Originally published on CleanTechnica.
There’s an exciting project currently underway in the northern German city of Hamburg, being carried out by the German energy and IT company LichtBlick: An apartment building is being transformed into a power plant. There’s a photovoltaics system on the roof, a combined heat and power unit and a storage battery in the cellar, and two electric cars in front of the building. The residents can therefore produce, consume, and store electricity and heat themselves on-site. The IT platform for the energy transition, LichtBlick ‘SchwarmDirigent,’ optimizes the individual distributed systems and storage units.
A New Energy Era
In the future, the energy world will comprise many distributed generation systems such as photovoltaics systems and combined heat and power units. Today’s electricity customer will be both the consumer and producer. LichtBlick assumes the role of director of these distributed systems. They need to be coordinated in such a way that electricity can be consumed and produced at the same time as far as possible and that energy storage is flexible enough to be able to react to the fluctuations associated with the generation of renewable energy.
Internal Production, Internal Consumption, and E-mobility
Therefore, projects like the 3E apartment buildings are so important for the success of the energy transition. 3E is an abbreviation for the three core aspects of the research project: internal production (Eigenerzeugung), internal consumption (Eigenverbrauch), and e-mobility (Elektromobilität). For the most part, it’s an issue of simultaneous energy production and consumption. All of the elements in the building are primarily optimized to promote maximum internal consumption. While we can’t control the sun, we can for instance control the combined heat and power (CHP) unit. We focus on internal consumption in the building and power exchange prices and optimize the CHP unit accordingly.
LichtBlick developed the IT platform ‘SchwarmDirigent’ — a swarm management system. The platform links not only local generators, storage units, and consumers to a network, but also to the energy market. The smart and flexibly generated SchwarmStrom complemented the fluctuating energy production from the wind and the sun. So we can stabilize the power grid and ensure the electricity supply in the future.
As a smart energy management system, ‘SchwarmDirigent’ plays a key role in the 3E apartment building. It basically monitors all of the external factors that have an influence on energy production and consumption in the building. In terms of the building alone, that includes the forecast heat requirements and electricity consumption, the state of the charge and reservations of the electric car. Factors outside of the building are weather forecasts. And in terms of the electricity market, ‘SchwarmDirigent’ monitors power exchange prices and, when there’s excess energy in the building and power exchange prices are high, can sell it on the exchange rather than storing it.
Electric Cars as Mobile Storage
As a manageable consumer, the electric car is part of the building as well as a storage unit for the electricity produced in the building.
The residents can use the cars as part of a carsharing program. Using an app, they reserve the car and specify directly when they need it and how much of a charge they require. This information is passed on directly to the ‘SchwarmDirigent’ cluster management system. Ideally we can be relatively flexible in how they manage the car battery. For instance, if the car is reserved for 6:00 pm at 11:00 am and the charging period is at most two hours, we can be flexible about when it is charged – preferably while the sun is shining and there’s excess electricity in the building.
Another advantage: The pace of e-mobility adoption in Germany can be accelerated by integrating the electric vehicle into a smartly managed mini-swarm, because this reduces the cost of electricity for driving as well – a key incentive to purchase an electric car. Finally, the German Federal Government would like to bring by 2020 one million electric cars on the road.
A Contribution to the Energy Transition
But above all is the importance of the SchwarmHaus for the energy transition. At the 3E apartment buildings, renewable electricity is generated on site, meaning major power plants are no longer required for generating electricity. This also reduces the strain on the power grid, as energy is produced and consumed at basically the same time. Buildings can even support the grid, as the managed combined heat and power units can feed electricity into the grid as required.
The research project has brought the future much closer – all of the components that are used here are already mass-produced and sold. We would like to get started with pilot projects as soon as possible after the research phase, so we can make the 3E apartment building accessible to a larger market.
The research project will be completed in 2016 and is supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. Scientists from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung Heidelberg GmbH, ifeu) are supporting the project. They are conducting an environmental performance analysis of the mini-swarm and are examining the role that such localized systems might play in future as part of the energy reform.