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Presenting the COFY-Box

What? Who? How? Why?

· Blog

The cooperatives EnergieID and Carbon Co-op supported by the University of Ghent have agreed on the final specification of a key component of REScoopVPP: the COFY-Box.

What is the COFY-Box? 

The Community-driven Flexibility Box or in short the ‘COFY-Box’ is a small device that makes big things possible! The COFY-Box combines two existing products: the Carbon Co-op Home Energy Management System and the COFY prototype developed by EnergieID and the University of Ghent.

The Carbon Co-op Home Energy Management System was a concept developed and demonstrated as part of the OpenDSR project in the UK. At its core is the hugely popular open source home automation software ‘Home Assistant’ which supports thousands of products across the smart home and energy markets. 

Credit: Alan Melia/Carbon  Coop

Credit: Alan Melia/Carbon Coop

The prototype of the COFY-system in Flanders was developed by EnergieID in cooperation with EnerGent and UGent in the frame of the Interreg North-West project cVPP. From the start of the developing process, regular feedback sessions with Carbon Co-op led to the common choice of Home Assistant, which provided a good basis for further collaboration between the two systems.

Because of these early discussions, these two products have a similar logical software architecture and use many of the same software components. So we have combined all the best of both products and merged them into an even better system that is able to deal with the wide range of smart home and energy use cases that energy cooperatives across Europe are facing.

The REScoopVPP approach

Although the use of a management system or gateway is not specific to REScoopVPP, our solution has some innovative and unique aspects that make it more suitable for energy cooperatives. It uses popular off-the-shelf hardware to take advantage of economies of scale and the much shorter time to market offered by established ecosystems around such products. The COFY-Box also makes use of a range of existing mature open source technologies so that our proposed solution to citizen initiatives is as free as possible from closed patents and with the ambition to contribute to the growing ecosystem of open source solutions in the energy sector. 

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The result is a pragmatic tool compatible with a wide range of domestic smart energy and home appliances and can support a variety of services: local dynamic time of use and balancing tariffs, energy and environmental monitoring, and optimal control and integration of smart home and energy appliances. The COFY-Box is very much tailored to the needs of energy cooperatives in all its components: hardware, networking and hardware interfacing, firmware and device management, software and energy management software.

Choosing the right firmware and device management solution

Controlling a large number of devices in our members' homes and businesses in a secure and privacy-preserving manner is a huge logistical and technical challenge, and in this we have taken the approach of using established commercially available solutions rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. For this project we have selected the Balena Cloud system, an open source and best-in-class firmware and device management solution. This allows us to focus our efforts on the things that will bring the most benefit and value to cooperatives, namely the local and community energy use cases and related services.

An Energy Management Software tailored for communities

Energy communities have unique requirements in terms of energy management, which often lie at the interface between domestic and commercial use. This means that many existing solutions are inappropriate. For example, the expectations around what data is shared, with whom and the objectives the system seeks to achieve (such as maximising community benefits rather than purely financial ones) may be different. The COFY-Box has the benefit of being developed specifically for energy communities by other energy communities who understand their requirements. 

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An important device, but the key lies with citizens!

The COFY-Box provides a technology answer to the challenge of integrating and controlling domestic appliances in a smart building ecosystem. Our design aims to solve the main problems that citizens' initiatives may face in terms of affordability, ease of implementation and autonomy. In this sense, we hope that the COFY-Box can be a tool for any community that wants to use electrical appliances to move forward in their energy transition ambition!

For more info on the specification of our COFY-Box, you may have a look at D3.1 COFY-Box final design/specification.