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“The REScoopVPP tools enable the optimal use of the available renewable energy and decrease the total energy cost for the local citizens”

Vincent Dierickx, technical coordinator of the REScoopVPP project

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It has already been more than a year since the REScoopVPP project started and much has already been achieved. In order to keep you up to date with our activities we are publishing a series of interviews with the people behind the project. We open the series talking with Vincent Dierickx, the technical coordinator of REScoopVPP, about the two main outputs of the project.

Vincent Dierickx works full-time on accelerating the energy transition. After studying civil engineering with a major in mechatronics, a malfunctioning torch sowed the seed for his passion for energy efficiency. This resulted in further specialization in energy monitoring and management. His belief in cooperative entrepreneurship led him to co-found the co-operative EnergieID - provider and developer of the social energy monitoring platform - in 2014. He gets further energy from his beautiful family, playing the drums, enjoying music or having late-evening discussions with a glass of Belgian beer.

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The REScoopVPP project will have two main outputs: a Community-driven Flexibility Box (COFY-box), which aims to make existing buildings smarter, and a set of community tools to organise smart energy communities. Let’s focus on the first output first. Can you tell us what the COFY-box will do to make buildings smarter and how it works?

The COFY Box is an open source smart home controller that aims to make individual homes smarter and more flexible by making different devices at home work together to make better use of the available renewable energy. Developed by communities, the COFY Box aims also to enable communities to act as an aggregated entity, a Virtual Power Plant. 

In a first step, the COFY-box brings together the data from all these devices. In a second step, it analyses and visualises this data in a uniform and transparent way. Finally, the COFY-box can also help controlling the devices, which means that it helps decide which device works when. 

To integrate hardware, the COFY Box relies on the open source platform Home Assistant* that has already built 1.800 integrations with various devices. 

* home assistant is a free and open-source software for home automation.

What is the main challenge to develop the COFY box?

The biggest challenge is to make something that works universally. We have a community-driven approach, the solution is developed by what we call a 'development community'. We also have to make sure that we collaborate with manufacturers, but at the same time are not dependent on one single manufacturer.

What are the main house appliances that can provide flexibility to the network?

We are relying on the EU Ecodesign Preparatory Study on Smart Appliances, which examines, for example, which sources of flexibility have the highest value. Solar PV is always the basis, but it doesn’t provide the flexibility by itself. There are three main flexibility sources that can enhance smart consumption: an electric battery; a thermal buffer like floor heating or water tank in which we can store thermal energy from, for example, a heat pump; and an electric car. The study shows that other household appliances, the so-called white goods (e.g. washing machine), can be included in the flexibility tools to control these appliances more efficiently, but ultimately they will not be the main source of flexibility.

Is there anything similar to this in the market already?

Of course, many solutions exist already today. The issue is that we have not found an open and community driven solution. The traditional solutions come from one manufacturer and have a typical vendor lock-in approach. The REScoop family is aiming for a more open, community driven approach, so we can also organize and protect members’ personal data. 

What type of houses can install the COFY box? Do they need to be smart houses? 

Nowadays digital meters already provide a good qualitative set of data to start organising smart communities. Installing a COFY-box is only relevant for houses that can provide enough flexibility with a house battery, an electrical car or thermal buffering.

What will users have to do to install the box? Does it require any technical knowledge? 

We want the COFY-box to be really easy to install. You have to plug the COFY-box into a wall socket and connect it to the modem of your internet service provider. The main idea is that no technical personal is needed to start-up the COFY-box.

The COFY-box sounds very promising, so now the question is: when will it be available and who will be able to use it?

The first prototypes are already in the field. Now, we need more time to make it really market-ready. We are building as quick as possible the open source solution, so the more geeky users can start testing it on their own. For a large roll out, the communities will need time to see how they can commercially build services on top of the COFY-box. We hope to gain those insights by the end of the project. We truly believe that the community is the best possible way to unburden people and to scale-up flexibility services for households.

Looking now at the community tools that the project will develop. Can you explain us what they will be about? 

The community tools are all about optimising energy consumption at the community level and enabling communities to act as an aggregated entity, a Virtual Power Plant. Smart communities are communities that make optimal use of the available renewable energy. Communities aim to organize themselves better to be able to respond to this energy as intelligent as possible. These tools will support the community to become smarter. 

First of all, the energy community is a service provider for the end-user. By using the COFY-box, the cooperative member can optimize energy consumption at the household level. Individual users can, for example, benefit from remote monitoring or improved energy efficiency services. Second, the remaining energy can contribute to the energy balance of the community as a whole. Finally, the community can support balancing the grid by providing flexibility services directly to the grid operator or through an aggregator.

Why are these tools important for energy cooperatives that are currently not offering any flexibility services?

At this stage, it’s key that we are following the evolutions of the energy market. We want to strengthen citizens’ grip on different aspects of the energy market. The REScoopVPP tools enable the optimal use of the available renewable energy and decrease the total energy cost for the local citizens. 

The most useful service at the moment is the optimisation of self-consumption.  But in the near future, new business opportunities will arrive. To give an example: in Flanders, households with a digital meter only recently have the opportunity to close an electricity contract with the supplier based on a dynamic tariff. The level of price depends on what time you consume electricity. In that case, a household can reduce its energy bill by shifting its consumption as much as possible to moments when the price of electricity is cheaper, which can be different every day. In general, REScoopVPP can contribute to keeping the ownership of flexibility in the community.

What is your dream after three years of REScoopVPP?

That we can be proud, together with the partners, to have really started a European wide collaboration on technology for smart communities. We already started talking with different front runner cooperatives about collaboration at the end of 2016. Collaboration is the only way to really take control of the energy future for our communities.