It has been almost a year and a half 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. Today, we talk with Ine Swennen, the REScoopVPP pilot sites coordinator, about the pilot tests that the project is carrying out in five different countries.
Ine Swennen is project manager at Ecopower cv, a Belgian cooperative that produces and supplies green energy. She holds a master in business engineering and is engaged in several domains, ranging from smart grid projects to the operational management of Ecopower’s renewables installations.
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. What are the specific tools that are being tested and what are they aimed for?
The main tool that we are testing is the Community-driven Flexibility Box (COFY-box), which is an energy management system that communicates with buildings’ devices like solar panels, batteries, electrical vehicles and heat pumps, and provides local monitoring and control of them. This easy-to-install small smart box will be placed in homes or other buildings to collect data from end users. In May 2021, the first prototypes of the COFY-box were installed in the UK and Spain. The data collected by the COFY-box is visualised in an end-user energy monitoring app.
Moroever, a virtual community dashboard will visualise measurements and key performance indicators from different communities in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and UK.
Electricity suppliers within the REScoopVPP project, such as Ecopower, Enercoop and Som Energia, will test and improve a forecasting tool to help them optimally forecast the amount of electricity that their production installations will generate and the amount of electricity that their customers will demand at a given moment in the near future. In this way, producers and suppliers can contribute to maintaining the balance on the electricity grid.
Why is it important to test the tools in real-life environments and what are the specific aspects that you are looking at in these tests?
Real-life testing creates the added value of identifying barriers that you would not have encountered if you only simulated it theoretically. It is also important to involve the end users during the development and research phase rather that just presenting them a market-ready product on which they were not able to provide feedback.
The pilot sites where the tools are being tested are located in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and UK. Why have these countries been selected?
Be it from its role as energy community, producer, supplier, forecaster, technology provider, etc., each pilot site brings its own network of engaged citizens and expertise to the project.
In each pilot site there are several individual citizens testing the tools. At this moment, the pilot sites are selecting their users. What is being taken into account when selecting these testers?
Pilot sites look at the presence of certain assets like solar panels, batteries, electrical vehicles and/or heat pumps with which the COFY-box can communicate. Of course, a good portion of enthusiasm and motivation on the part of the potential participant is also important.
How much commitment does the testing require from them?
In the beginning, the testers will be consulted to program some parameters (e.g. comfort level). Later, feedback from the testers on the development tools will be requested. However, this will rather be a limited time investment of the participants. The main goal is to develop a plug and play solution that runs automatically without the intervention of the end user.
How many citizens in total will be testing the REScoopVPP tools?
In total, about 200 citizens from Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom will test the tools.
What is the timeline for the testing and demonstration of tools in the pilot sites and at what point are we now?
The REScoopVPP project has a duration of 3 years. Each year has its own focus.
- From June 2020 to May 2021, the foundations of the project are laid and a first prototype of the COFY-box is installed in the UK and Spain.
- From June 2021 to May 2022, the digital tools are further developed and the COFY-box is rolled out in people’s homes in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
- From June 2022 to June 2023, all COFY boxes will be rolled out to allow for real-life testing and evaluation in Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
We are now, in November 2021, in the phase of developing tools and recruiting participants for testing the developed tools, and a limited number of testers are already testing the first prototype of the COFY box.
Once the testing and demonstration phase is completed, what will you do with the results?
The project partners will use the results to create added value (e.g. realising lower operating costs, offering innovative energy services) for the cooperative and its members, enabling the cooperative to keep ownership of the residential flexibility in the community as a benefit for its members.
REScoopVPP aims to develop advanced technology solutions. Why is it important that cooperatives get involved in these innovative projects? Are there any similar solutions in the market already?
The energy transition will only succeed if citizens are involved. Energy communities consist of engaged citizens throughout Europe. Thus, by assigning energy communities’ members (citizens) to test REScoopVPP's open-source technological solutions - which should contribute to the energy transition - a unique value proposition is created.
What is your dream after three years of REScoopVPP?
I really hope that the use of newly developed open source tools and energy services from the REScoopVPP project will be widespread and become the common standard for keeping the ownership of residential flexibility in the community as a benefit to citizens!