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Smart City Rheintal: a project leader’s view

I recently blogged about the Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in the Smart City region of Rheintal. I’ve now had the opportunity to talk to the manager of the Rheintal project, Dipl.-Ing. Christian Eugster.

STEFANIE PEITZKER Mr. Eugster, how important is the VPP for the region?

CHRISTIAN EUGSTER Our region is in an ideal situation to achieve the “CO2-free energy autonomy” goal by 2050. The VPP is an important component of that, since it’s the best way to align energy generation and demand. We can store energy in pump storage facilities, and now the VPP is giving us smart ways to set up the energy system of the future for Vorarlberg – geared toward what people here need and will accept.

How is the VPP integrated in the region?

Don’t forget that the VPP is a software system that runs in the background. People are aware of it and its advantages only if we actively communicate that information. One of the few direct points of contact we have is when car-sharing customers use an app to benefit from optimized charge management.

We kicked things off with our extensive fleet of electric vehicles, making sure that the EVs were integrated into the VPP. This involved two things – finding the best way to integrate the vehicles as consumers, and seeing to it that their batteries get used as “storage capacity on wheels.” To do this we have to ensure that first, the VPP communicates with the vehicles; second, that vehicles can be connected and disconnected; and third, that the charging process can be managed.

What role does the VPP play in the project?

The guiding principle for all initiatives that are part of the Smart City Rheintal project is this major goal of achieving energy autonomy. Since the VPP is a key element in connection with this principle, it serves as a common theme that runs through all three innovation fields. Right now, we think integrating our extensive EV fleet into the smart grid will yield great benefit.

What would you say is the main benefit of the VPP?

In Vorarlberg, hydroelectric power takes to a great extend care of the base load. So unlike in other regions, we’re not talking about using additional renewables to generate base load power.

Our focus is squarely on integrating the many small, pre-existing producers into the overall system to achieve the “CO2-free energy autonomy” goal – without having to build additional infrastructure. The way to do this is to use smart systems such as the VPP.

Taken together, even small consumers such as washing machines could have a massive impact on a Vorarlberg smart grid.

What avenues do you think the VPP will open up – in the region and for the project, the residents, and the goal of energy autonomy?

One of our top priorities is to get a better sense of user behavior – especially when it comes to EV drivers. That’s why it’s important for us to keep refining the forecasting and optimization methods we use in conjunction with the VPP. We want to use the VPP to start or stop the charging process for vehicles at integrated wall boxes without causing users any inconvenience whatsoever – this is absolutely essential.

We’re also gradually integrating household consumers that are involved in load management into the VPP – for example, in the new housing developments in Hard. The idea is to then turn these on and off like we do the EVs and EV batteries, depending on whether enough electrical energy is available.

Finally, we’re working on pooling performance data for the PV facilities involved and to adopt it in real time. Then the VPP checks how high demand is – whenever there’s not enough demand for what’s currently being produced, it triggers additional connected consumers or activates storage options.

What’s going to happen once the project is finished? How deeply is the VPP embedded in the region?

Once the project is over, we will be looking at how to put the VPP into regular operation and establish it in the region.

The work going into developing VPP systems is a vital step towards energy autonomy and a new renewable energy economy. We have to complete the transition to renewable energy generation. It won’t happen overnight, but we have to think about it now. That way, we can find solutions to steadily increase the share of the renewables we use and integrate the consumers without exceeding supply. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to what pays off today, but also keep an eye on what makes sense for the future. That’s the challenge we’re facing.

In the future, storage of electrical energy will be especially important. Assuming that electromobility will continue to spread, vehicle batteries will be a crucial component in the energy grids of tomorrow.

Who are you working with? What role can Bosch expect to have?

Our recipe for success is having partners from property development as well as industry. Bosch Software Innovations (now Bosch.IO) is working with Vorarlberger Kraftwerke (VKW) and the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences on reaping the full benefits of the VPP by the end of June 2015.

More information on smart grids in smart cities

Field report: A virtual power plant for the Smart City Rheintal.

Smart City Rheintal: Connecting the grid with the internet.

Berlin's grid is smart.

Stromnetz Berlin puts Bosch.IO (formerly Bosch Software Innovations) IT system into operation.