As the energy market is rapidly changing, due to the massive growth of electricity produced from renewable energy sources, the growing number of prosumers and uprising technologies as Electric vehicles, new concepts of how energy will be distributed by the grids are needed. This challenge needs to be faced by both the governments and the utility companies. The European Union is funding several research programs to foster pilot projects that might bring a solution and to keep the position as an innovator. The Horizon2020 initiative consists of several projects, all related to innovative research within the field of the future energy grids. INVADE, one of the Horizon 2020 projects aims to establish a flexibility management platform (cloud based, a so-called flexibility operator).

In March, mgm was invited to a workshop hosted by Smart Innovation Norway in Oslo, who are in charge of the INVADE project. Within the workshop, we wanted to determine if there is need for a flexibility operator (FO), what might be future stakeholders and challenges for a FO and how business models related to the platform could look like. Besides mgm, there were experts invited from the fields of smart grid, smart cities, flexibility operators, blockchain, energy storage, carpooling and smart charging. The main focus of the workshop though, was the role electric vehicles could play in this scenario.

During the first half of the day, various speakers presented their view on the topic how and why there is the need for an orchestration of the available flexibility capabilities. The presentations varied from the introduction of pilot projects of the invade project, to startups presenting their potential business models. The president of Electric Vehicle Union speaking about the future of electric driving and consulting companies giving insights into research on the future development of the energy sector.

The major challenges for smart grid identified by the participants are

  • The energy grid is old
  • Monitoring the grid is expensive
  • An EV consumes as much energy as a household
  • The European law is just not flexible enough

For us, in this case from an e-mobility perspective, it was very interesting to understand, the role Electric Vehicles (EV) will play as a flexibility option within a smart grid. Most experts in the workshop see EVs as a necessary and flexible storage opportunity for smart grid. However, the cars may pose challenges and will have a remarkable impact on the smart grid:

Imagining 40% of the population in Germany driving electric vehicles in the future and all of them going to work at 9:00 am and coming back home at 5:00 pm. Meaning, most EV drivers charge their car during the night, stop charging at home at 8:00 am and start charging at home at 5:00 pm. Without a huge investment in the grid extension, the aging local grid infrastructure will have troubles balancing the energy flow and is facing the threat of breakdowns in certain parts.

Other experts see the above-mentioned challenges as minor issues, which can be mitigated by an intermediate function that regulates the start of the charging processes by small delays. For example, if all EV drivers in a specific street start the charging process at the same time, the intermediate will delay the actual energy flow of some EVs and hence prevent a potential break down.

The flexibility operator can act in this scenario as an intermediary that balances the overrun or the deficit in the grid by trading energy. Hence, the FO also acts as an aggregator for companies or communities producing energy (via PVs or Windmill) and resending energy into the grid. The FO has two possibilities: 1. The FO can trade (forward) the energy to companies or industries, planning to consume a lot of energy during the next days; or 2. The FO can store the excessive energy in batteries (e.g. electric vehicles).

Of course, the initial question was not fully answered within a day. Nevertheless, it became quite clear that a transformation in the grid is needed, if the usage of renewable energy and electric vehicles will increase, while not having sufficient storage capabilities.

Image source: Fotolia – Thorsten Schier