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InteGrid – the role of flexibility

In the first year, InteGrid’s global architecture and uses cases were completed and soon public deliverables will be available in InteGrid’s website. From its four uses-cases groups (Grid-operations; grid and market-hub, grid users and energy services) we choose to focus this newsletter on a daily application of this ambitious project: flexibility provided by buildings’ heating systems.

Heating systems are really interesting for grid users, operators and market players, since they actually are a potential flexibility provider for grid operational and planning and market purposes. In this second newsletter, partners KTH, EDP CNET with EDP Comercial, will give you InteGrid’s perspective on this subject.

“Flexibility is attained by modifying consumption to get better revenues, without losing comfort, i.e., Quality of Service (QoS)”- as defines José Miguel, EDP CNET’s collaborator in InteGrid project.
“In fact, heat and air conditioning systems in office buildings can be considered as potential flexibility providers, through their thermal inertia, helping to balance the grid so that we get smaller energy portfolio deviations and smaller node peaks”- explain Pedro Costa and João Duarte from EDP Comercial (EDP C).

Having a balanced grid is something we all benefit from – customers, grid operators and, not least, the environment. “This is not a new subject, but in InteGrid we go one step further, as both technical and human factors are addressed for the purpose of bridging the gap between citizens, technologies and solution providers – an important challenge that have kept utilities, academia and research institutes and technology companies busy for a decade.”- reminds Hossein Shahrokni, KTH- Royal Institute of Technology’s project manager. - “When we talk about citizens, our main concern goes to end users. Having them engaged in this challenge is of particular importance, since many smart grid roll-outs somehow depend on the end users, whether having them actively participating to provide flexibility, or just having them being aware of the fact that their building serves as a flexibility provider for the grid.”

Thermal inertia, buildings, grid, market players…
- In practice, how do we help an office building owner and their tenants to commit to providing long-term flexibility?

- What measurable benefits comes to large consumers from shifting their consumption?

- How does one establish some flexibility trade-off criteria for consumers?

- Do tenants need to be aware of flexibility selling for this shifting to work? What can they earn from it?

- How does one coordinate DSOs, retailers and consumers to have an efficient Demand Side Management (DSM) response?

- How long can consumer-retailer engagement be?

These are questions whose answers lay in the three InteGrid partners past experiences.

Partner focus – KTH, CNET and EDP Comercial

KTH is Sweden's oldest and largest technical university – and its campus just celebrated its centennial. KTH is bringing to the InteGrid project its novel approaches to increase residential user engagement. This involves R&D experience in large scale projects such as Urban Smart Grid, Active House, Smart City SRS and Citizen Communication Platform. Most recently, KTH and a large national consortium are setting the research and innovation agenda for Sweden in a new program called Viable Cities.
However, in relation to the business case set forth, KTH's research group UrbanT also conducts research on the relationship between big data and large scale energy production and consumption systems. One of these projects involves hundreds of millions of data points to determine the energy signature of most buildings in the City of Stockholm. This work is then directed to inform tailored retrofitting policies on a large scale, as well as informing the control of the district heating grid by assessing each blocks and regions collective thermal inertia. This is helpful information for the coldest hours of the year, so that, instead of increasing peak load through burners and pumps’ activation, the energy utility can reduce flow to certain regions of the grid, to allow a maintained thermal comfort to the most exterior parts of the grid.

EDP Comercial (EDP C) shares both an energy retailer and an ESCo player perspective in both Portugal and Spain. The work with industry and services segments brought in experience in energy efficiency projects and energy management platforms. Due to continuous learning in those areas, EDP C holds knowledge about consumption profiles and efficiency opportunities that can be leveraged through analytics. The automation side of energy management is the natural way to enhance the savings in business clients.
Thermal inertia has been one of the key models studied and analysed by EDP C, when aggregating and offering its customers’ flexibility. In fact, EDP C has carried out theoretical work regarding daily temperature evolution in small business premises. Also, due to the experience in energy management platforms, EDP C has, for several times, adjusted the yearly consumption profile prediction in order to get smaller deviations and, therefore, manage to get a lower electricity price to some industrial clients. Finally, the intelligence brought in by EDP C's energy management platform (alerts, outline behaviour detection, to name the most relevant) to a major Portuguese retail company has allowed that client to autonomously play with thermal inertia, getting stable yearly energy savings.

EDP CNET has also experienced in SENSIBLE, Sharing Cities, BestRES and other EU H2020 projects, similar challenges. The work carried out in these projects, from smart grids to energy management, led EDP CNET’s fourteen people team to acquire knowledge in the energy value chain, adopting an integrated and sustainable approach towards disruptive solutions that empower its partners and bring value to its shareholders. As one of several examples, one can take the experience acquired in Portuguese demonstrator of Sensible Project, which has inbuilt in EDP CNET knowledge to ease the link between grid, retailers and consumers, paving the way to an energy landscape driven by three pillars: decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation. Also, the role of active consumers offering flexibility, which has already great importance granted, is leading to new business models. This is one of the areas where EDP CNET is putting much R&D effort, as the case of Buildings approaching grid operators, for flexibility offer, can illustrate.

The Challenge

Although much experience is already granted by the partners, for having buildings offering flexibility and other services to the grid, national regulations should enable it. There are still countries where there is not a regulatory framework suited for the participation of aggregators, ESCOs and retailers in ancillary services market. Also, the problem of having different regulatory constraints in different countries, leads to different business models, which impact in value for the stakeholders. Nevertheless, buildings are large areas, wherever they are. Inside them, the temperature will depend on several factors, as, for instance, the number of occupants, hours of solar radiation, outside temperature, ventilation, the building envelope, and its insulation.
All these factors lessen or strengthen building’s tendency to resist changes in temperature, known as thermal inertia. For example, insulation has a positive contribution to building’s thermal inertia. The performance of a heating system has strong dependence on variables like temperature and humidity. Thus, minor changes in the set points can lead to relevant gains in efficiency and, therefore, in energy costs. Typically, the consumption of a heating system begins to rise in early morning, returning to near zero consumption threshold in the evening. It means that most consumption occurs when energy prices are higher.

