Digitalization and Sector Coupling for the Energy Transition

by Vivian Bullinger | 29.11.2021

The advantages of sector coupling and digitization seem obvious for a successful energy transition: decentralized, intelligently networked generation, and load units act with and among each other. Sectors such as storage, heating and cooling, and mobility are interconnected and used more intelligently thanks to digitization.

It all sounds very promising, but there are points that make you wonder:

  • What about cost distribution?
  • Who stores what data and how can the end user benefit?
  • How can sector coupling be further advanced?
  • Where are the success factors for sector coupling to help support the energy transition?

In our two expert panels, we discuss these points with industry experts and provide possible answers to these and other questions.

We had the pleasure of welcoming the following talk guests:

  • Prof. Dr. Volker Quaschning, University of Applied Sciences HTW Berlin
  • Markus Eberhard, BKW Switzerland, Head of Digital
  • Simon Schweda, EnBw - Virtual Power Plant, Chief Product Officer
  • Holger Schroth, Solar-Log GmbH, Chief Product Officer.
  • Michael Fuhs, pv magazine, Editor-in-Chief

Solar-Log / pv magazine

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Achieving Climate Targets requires Sector Coupling and Digitization

Prof. Dr. Volker Quaschning gives a brief insight into the current situation of solar energy in Germany. He shows what the path must look like in order to comply with the Paris climate agreement. The goals are clearly defined: If the 1.5 degree target is to be met, the world must be climate neutral by 2044. At 1.7 degrees of global warming, it would then be the year 2054 by which global CO2 emissions must have been stopped.

Since Germany has a very high per capita consumption of CO2, we would have to be climate neutral by 2029 to allow a maximum of 1.5 degrees of global warming. At 1.7 degrees of warming, we would have until 2039. To achieve these goals, an extreme increase in the expansion of renewable energies is necessary.

Once this has been achieved, the available energy must be used intelligently. Sector coupling is the keyword here. Battery storage, heat, and mobility are urgently needed components that use the electricity and must be intelligently networked. Digitalization comes into play in the networking and control of the individual sectors. Through it, there will be solutions that direct, distribute and effectively consume electricity. Until then, however, there are still many challenges. And these are not just technical. One of the biggest, according to Prof. Dr. Quaschning, will be the shortage of skilled workers.

Smart Flexibility - Adding Value Through Flexibility as a Resource

In his presentation, Markus Eberhard from BKW in Switzerland outlines possible solutions for bundling the energy from many decentralized PV systems into a virtual power plant. Intelligent load and energy management is needed for the virtual power plant. One of the problems, which is already apparent, is that various groups (grid operators, owners of the plant, operators of the plant) are pursuing different goals and are meeting such ideas with reticence.

A general reluctance on the part of the players means there is a risk that third parties will take up the issue and jump into this gap in the market - such as the automotive industry. The energy industry is now challenged to find solutions together with the stakeholders.

The success of smart load and energy management will also depend on how easy it is to implement the solutions. The challenge is that the systems must be open so that regulation and flexible use are possible. In addition, the technology must be cost-effective. Systems that can control loads do exist, however lack sufficient speed of system control, and a willingness to open the control system to the outside world, among other things,.

Let's Burst the Artificial Bubble

Simon Schweda, Chief Product Officer at EnBw - Virtual Power Plant, starts his short presentation with this headline. His thesis: Consistently implemented direct marketing helps significantly with the energy transition.

The current market situation does not exploit the full potential of renewable energies. The solutions are not geared to small plants, which account for a large share of electricity generation. The whole system is far too static. Every PV plant still stores electricity at the same price, regardless of whether peak loads are present or not. The grid operator thus offers the plant operator no incentive for intelligent solutions that could prevent the load peaks. With this system, negative electricity prices can occur, for example at midday. The grid operator thus makes a loss, which affects the EEG levy and is paid by everyone. These peaks also lead to curtailments because the grids are not sufficiently developed. This means that energy is lost that is actually needed - just at different times.

One solution is for each plant to sell its electricity to a direct marketer. The midday peaks can be predicted very well thanks to weather forecasts. In this context, market value and market premium provide incentives that shift peak loads. For example, by using battery storage that tends to be charged at midday, when there is less payment for the electricity than in the afternoon, for example.

In practice, the generators themselves should control the system. The incentive for this is the price, which is passed on to the system operator by the electricity exchange. Digitalization supports the plant operator with intelligent energy management.

From Monitoring to Intelligence in Sector Coupling

Holger Schroth, Chief Product Officer at Solar-Log GmbH, shows the development of Solar-Log in recent years. The path is increasingly leading from a pure monitoring tool to an intelligent energy management system. Among other things, string monitoring, MPP tracker monitoring, inverter monitoring, battery storage, direct marketing, self-consumption control, and feed-in management are now part of the Solar-Log portfolio.

The expansion of functionality does not come without an increase in complexity. Thus, new challenges arise with the introduction of the new application areas. For example, the user has to deal with a higher number of different errors. "Convenience" is a major issue for the manufacturer in this regard. Solar-Log offers the user support to quickly find a solution in the event of a problem. The user of the energy management system is even more involved. Leaner processes, user-friendly and clever intelligence creates added value for the customer and support.

But why does Solar-Log offer more than just monitoring? On the one hand this is demanded by the market development, on the other hand Solar-Log wants to make full use of its know-how from over 300,000 PV plants worldwide and offer the customer more added value. This creates bridges, such as to direct marketing. Here Solar-Log already offers solutions for virtually all requirements in the area of direct marketing of PV electricity. Further steps are being taken towards intelligent control of PV energy in the home, also with a view to e-mobility.

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