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Best practice case study: A neighborly grid

Diagram of the energy community

In an energy community, prosumers and consumers work together with the goal of generating and consuming as much of their own electrical energy as possible. They are assisted by digital technologies. (Copyright: GreenCom Networks)

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IT company forms a local energy community

In Brunnthal, not far from Munich, the IT company GreenCom Networks is seeking to prove that a whole municipality can power itself independently and completely free of carbon emissions. This will involve prosumers sharing their self-generated electrical energy with the town’s other inhabitants. Digital technologies will take care of grid balancing, usage optimization, and billing for power. The project should serve as a model for customers worldwide.

“Small but mighty” German towns are becoming a launchpad for new, environmentally friendly technologies. All eyes may be on the future Tesla factory in Grünheide outside of Berlin, but the IT company GreenCom Networks is hoping to make something just as groundbreaking happen in Brunnthal, 20 km south of Munich. “We want to offer the integrated solution of a carbon-neutral community to our customers worldwide using our digital technology,” says Dr. Felix Grolman, CCO of GreenCom Networks. The idea is that the local residents – in Brunnthal, approximately 5,000 people – will generate as much renewable power as possible themselves and also, most importantly, use it themselves. To make this a reality, the home energy management (HEM) and energy IoT company is using its energy service brand “shine” to create and market a local energy community. The Brunnthal project will be initiated at the end of the year and the municipal council has already given it the green light for the integration of public buildings.

Sharing is rewarded with bonuses

Within the community, both consumers and prosumers who own decentralized systems can share energy with each other. shine will optimize the community’s consumption-generation balance, for instance if one household’s PV installation generates more electricity than is needed there in a given moment while an electric car is charging at the neighboring home. In addition to the normal feed-in tariff, prosumers who feed self-generated power into the grid will receive a bonus of 1 euro cent/kWh when this energy is consumed by the community. The residents of Brunnthal who use the power generated on-site – be it for charging their electric cars or a battery storage system, or operating a heat pump or their washer-dryer – will all receive a discount of 3 euro cents per kWh from the community for their contribution to grid stability. shine will purchase any additionally needed energy from the energy exchange since the provider doesn’t operate its own power plants. “But it will all be green energy from hydropower, solar power and wind power,” Grolman affirms.

Digital technologies connect participants

To make sure the energy community works, GreenCom is installing smart meters and a gateway for data transfer and communication in all participants’ homes. A digital energy management system will gather and analyze all of the data, enabling the company to track how much electricity is being fed into the grid and how much is needed where, all in real time. To make this possible, GreenCom is using its own pre-existing software products and developing some of them even further. With its energy information brokerage platform “eibp,” the company already has an established platform for integrating and controlling decentralized systems, such as solar inverters, CHP plants, heat pumps, storage heaters, battery storage systems and even charging stations for electric cars. GreenCom’s eibp:boost HEM solution optimizes energy flows and also provides end customers with tailored forecasts, analyses and reports on their own decentralized systems all in a single app. With eibp:mesh, the IT service provider has developed technology for connecting members of the community and optimizing energy flows in the power grid. This way, users can also see how much energy is being generated by the community at any given time and how much is being consumed. And eibp:empower makes it possible to set utility rates, calculate the bonuses and automate invoicing.

Thanks to the intelligent control of electricity flows, the burden on the grid is effectively lightened. The challenges associated with the energy transition can also be met with ease. “If five Teslas are parked on one street and they all need to be charged at the same time, then the network operator would normally need to dig up the road to lay a new cable,” Grolman offers as an example. “But with our technology, all five Teslas can be charged without the need for a new cable. For example, they can be plugged in overnight and automatically charged at different times according to the current demand so that they’re all ready to go by the morning.”

System assists in planning new CHP plants and PV installations

So far, the community’s on-site power generation has been moderate. Grolman reports that the town has around 2,500 households plus various industrial companies, and 200 solar installations offering a total 3,200 kWp of power output. There are also some biogas and CHP plants. At the start, nearly 90 percent of the power will have to be purchased from other sources. But this should change over time, in part thanks to the energy use data collected in the community. “Using this data, we can find out which part of Brunnthal requires the most electricity during the day and consider building a solar installation there.” Moreover, setting up combined heat and power plants close to businesses could also prove useful, Grolman says. Despite Brunnthal’s limited use of renewable energies to date, the town offers one major advantage as the location of the energy community – the CEO of GreenCom Networks Christian Feißt lives there.

GreenCom says it won’t initially earn revenue with the community. “We’re paying for it out of our own pocket because we want to show that a model like this one is worth it,” CCO Grolman explains. The project is meant to act as a showcase for potential customers to demonstrate that the system works. The company doesn’t plan to earn anything until it initiates a second phase where it will offer the full package of an energy community as a service. “As a software company, we can scale up our system times a million,” says Grolman. But they would need partners. They believe they can realistically expect a little under one hundred municipalities to make the switch to this system in the next five years.

For now, Grolman is just concerned with initiating the digital energy transition in Brunnthal. He has not ventured an estimate as to when the municipality will be 100 percent reliant on green energy. “We can only set incentives; we can’t make the decision for anyone else.” However, Grolman hopes that Brunnthal will be able to cover at least half of its electricity demand on its own within the next five to eight years.

By Simone Pabst

 

For more information, please visit: GreenCom Networks

Visit GreenCom Networks at booth C4.250 at EM-Power 2020 to talk to the company and find out more.