the reality lab for a digital energy world’ held in Berlin on 5 and 6 June, the five model regions presented their initial results and highlights from the first project year. In his opening speech to the conference, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier underlined not only the importance that digital solutions have for the energy transition, but also highlighted Germany’s role as an international role model by saying that the country served as a large reality lab. He said that the solutions that were being developed could also be used by other countries around the world and that this was in Germany’s economic interest. “If we get the energy transition right, then others will emulate us and follow our example – as has been the case with German machinery, German cars and other products made in Germany.”

The ‘Smart Energy Showcases – Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition’ (SINTEG) programme plays a key role in bringing the energy transition into the digital age. The programme focuses on secure and efficient procedures that can be used, for example, for operating the grid, innovative technology, and market mechanisms designed to make our grid and our markets smarter and more flexible. The participants of the SINTEG programme can test new technologies, procedures and business models, for example digital market platforms for procuring flexibility options. This has been made possible by an ordinance specially dedicated to the programme. This makes SINTEG a reality lab for a digital energy world.

As each model region has its own unique requirements, each showcase focuses on a different problem.

C/sells: energy cells that communicate with one another

The C/sells showcase tries to bring about an energy system in which small ‘cells’ – for example a region, district or home – supply their own energy. The cells only exchange energy with one another if they generate too much or too little energy on their own. This is done automatically. C/sells covers the German Länder of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse. Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are the two German Länder that generate the largest amounts of solar energy, which is why they are also called the ‘solar arch’ in the south of Germany. In Hesse, both solar and wind power play a key role. Under the C/sells project, the entire territory of the three Länder is split up into more 30 demonstration cells. These cells are digitally connected with one another, allowing any excess energy to be directed to where it is needed. Any surplus energy is to be stored. In order to put this project into practice, C/sells is currently developing a digital information system that will allow Germany to automatically activate measures that will keep the grid stable and to involve all relevant stakeholders into a regional market place for energy services. The project has 58 partners and receives around €44 million in funding.

Designnetz: smart distribution networks

Designnetz is developing an interconnected system that will involve North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland. The project focuses on digital and smart distribution networks, which are increasingly changing from a one-way to a two-way street as the energy system becomes more decentralised. This helps to better balance electricity supply and demand at the regional level, but also across regions if necessary. The aim is for isolated solutions – some of which remain to be implemented – to be connected and combined across different grid levels and regions to form one single system. Photovoltaics, wind power, CHP installations, storage technology and switchable loads – including large users of energy such as industrial companies – are key for the project. The project has 47 partners from the energy sector, industry, municipalities, research and development. It receives funding of around €29 million.

enera: regional market places

The enera model region based in the north-west of Lower Saxony is known for its large wind power capacities. The project focuses on the question of how the electricity supply can be made more flexible so that, for example, the region’s wind capacities can be optimally used. Generation facilities, storage units, homes, commercial and industrial companies are being combined into regional virtual power plants, and a digital market place for regional energy products is being developed. Smart meters and around 1,000 digital nodes in the grid are used to document where and when the electricity is consumed. The technology is to be designed in a way that allows it to respond to information increasingly autonomously. Industrial companies that lend themselves to flexible production are provided with control technology that allows them to respond to a situation where there is a lot or very little renewable electricity available by increasing or reducing their output. By introducing flexible electricity tariffs, consumers are encouraged to consume electricity – for example to charge their electric car – at times when there is a lot of wind. The project will also feature smart home apps that can be used by consumers who have solar storage tanks or night storage heating to their economic advantage by relieving the burden off the grid. The enera showcase has 63 project partners and receives around €52 million in funding.

NEW 4.0: digital assistance

‘NEW’ stands for ‘Norddeutsche Energiewende’ – the energy transition in the north of Germany – and ‘4.0’ for the fourth industrial revolution, which refers to the digital transformation and interconnectedness. The NEW 4.0 showcase connects Hamburg with the large wind energy hub of Schleswig-Holstein. The goal of the project is to bring about a secure and affordable energy supply that will be based fully on renewable energy by 2035. Today, many of the wind farms that are based in Schleswig-Holstein have to be frequently switched off as the grid is not equipped to transport all of the huge amounts of wind power that are being generated on to consumers. NEW 4.0 is therefore developing a digital system that is able to adapt electricity consumption in line with the supply. First of all, the system is to make it easier for electricity to be exported. Secondly, the system is to help more of the renewable electricity to be consumed where it is generated, by using storage technology and by making industrial production processes more flexible, or by transferring electric energy into heat. To this end, all stakeholders and components involved in the generation, storage, transport and consumption of electricity are linked up digitally. NEW 4.0 has 57 partners and receives around €44 million in funding.

WindNODE: flexible consumers

WindNODE spans the six German Länder in eastern Germany. On average, half of the electricity consumed across these Länder comes from renewables. However, this average figure does not tell the whole story. There are nights when the amount of wind and solar power that is generated is close to zero. Similarly, there are days when some regions generate triple the wind or solar power they need. This can lead to grid congestion problems in these regions. WindNODE therefore focuses on providing flexibility options – by making available storage technology, large-scale batteries, electric cars or power-to-heat technology or by working with flexible consumers who can adapt their electricity consumption in line with the weather and save money as a result. Flexible consumers include for example factories that are able to adjust the time when they produce or super market freezers that decide when to go into fast-freeze mode. In order to make this possible, the flexible consumers are connected with one another via a digital energy system that allows them to adapt their consumption in line with the energy supply – either individually or automatically. The WindNODE project has 75 partners. It receives funding of around €37 million.