It takes a village

Overview graphic Altdorf Flex-Market

The Altdorf Flex-Market project provides a platform for trading flex options. For example, the owner of a storage heater can make their system available to the grid operator as a flex option to absorb excess power from the grid and avoid grid congestion. (Copyright: FfE)

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How a flexibility platform is easing the burden on the power grid

In the Bavarian village of Altdorf, the Research Center for Energy Economics (FfE e. V.) and the regional grid operator Bayernwerk have teamed up to test a digital platform for trading flex options, including power from private PV systems, battery storage systems and electric vehicles. The grid operator can use these options to ease the burden on the grid when bottlenecks arise.

When Franz Huber charges his electric car with solar power from his neighbor Alois Mayr’s roof one sunny day, both men are potential participants in the Altdorf Flex-Market (ALF). That’s because both men have something valuable to contribute to the energy transition: flexibility or a flex option. This concept refers to adjustable devices for the production, consumption or storage of energy that can be turned on and off via an external signal.

When more power is needed, but production is variable, as is the case with wind and solar power, an additional burden is placed on the grid and congestion may increase. “For example, power generation may at times exceed grid capacity. In this case, power produced by photovoltaic installations can no longer be fed into the grid. Rather than allow this power to go to waste, it could be used to charge the battery of an electric vehicle or run a heat pump,” explains Thomas Estermann, a scientist at the Research Center for Energy Economics (FfE) in Munich.

In Altdorf, located around 80 km northeast of Munich, FfE is teaming up with Bayernwerk to field test the design and implementation of a flexibility platform. The project is known as the Altdorf Flex-Market (ALF) and is part of the C/sells joint project, which aims to optimize energy distribution by making use of intelligent grids. With ALF, the scientists are trying out a concept that allows distribution grid operators to avoid grid congestion by capitalizing on existing flex options. These options include PV and wind power stations, co-generation power plants, water power, heat pumps, storage heating, electric vehicles, battery storage systems and industrial, trade and commercial loads.

Reducing grid congestion leads to lower costs

If electrical loads and power generators can successfully be switched on and off as needed, grid capacity can be better utilized and feed-in and consumption peaks can be reduced. Distribution grid operators won’t need to rely on emergency measures as often, which will in turn lower costs and stabilize grid charges. Grid expansion won’t need to be as extensive and the production of renewable energy won’t need to be capped as often.

The FfE’s project is directed at households, but also at small and medium-sized companies. “Bakeries, for example, are often already equipped with an energy management system and are familiar with their energy consumption. Businesses can often easily offer flex options as well. When we reach participants of this size, it becomes possible to effectively relieve the burden on local grids,” explains Andreas Zeiselmair, another scientist involved in the project.

Making flex options available online

ALF offers a trading platform that brings together grid operators and flex providers – i.e. those who own, operate or market flex options. Flex providers can post their offers on the platform or designate their flex options for use if they choose not to actively market their system. Many prosumers offer their flex options at different prices, similar to an auction, explains Simon Köppl of the FfE. “When a grid operator identifies congestion in their grid, they report their requirements to the Altdorf Flex-Market. An intelligent algorithm then determines which offers can best meet these needs. Armed with this information, trading can commence!” Limits imposed by grid operators ensure that utilizing flex options does not create new bottlenecks.

By offering flexibility, prosumers not only make an active contribution to the energy transition and support regional markets, they also enjoy economic benefits. Not only can they use their energy systems to generate additional revenue, they have access to further options for marketing their electricity. The additional income means that their systems pay for themselves more quickly.

Every little bit counts

The barriers to entry for participants are low, so that even small players such as the owners and operators of PV installations or small co-generation power plants in multi-family dwellings can take part. “In principle, every generation technology is welcome,” says Köppl. “On the consumer side, we are thinking of electric vehicles but also electric heat generators, such as heat pumps or storage heaters.” Domestic appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers are not accepted. “For one thing, the relief they provide to the grid is relatively limited. For another, no one is interested in being told when they can run their dishwasher or do their laundry,” his project team member Estermann adds.

Anyone with an appropriate system who is interested in participating in the project will receive intelligent metering equipment with a smart meter gateway to transmit data, as well as a control box to regulate the system. They must also register their flex option on the ALF platform. For small systems that aren’t actively marketed – such as heat pumps, small PV installations or electric storage heaters – the ALF platform automatically generates offers once the system has been successfully released for use. Those interested in offering larger actively marketed systems must provide the platform with a schedule.

No need for cold showers

A visualization tool supplies participants with all of the information they need. “For example, their screen may read: Another flexibility auction will be held today. Your flex option will be offered. Participants will also be informed whether or not their flex option has actually been called up,” says Zeiselmair, explaining how participation in the flexibility market will work in practice. Current information about solar and temperature forecasts will also be available. There’s no need for participants to worry about sacrificing comfort. “If someone makes their heat pump available on the flexibility market, obviously this doesn’t mean they will have to take cold showers,” assures Zeiselmair. Systems are only available as flex options when they aren’t actively needed by the operator.

The field test of the Altdorf Flex-Market began early this year and will continue until mid-2020. The results are intended to serve as a model solution that – scaled accordingly – can be broadly implemented and will ultimately become a core component of the energy system.

By Simone Pabst


For more information, please visit: FfE