A living lab for energy efficiency

 

In a nutshell

Aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside was planned as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and convenient model town with a focus on sustainability and also acts as a living lab to investigate innovative approaches in the energy supply sector. In scientific collaboration with AIT, the ‘Smart City demo project’ includes exploring the use of renewable energy and new solutions to boost energy efficiency. How should our future energy systems be designed so that power generated from residential photovoltaics systems can be sold on the market for a profit? How can power grids be adapted to these new challenges? How can we persuade people to use energy efficiently? There is a long list of unanswered research questions relating to the future of municipal energy supplies which can now be addressed in a practical setting for the first time.

As a pioneer

In the future of municipal energy supplies, aspern Vienna’s Urban Lakeside is designed as a ‘smart urban district’ where the concept of sustainable living and business can be implemented on a large scale. An ambitious project which requires a fundamental redesign of the urban energy system. The ‘Aspern Smart City Demo Project’ has been allocated 3.7 million euros of funding from the Austrian Climate and Energy Fund to investigate the big issues in the future of urban energy using real data for the first time. AIT provides scientific support for this project led by the research company Aspern Smart City Research GmbH & Co KG (ASCR). “Aspern offers us the ideal conditions for research, demonstration, testing and optimisation of new technologies and methods in the smart city sector,” says Friederich Kupzog, Senior Scientist at the AIT Energy Department. “We will make use of the findings from this project to optimise the operating and control strategies for buildings and power grids and to devise new user interaction approaches to enhance energy efficiency”.

Balancing supply and demand

Sustainable energy systems can only be developed by connecting buildings and low voltage networks via smart information and communications technology. The fact that this issue has gained in significance is due to the expected changes taking place on the electricity market. While electricity generation can easily be controlled at present due to the dominance of large-scale power stations, this flexibility is declining due to an increase in renewable energy sources within the network. It is therefore anticipated that supply and demand will not remain in balance in the future. So how can a balanced system be achieved under these conditions? “If renewable energy accounts for 50% of power, we can only achieve this balance by better adapting energy consumption to supply,” says Friederich Kupzog.

Tailor-made incentives

And how should individual energy consumption be managed? “In order to answer this question, we first need to identify user behaviour using smart power meters and data on room temperature, indoor air quality etc.” says the expert. In this way, the researchers can filter out the various types of energy user. “For data protection reasons, the households participating in this survey expressly agree that their (anonymised) data are used for research purposes,” Friederich Kupzog says by way of reassurance. Drawing on information about energy saving options as well as incentives and dynamic tariff models, it should be possible to guide users towards more energy efficient behaviour in the future. A smartphone or tablet, for example, could be used to inform residents when energy costs are low, thereby indicating the optimal time to recharge an e-bike or electric car. ‘Home automation’ is the name for this future trend which seeks to combine comfort with energy efficiency. One example already in existence is the use of remote control systems to manage lighting and heating via a smartphone. In the Aspern project, researchers want to find out which system solutions might be accepted. Do financial incentives actually work? Which control and communication interfaces are used and to what extent – from apps to email services and internet portals?

Buildings as commercial energy providers

In the smart cities of the future, buildings as well as residents need to operate in an energy-efficient manner. “Given their high level of electricity consumption, buildings offer substantial potential for influencing consumer behaviour,” says Florian Judex, AIT Scientist in the Business Unit for Sustainable Buildings and Cities. Smart building management systems are able to identify anticipated energy requirements during the course of the day and year, taking account of weather conditions and optimise energy consumption accordingly. Since buildings can also produce their own solar energy and store this energy until needed, they should be able to offer any surplus power on the market. The building therefore needs a ‘Building Energy Management System’ (BEMS) which communicates with a so-called ‘Energy Pool Manager’ – for example an energy utility. “This ‘Energy Pool Manager’ forms the interface between the building and the electricity exchange,” Friederich Kupzog explains. The BEMS compiles energy consumption forecasts for the building at regular intervals and uses these predictions to calculate the building’s power reserves.

Lean and versatile Networks

The fundamental pre-requisites for the involvement of these small-scale private suppliers on the energy market include variable time-dependent electricity tariffs, making the sale of surplus energy financially interesting, as well as smart power grids. But what does this mean specifically? “Since it has long been possible to predict consumer behaviour very accurately, energy networks have been planned in accordance with standard profiles,” the expert explains. “In future, the consumer side will become more dynamic, so that we will require a new planning approach for the networks”. While the networks were previously dimensioned for worst case scenarios, which rarely occurred, smart grids should be less elaborate yet still enable intervention as and when required – for example by managing the energy storage capacity of buildings to balance out peak loads. “This means that the network can be designed more efficiently,” says Kupzog.Savings made in construction should be invested in network operation because the status of the network needs to be constantly monitored in order to implement any required measures. The great scientific challenge here is to reconcile the conflicting interests of the overall system and the local networks using an autonomous control algorithm and to integrate them into appropriate market models. Information and communication technology naturally plays a key role in all of these complex network and digitisation processes. It is used to gather the measurement data and interpret this data using business analytics methods. “Assessing energy data using this approach is relatively new,” says Friederich Kupzog. “And during the Aspern project, we will see whether it proves to be successful”.

There from the start

One key factor in the success of the approaches outlined above is their acceptance by residents. The research project also addresses this fact: “Acceptance can only be achieved if the technical implementation reflects user requirements,” says Senior Scientist Peter Fröhlich of the AIT Innovation Systems Department. “Acceptance is the fundamental pre-requisite for the lasting and sustainable use of these systems.” In order to adapt the new technologies and systems to user requirements, users are involved in the design process from the outset. The concepts and ideas developed are constantly being tested by people from the target group in order to identify problems as early as possible. The new approaches are also subjected to a comprehensive reality check as part of a one-year field test and then optimised for practical use. “This ensures that user requirements are incorporated directly into the production development process and only those concepts with a high level of relevance and acceptance are implemented,” says Peter Fröhlich.