Currently our REScoopVPP project is in the testing phase. In all our pilots, the flexibility tools are being tested and evaluated. This brings us to the next interview with one of the people behind the project. Today, we talk with pilot site manager Christian Weingärtner about the pilot tests that the project is carrying out in Germany and the involvement of the Bürgerwerke eG cooperative members.
Christian Weingärtner is project manager at the Bürgerwerke eG, a federation gathering more than 110 cooperatives througout Germany, representing over 50,000 citizens. As an independent green energy supplier, Bürgerwerke supplies citizens with electricity from solar panels, wind turbines and hydropower plants as well as biogas from plant residues. Their 110 member cooperatives operate more than 1,400 renewable energy installations on commercial, municipal and residential buildings. As a project manager, Christian is in charge of implementing the German pilot sites as well as managing everything necessary to successfully carry out the project.
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?
At Bürgerwerke, we selected five pilot sites to install the COFYbox and evaluate the innovative REScoopVPP tools. We mainly aim to test the energy management tool on larger, commercial pilot sites that have different challenges compared to private households.
For example, one of our pilots is a housing cooperative with 47 residential units, several charging stations for electrical vehicles (EV), a solar power plant of more than 60 kWp and a battery. Another pilot is a carpentry and electrician's workshop, with a 30 kWp solar roof, dozens of high-voltage machines, EV-chargers, electric cars and a heat pump.
We have chosen our pilots based on what is most beneficial for our member cooperatives. As an umbrella cooperative, we want to increase and accelerate the impact of our member cooperatives. Since many of our members' power plants are built on rooftops of commercial buildings or multi-family houses (rooftop lease model), we want to improve the energy management of those type of buildings.
What are the specific tools that are being tested in Germany and what are they aimed for?
The energy generated by our cooperatives' power plants is often consumed directly on site by the end users living or working in the building. The surplus energy is injected into the grid.
During the project, our focus lies on testing tools to maximise the self-consumption of locally generated solar energy. Increasing self-consumption relieves the grid and reduces local energy costs, as solar energy is cheaper than electricity from the public grid. The profitability of the power plant increases, allowing our members to carry out more projects.
This optimisation is done by shifting or blocking the consumption of power consumers to those hours of the day when a lot of solar energy is generated. We are currently testing these optimisations with batteries, e-chargers and heat pumps.
Although everything is fully automatic in the background, it is important for many users to be able to see what is happening and, if necessary, opt-out for an optimisation strategy. A common example: EV-chargers are deactivated or switched off when energy production is low. When customers need a fully charged car, they want to overrule the system.
To this end, each end-user is given access to a monitoring app, which shows electricity consumption at any time and offers the possibility to overrule the automations. After discussions with participants, it became clear that transparency about their energy consumption leads to a decrease in consumption, greater awareness about which device needs which amount of energy and when it is best to consume energy.
How many citizens will be testing the REScoopVPP tools in the German pilot site?
From 15 applications, we selected the five most suitable pilot sites for the project. In all our pilot sites together, about 100 citizens live or work. Since we have larger pilot sites, not all of them will be involved in the project in the same way and use the tools provided. But everyone living on the site will defintely benefit from the project.
Which type of test-users did you select? What are the important criteria to be able to test the tools in the German pilot site?
We selected small commercial sites, multi-family houses and offices as these are the typical locations that also qualify for energy projects by our member cooperatives.
The main criteria for selection were that the site has its own power generation, mainly solar PV. In addition, we specifically looked for electricy devices at the site, which can be actively controlled with the COFYbox, giving us leverage to optimise self-consumption.
How much commitment does the testing require from a German test-user?
The COFYbox and its optimisations run in the background without any action or intervention needed from the participants. The whole idea of the energy management system is that it intelligently and independently manages the available energy. From that point of view, no commitment is needed.
To select the pilots, we first conducted surveys, organised a seminar and visited the sites. Installing the COFYbox and the necessary equipment also required our test users to be present so that the electrician could do the work. In the future, the COFYbox will be plug and play, so the installation can be done by the user himself.
With everything installed and the COFYboxes working, no further involvement is needed - but involvement is always possible.
One operating strategy is to activate electricity devices, when electricity is cheap, and block those devices when electricity is expensive or unavailable. Although this happens in the background, there will always be situations when the user wants to "opt-out". That is the main commitment needed: to give away some control and actively intervene, when necessary.
Once the testing and demonstration phase is completed, what will you do with the results?
Bürgerwerke eG and our member cooperatives are very interested in implementing energy flexibility solutions. Depending on the test results and the effectiveness of the COFYbox, we plan to develop services and energy products for increased self-consumption, grid services, dynamic electricity tariffs and energy sharing for our member cooperatives.
What is the main added value of participation in this project for your cooperative?
The current way of handling energy has to change towards a holistic way. The ultimate goal for us is to set-up an energy supply from 100% renewable energy sources.
It is therefore very valuable for us to work with other cooperatives with the same goal to develop and test innovative technologies that support a sustainable future.
Participation in the project has already given us a huge amount of knowledge and understanding of energy flexibility tools. For us, it is the basis for various new business developments for energy flexibility in the future.
REScoopVPP aims to develop advanced technology solutions. Why do you think it is important that Bürgerwerke or cooperatives in general get involved in these innovative projects?
Energy cooperatives play an important role in Germany: they are organised democratically, enable every citizen to get involved and are not only interested in profit but much more in added value for the greater good.
Therefore, they enjoy a lot of trust in society and have a positive impact whereas profit-oriented companies do not. One example: in the construction of renewable energy plants in Germany, the involvement of an energy cooperative is often required to convince the local population of the project.
It is therefore very important to strengthen the role and influence of cooperatives to secure their contribution to the energy transition, now and in the future. Research projects such as REScoopVPP enable cooperatives to improve their own competitiveness and can thus increase their future viability and positive influence.
What is your dream after three years of REScoopVPP?
If we can demonstrate during the project that the COFYbox can significantly increase the self-consumption of a solar power plant and reduce energy costs, I will be very happy. The development will not be ready in such a short time, but if we can demonstrate that the COFYbox has a real positive impact, there is a very good chance that it will be further developed to a market-ready level - which would be very nice for both our environment and energy communities.