Straight from the future
From a smart apartment manager to control your heating to flexible controls for smelters: the SINTEG research programme has delivered new technologies for our future use of energy.
Manfred Riedel is visibly thrilled. Standing in the cellar of a residential building from the 1960s in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district, he is showing us a futuristic energy engineering feat that he has co-designed. 'We have fitted 224 traditional residential buildings with state of the art smart building technology', he says. 'This means 24% less energy required for heating.' The investment made by the building society was only about 25€ per square metre, which meant they did not even have to raise the incidental costs paid by tenants. The small district heating network can now be powered by electricity at times when there is a lot of electricity from renewables available and the price is cheap. In the future, affordable solar power could also come from the building’s own rooftop.
Tenants can set the temperature for individual rooms exactly as they would have it, thanks to the meters, electrical valves, movement sensors and control displays that come with the system. Between 6 and 8 a.m., the bathroom is to be heated to a nice and cosy 23°C. 20°C in the kitchen please, but only between 7 and 9 a.m., and no heating in the bedroom except for night time, when we’d like it to be 17°C. A digital, self-learning apartment manager decides by itself how much warm-up time it needs to deliver this. In its decisions, it factors in outside temperatures and the weather forecast, amongst other data. For this reason, it knows if it is likely to rain in the the afternoon, whether there’ll be sunshine or strong winds. It seems like a journey into the future, but here, it has long been delivered.
One research project, more than 300 partners
The technical solutions for a flexible energy supply using sector coupling for electricity and heating in the residential buildings in Berlin’s Hosemannstraße are just one of many successful projects conceived for the 'Smart Energy Showcases – Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition' Funding Programme, which, for the most part, came to an end in November 2020. Some individual projects will continue to operate until 31 March 2021. Over four years, five model regions ('showcases') in Germany had been developing and testing innovative solutions for the technical, economic and regulatory challenges associated with the country’s energy transition.
Speaking at the closing conference of the programme, State Secretary Feicht honoured the commitment of its more than 300 partners: 'We will feed in the recommendations made by the SINTEG experts into the development of the regulatory framework. The fact that SINTEG was brought to a successful close also shows that regulatory sandboxes are a suitable way of generating and testing solutions among different stakeholders.' Overall, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy provided approx. €200 million for the showcase regions. Together with the additional private investments made by the companies involved, a total of approx. €500 million was made available for the smart energy supply of the future.
Each of the five showcases functions as a regulatory sandbox. Everything centres on digital energy networks and on overcoming the challenges associated with the energy transition and the growing share of renewables in the electricity supply system. Among the questions tackled by the network were the following: How can the grids remain stable when energy is being fed in in increasingly irregular patterns? What are smart ways to have energy generation, storage, and consumption and the grids work together? How can industrial and private consumers make use of renewable electricity irrespective of the time when it is generated – for instance by powering their heating installations or electric vehicles?
WindNODE: flexible consumers
The answers to these questions are to be used as blueprints to be applied to other regions facing similar issues. This also works for the WindNODE project on smart building. After all, the type of residential building from the 1960s, for which the project was conceived, is very common in Germany. The WindNODE project extends to all German Länder in the northeast of the country. This is a region that already draws more than half of its electricity supply from renewables, which often generate more power than the region can use. For this region, the project focused on storage technologies such as large-scale batteries, electric vehicles, power-to-heat systems, and also on the demand side, to encourage electricity users to preferably use electricity at times at which large amounts of wind power and solar energy are available.
C/sells: energy cells that communicate with one another
The C/sells showcase spanned the territories of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, and Hesse. The task here was to devise and test an energy system in which small energy 'cells' – for example a region, neighbourhood or individual houses – are largely self-sufficient. The cells can exchange energy amongst themselves to offset any excess or shortfall. They are digitally connected to ensure that any surplus energy is automatically transferred to where it is needed or can be stored. For this purpose, an innovative infrastructure information system (IIS) was developed to ensure a secure exchange of information and data between the individual 'cells'. C/sells is also based on the idea of a flexible energy market, i.e. the possibility for consumers to adjust their demand to the situation on the supply side.
