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"By testing optimisation strategies in the homes of our members, we gain a lot of knowledge"

Nicolas Van Damme, project manager

· Blog

The REScoopVPP project is in full swing. We are currently installing our COFY-boxes in the pilot sites and the testing phase has kicked-off. In order to keep you up to date with our activities, we are publishing a series of interviews with the people behind the project. Today, we talk with pilot site manager Nicolas Van Damme, about the pilot tests that the project is carrying out in Belgium and the involvement of the Energent energy community.

Nicolas Van Damme is project manager at Energent - a Belgian cooperative founded in 2013 in Ghent and active in the fields of renewable energy projects, energy efficiency and energy services. Nicolas coordinates the Belgian pilot site and organises the deployment of the COFY-boxes and other pieces of hardware in the houses of the participating end-users. Nicolas also prioritises communication and interaction with these households as he believes it is important to create a community-feeling in the context of the REScoopVPP project.

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The REScoopVPP project is developing tools to enable citizens to lower their energy consumption and to use primarily renewable energy whenever available. These tools are being tested in five real-life environments. You are managing one of these pilot sites. Can you explain what your pilot site looks like?

The pilot site in Belgium consists of 50 households with different types of assets. Each participant has solar panels on the roof in combination with a specific asset. Energent mainly focuses on battery systems and (hybrid) heat pumps, but also electric vehicles and immersion heaters for domestic hot water will be tested. Most of the homes are located in Ghent and the surrounding area and are typically single-family houses. Some are even in the same street, which really makes it interesting to create a VPP community.

What are the specific tools that are being tested in Ghent and what are they aimed for?

We mainly focus on the integration of different types of assets in the COFY-box environment. To make this possible, we need a variety of tools. Some of them are simply available on the existing market, but some tools have been developed by the technical team in this project. For the heat pumps and the digital electricity meter in Belgium, we needed specific hardware to enable communication between the equipment and the COFY-box. With these tools it is possible to monitor the (general) consumption of the household and the injection, the production of solar energy. In addition, it will be possible to control certain assets, such as a heat pump, and adjust the household consumption, for example, in function of solar energy production or dynamic electricity prices. This optimisation will benefit both the end user and the electricity network.

Which type of test-users did you select? What are the important criteria to be able to test the tools in the Belgian pilot site?

In Belgium, 50 households will test the COFY box and its environment, which will allow us to get a good view on the impact of optimising the system. In Belgium, the emphasis will be on self-consumption from solar energy and peak shaving of the power consumption. Therefore, it is important that participants have solar energy in combination with a controllable asset, such as a heat pump. To have a better overview of consumption, injection and power peaks, it is also interesting that homes have a digital electricity meter, which makes it possible to monitor this data in real-time. This gives us an extensive area for specific testing of the tools within the COFY environment.

How much commitment does the testing require from a Belgian test-user?

First, the different hard- and software has to be installed in the people's houses. Together with this installation, we will teach the participants how the system works and how they can monitor their own data. Specific tests will be organised in their houses and of course we will ask for feedback. But it is important to highlight in this context that the aim of the COFY-box and its tools is to optimise in the background, without the end-user noticing or needing to take action.

Once the testing and demonstration phase is completed, what will you do with the results?

We want to optimise self-consumption, peak-shaving and also dynamic pricing. We will test different optimisation strategies and analyse their impact. Can we really optimise self-consumption by controlling a heat pump? Or is it beneficial for the end-user to control the charging of an electric vehicle by looking at dynamic pricing? We are confident to find answers to these questions. And if these optimisations are successful, the COFY-box can be pushed to the next level and we can start thinking about the COFY-company.

What is the main added value of participation in this project for your cooperative?

As an energy cooperative, we can learn a lot by participating in European projects like this. Optimisation of electricity consumption is a very important topic at the moment and will remain so in the (near) future. By participating in these optimisation strategies and testing them in the homes of end-users in our hometown, we gain a lot of knowledge. With this knowledge and hopefully the COFY-box and tools, we can coach our own cooperative members and help them control their consumption, making it a win-win situation.

REScoopVPP aims to develop advanced technology solutions. Why do you think it is important that Energent or cooperatives in general get involved in these innovative projects?

I strongly believe that the connection with the local cooperative members is an important aspect. It makes it easier to carry out such tests in the field and to get direct feedback from the participants. The cooperatives have a good understanding of what is going on at the local level, which is interesting to take into account in these projects.

What is your dream after three years of REScoopVPP?

My dream is very concrete and simple: the COFY-box has proven its value and is ready to be enrolled all over Belgium.