Mini-swarms in apartment buildings

There’s an exciting project currently underway in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg: An apartment building is being transformed into a power plant. There’s a photovoltaics system on the roof, a combined heat and power unit and a storage battery in the cellar and two electric cars in front of the building. The residents can therefore produce, consume and store electricity and heat themselves on-site. Our IT platform for the energy transition, LichtBlick ‘SchwarmDirigent,’ optimizes the individual distributed systems and storage units. The research project will be completed in 2016 and is supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. Johannes Kehl of the project team at LichtBlick knows more about the 3E apartment building.

A House as a Power Plant

What does 3E mean exactly?

3E is an abbreviation for the three core aspects of the research project: internal production (Eigenerzeugung), internal consumption (Eigenverbrauch) and e-mobility (Elektromobilität). For the most part, it’s an issue of simultaneous energy production and consumption. All of the elements in the building are primarily optimized to promote maximum internal consumption. While we can’t control the sun, we can for instance control the combined heat and power (CHP) unit. The approach is different from that of LichtBlick’s own ‘ZuhauseKraftwerk’ home power plant units, which we designed to conform to the electricity market. Here we focus on internal consumption in the building and power exchange prices and optimize the CHP unit accordingly.

More than just a car electric car as a storage

The electric car is an additional storage, Photo: Lichtblick SE
The electric car is an additional storage, Photo: Lichtblick SE

What role does the electric car play in the research project?

As a manageable consumer, the electric car is part of the building as well as a storage unit for the electricity produced in the building. However, the batteries aren’t discharged as they are in our INEES project in Berlin, but are only charged.

And how can the residents use the car?

The residents can use the cars as part of a car-sharing program. Using an app, they reserve the car and specify directly when they need it and how much of a charge they require. This information is passed on directly to the ‘SchwarmDirigent’ cluster management system. Ideally we can be relatively flexible in how we manage the car battery. For instance, if the car is reserved for 6 p.m. at 11 a.m. and the charging period is maximum two hours, we can be flexible about when it is charged – preferably while the sun is shining and there’s excess electricity in the building.

Early bird discount for more flexibility

Incidentally, the car can be reserved early for a 20 percent discount, providing residents with planning security and allowing us to incorporate the car into our electricity optimization measures over a longer period of time. The research project is about providing us with the opportunity to find out if distributed systems can be arranged and managed without limiting the dynamic factor: people. And that also applies to cars, of course.

 The electric cars can be booked by the residents after the carsharing principle, Photo: Lichtblick SE
The electric cars can be booked by the residents after the carsharing principle, Photo: Lichtblick SE

Consumer and producer

Why is LichtBlick conducting this research project?

In the future, the energy world will comprise many distributed generation systems such as photovoltaics systems and combined heat and power units. Today’s electricity customer will be both the consumer and producer. LichtBlick assumes the role of director of these distributed systems. They need to be coordinated in such a way that electricity can be consumed and produced at the same time as far as possible and that energy storage is flexible enough to be able to react to the fluctuations associated with the generation of renewable energy. We need to develop systems that can be managed both centrally and at the building, including storage batteries in the cellar and electric vehicles.

The research project has brought the future much closer – all of the components that are used here are already mass-produced and sold. We’d like to get started with pilot projects as soon as possible after the research phase, so we can make the 3E apartment building accessible to a larger market.

´SchwarmDirigent` keeps track

What role does ‘SchwarmDirigent’ play?

As a smart energy management system, ‘SchwarmDirigent’ plays a key role in the 3E apartment building. It basically monitors all of the external factors that have an influence on energy production and consumption in the building. In terms of the building alone, that includes the forecast heat requirements and electricity consumption, the state of the charge and reservations of the electric car. Factors outside of the building are weather forecasts. And in terms of the electricity market, ‘SchwarmDirigent’ monitors power exchange prices and, when there’s excess energy in the building and power exchange prices are high, can sell it on the exchange rather than storing it.

A contribution to the energy transition…

How is the project contributing to the success of the energy transition?

At the 3E apartment building, renewable electricity is generated on site, meaning major power plants are no longer required for generating electricity. This also reduces the strain on the power grid, as energy is produced and consumed at basically the same time. Buildings can even support the grid, as the managed combined heat and power units can feed electricity into the grid as required. That doesn’t make the discussion surrounding grid expansion superfluous, but expansion can be reduced with the 3E concept.

and even generate electricity

What will the benefits of living in a 3E building be?

Solar storage supply the house up to a day with energy Photo: Lichtblick SE
Solar storage supply the house up to a day with energy Photo: Lichtblick SE

The 3E concept offers two key benefits for the residents. First of all, electric cars will be cheaper to use, as the cost of charging will be next to nothing. Secondly, electricity prices will fall considerably once a majority of the electricity is generated at the building and can even be sold on the power exchange. Another less tangible benefit is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your electricity is renewable and you’re contributing to the energy transition.

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