A small town in Germany has become a symbol of what is possible for renewable energy and of the challenges it presents to the traditional utility model. Wildpoldsried, in southern Bavaria, produces 500% more energy than it needs. The town of approximately 2,600 people does this through solar, wind, biogas, and hydro systems and a healthy dose of government subsidies.
The transformation of the town’s energy use enabled it to produce all of its electricity well before the target date of 2020. The excess energy, however, presented the regional utility, Allgäuer Überlandwerke GmbH (AÜW), with a problem: How to integrate the surplus renewable energy into the wider grid? So the utility partnered with Siemens on a project called the Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electrical Mobility (IRENE). Using sensors throughout the town’s energy systems, operators are able to measure various levels of current, voltage, and frequency, and then a self-organizing automation system balances supply and demand to stabilize the grid. In addition, local homeowners who have energy-producing systems (e.g., solar PV) are now prosumers, and each has a small device that controls how much power is sold back to the grid and at what minimum price, creating, in effect, a small-scale distributed energy resource market that feeds into the larger grid.
Cars, Solar PV, & the Grid
Wildpoldsried is not alone in attempts to modernize and create a more efficient grid. In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, officials in Japan have been wrestling with how to create more sustainable cities. The Japan Smart City initiative includes projects in Yokohama, Toyota City, Keihanna (Kyoto), and Kitakyushu. In Yokohama, for instance, one of the trials involves a home energy management system provided by Panasonic that integrates solar PV systems with battery storage. In another trial, automaker Nissan has been testing a vehicle-to-home system, in which electrical power is furnished to homes from the batteries mounted in electric vehicles. (For more on these types of vehicle-grid integration projects, please attend Navigant Research’s free webinar, Electric Vehicles and the Grid, on February 10, 2015, at 2 p.m. ET. Click here to register.)
Similarly, in the United States, California continues to be a bellwether for renewable energy and sustainability. The state’s Zero Net Energy (ZNE) policy requires all new residential construction to be ZNE by 2020; a ZNE home is one that produces as much renewable, grid-tied energy onsite, such as from a solar PV system, as it uses during a calendar year. Homebuilder KB Homes has constructed such a zero-net home in the Sacramento area that features a rooftop solar PV system with battery storage, an advanced greywater recycling system, triple-pane windows, and heavy duty insulation. In the city of Lancaster, builders are offering similar types of ZNE homes as that city attempts to become a leader in alternative energy.
What Wildpoldsried and these other cities demonstrate is that through technology, regulations, and cooperation with utilities, a smarter and eco-friendly grid is possible. For skeptics, these are real world examples of what is possible. Yes, this can mean disruption of current business models. But it does not have to mean destruction. As noted in Navigant Research’s free white paper, Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2015 and Beyond, these and other smart grid trends are expected to unfold in the coming years, and stakeholders must adapt to this transforming energy landscape.
Tags: Building Systems, Distributed energy, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Utilities Program
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