DESIGNETZ: three German Länder are testing the electricity grid of the future
The DESIGNETZ project has developed solutions for a secure and flexible energy system that integrates a large proportion of renewables. The project’s top priority: ideally consume electricity where it is generated. For this to work, storage technologies for sector coupling are needed, so that green electricity can be used for heating and electric mobility. Along the 'route of energy' in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland, more than 30 individual projects emerged. The DESIGNETZ App (in German only) makes it possible for everyone to marvel at the complexity of the energy system thus formed, a system that is completed interconnected and integrated. Users can virtually travel to the 30 project locations. On track, they must keep the distribution grid stable and can learn a great deal about energy systems for the future.
NEW 4.0: Digital technologies
'NEW' stands for ‘Norddeutsche Energiewende’ – the energy transition in the north of Germany – and ‘4.0’ for the fourth industrial revolution, i.e. the digital transformation and interconnectedness. The NEW 4.0 showcase connects Hamburg, a major electricity user, to neighbouring Schleswig-Holstein, a powerhouse for wind power. The goal of the project was to bring about a secure and affordable energy supply that would be entirely reliant on renewable energy by 2035. A flexible power exchange platform (ENKO) is used to bring market participants, electricity supply and demand together, and to balance out any imbalances between power consumption and generation. This means that more electricity from renewables can be fed into the grid. New battery storage can ease the burden on the grid and balance out short term fluctuations. Possibilities for industrial consumers to stabilise the grid, thus taking on task hitherto delivered by conventional power stations, were also tested. It proved possible, for instance, to render the electricity needs of a smelter flexible enough to allow the steel works to operate safely on fluctuating renewables.
enera: Regional market place
North-western Lower Saxony, where the 'enera' project was located, produces large quantities of wind energy which the grid does not always have the capacity to transport. For this reason, enera sought to explore how grids and markets, storage, communications and consumption technology can be smartly combined with the help of digital technologies to replace what for decades has been a static energy network with a flexible supply system. As part of these efforts, electricity meters in private households and companies were fitted with a smart reading and communications module (SAM) that allows users to monitor their daily electricity consumption via a smartphone app. Furthermore, hubs within the electricity network were fitted with digital metering technology to lay the basis for a smart energy system that automatically steers electricity to where it is needed. Electricity is traded in a digital marketplace. Thanks to this local trading platform based on the electricity exchange it is now possible to avoid bottlenecks in the grid . An integrated, large-scale hybrid storage facility reports on storage performance and provides information about marketing strategies for new business models around power trade.
Building blocks and a network for the future of the energy transition
The research programme itself may be over, but this does not mean that the showcases into the future world of energy have been taken down. Far from it. Now that the results are available, the blueprints that have emerged can not only be expanded, but also be 'rolled out'. The outcomes are currently pooled together and processed to make them accessible to all stakeholders as a kind of assembly instruction for the next phase of the energy transition. Some time next year, these results should be available on the SINTEG website (www.sinteg.de), which already offers readers an exciting overview of all the showcases and projects and explains about many of the technical solutions that have been found.
But SINTEG has not only brought together many important pieces of the energy transition. It has also given rise to a network of hundreds of experts (in German only) that is to continue to exist and thrive even after the end of the programme. You can consult the ‘who-is-who’ section on the website to find the expert you’re looking for at wirSINTEG.de. The ResearchGate platform has a list of scientific publications from all five SINTEG showcases, all accessible via links (bit.ly/SINTEG-RG). LinkedIn also has a SINTEG communications channel for energy professionals.
When SINTEG launched, many of the projects had a futuristic ring to them, but now, a lot of these technologies are within reach and need to be ready to to be deployed in the very near future. After all, our energy system is changing at rapid speed. The past four years have led to many new important incentives for change – including the phase-out of coal, the Federal Government's National Hydrogen Strategy, the revision of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) (in German only), and carbon pricing for the heat and transport sectors. At the European level, Germany wants to use its Presidency of the Council of the EU to make headway on joint offshore wind farms (in German only) and the frameworks for decarbonising the natural gas sector and for forming international energy partnerships centred on hydrogen.