“Still, one can play with both the thermal inertia of the building and the heating system's set points providing this way a comfortable working environment for an optimal energy usage. The key for that is to actively use energy management platforms and adjust the system's set points accordingly” – states Pedro Costa. And João Duarte adds: “There are saving opportunities in playing with thermal inertia, and so the next step is to find a way to get the maximum revenue from those opportunities for both consumers and energy retailers.
Moreover, a natural path to achieve that would rely on a match between the energy needs (forecasted by the historical consumption and current climate data) and the market energy prices.”

So, what can we expect from InteGrid?

In order to achieve an effective flexibility trade, where offer and demand match without harming distribution grid safe, reliable and continuous operation, all the involved providers and procurers must easily signal all their flexibility -related availability and needs, respectively, before market participation. This is not a trivial endeavour, since it requires a harmonious integration link between all the impacted stakeholders, namely consumers, ESCOs/retailers and DSOs, that promotes a uniform exchange of information.
Giving the word to José Miguel: “We present you the Grid and Market Hub: a cloud-based solution, to be developed within InteGrid’s scope, to support the provision of services in a neutral and standardized way, between the stakeholders. This integrated environment will enable the provision of flexibility-related services, facilitating market access and allowing the emergence of new business models”.

And what about end users? “With the abovementioned Grid and Market Hub already deployed, InteGrid envisions a business model whose related flexibility trades will benefit, as previously mentioned, not only the provider of the service, but also the DSO and, mostly, the final consumer, empowered by this service”- adds José Miguel.

How can flexibility be operationalized?

“In a first stage of this process, the ESCo/Retailer will aggregate, per grid node, the available individual flexibility, like the one coming from thermal inertia, of its clients and present this information to the Grid and Market Hub. Afterwards, the ESCo/Retailer can leverage from this flexibility by activating it for optimising its portfolio, trading it in the intraday market and/or use it to provide ancillary services to the system operator.”- continues José Miguel.

Providing flexibility to the grid has empowered the consumer. Up until now, the production systems would adjust the consumption to smooth out fluctuations from renewables. But with renewables rapidly being integrated into the large-scale energy systems, the demand for grid flexibility increases significantly and, here, "active consumption" plays a vital role. A large building has a high demand on the local grid node and, therefore, if grid operation is allowed to curtail or even turn off heating and cooling loads for a short time, this will provide a great deal of needed flexibility.

In a similar sense – what if we could tap in to the dormant flexibility of residential households and apartments? This can be realized by aggregating the flexibility of a number of consumers, as described in InteGrid’ s high level use case 10, and/or helping the residents to provide the needed flexibility. One interesting way to do this is being explored in InteGrid’ s high level use case 11, where behavioural Demand Side Management is being implemented as a cost-effective alternative to engage residents. The main challenge here is, to begin with, meeting the actual needs of residents.

To enable these types of flexibility providers, the retailer needs to know their consumption profile and be able to predict it, which will be the base for consumption optimization and flexibility estimation, which, by the way, is one of the services to be advertised in Grid and Market Hub.

How can we do it then?

“The first challenge will be to explain to a broader public the new realities in the energy sector, of which flexibility is a major one. Once you are able convey the benefits of selling their thermal inertia to building portfolio owners, the key point will be to assure that each client has a way to assess how his building has provided flexibility, based on a set of strategic indicators. In the InteGrid, they are being planned to be provided online. If we also want to tap into the flexibility available in the residential markets, things become a bit harder.” - explains Hossein.

Why is that?

Continues Hossein: “Changing our everyday behaviours depends on a large number of factors. But as long as what we ask the residents is clear, makes sense in terms of benefits for them and for the society, and is easy and simple to act on, in theory – our chances for succeeding increase significantly. In the field of smart grids – we obviously have journey ahead of us - but it has luckily been done in other fields. In InteGrid we are learning from the barriers of the smart grid projects before us, and are trying to provide demand side management by first ensuring that are providing the tenants with something that they find genuinely useful in their everyday lives."

In the next newsletters, we will also dive into yet another mechanism for providing flexibility, namely Virtual Power Plants


While reducing the fossil fuel content of the global power production constitute a central mission of the Paris agreement – the increase of intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and wave power, will put a substantial strain on the balancing capacity of the grid. Since battery storage technologies still are developing and are not always cost effective compared to other fossil fuels-based balancing mechanisms, such as gas turbines, the challenge is both to make the grid more stable, by having clean reserve capacity, and, more importantly, reducing the resulting fossil fuel peaks. Talking about KTH experience in this field, Hossein complements: - “Smart grids are estimated to reduce these peak loads within 13-24 % interval and the opportunity to tap into the available thermal inertia of existing buildings is a useful and clean measure towards this reduction.”
From an economic perspective, as already mentioned, flexibility will benefit most players. Deferring grid investments in infrastructure reinforcement, by using local node flexibility, will not only decrease CAPEX but, in regulated markets, will defer funding from central government. Active users will also benefit both economically, as previously described, and socially as more jobs will be created and. Also, a more efficient use of resources is expected.

From an operational perspective, the major challenge in enabling flexibility is to reliably link several hardware components that already exist, such as meters and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), with real time action capabilities and information provided by different sources, as energy markets, climate data or even the client's consumption history itself. Internet of Things(IoT) at its best!

InteGrid is here too, building the bridges between technology, society, and citizens – towards a sustainable future.