Fraunhofer IT platform synchronizes electricity supply and demand

In 2045, electricity in Germany is to come entirely from renewable sources. A key challenge is that wind and solar provide electricity in a fluctuating manner. In the Copernicus project SynErgie, the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA is working with partners to develop an energy synchronization platform that will enable industry to compensate for these fluctuations and synchronize production with power generation. In addition, the researchers at Fraunhofer IPA are currently implementing a first power-saving application for the IT platform.

Germany is expected to be largely climate-neutral by the middle of this century. However, the increasing use of electricity from renewable sources leads to an increasingly volatile electricity supply due to weather dependency. To ensure that the balance of supply and demand in the electricity system can be maintained at all times, measures are needed to balance out these fluctuations. Energy-intensive industrial processes contain a high potential for flexibility to counter these fluctuations through changes in electricity demand. In the Copernicus project SynErgie with more than 90 partners (see box), 18 partners from industry and research are currently working on an energy synchronization platform that can effectively synchronize the energy demand of individual industrial companies with the volatile energy supply. In the future, this platform will be used to coordinate supply and demand, and the entire process of energy flexibility trading from the machine to the markets will be automated and standardized by means of the IT platform and its services, and mapped in a reference architecture. Digital services running on the platform access data from companies’ system or assets and determine the on-demand use of various flexibility measures that are available. Completion of developments on the reference architecture is planned for the end of 2022. These are to be tested in trial operation with numerous research and industrial demonstrators, especially in the energy-flexible model region of Augsburg. Fraunhofer IPA is coordinating the project together with the Institute for Energy Efficiency in Production (EEP) at the University of Stuttgart.

“In the project, we are developing production and cross-section technologies that we are making more flexible, as well as the necessary IT backbone to control the plants in an energy-flexible manner and to use the flexibility beneficially on the energy market. So we have two main areas of focus: the IT systems with the corresponding services, forecasting algorithms and aggregation algorithms, and the various technological solutions for synchronizing production with power generation or decoupling the energy consumption of the process from the power consumption at the grid connection point,” explains Ozan Yesilyurt, a scientist at Fraunhofer IPA.

Numerous questions are addressed with the energy synchronization platform: What is the current electricity supply on the market – are there shortages or surpluses? How will electricity prices develop? How long and how quickly do you have to react? Which company can step in right now to make up for this shortage or surplus? Intelligent control is necessary for this balancing of flexibility supply and demand. “The IT platform is designed to bring companies together with flexibility demand. Our Virtual Fort Knox cloud platform developed at Fraunhofer IPA serves as the basis,” says Yesilyurt from the “Digital Tools in Production” department at Fraunhofer IPA.

Market and business platform

The energy synchronization platform consists of two sub-platforms, a market platform and an enterprise platform. The latter can capture, manage and aggregate a company’s individual energy flexibilities. It informs the company how it can use its flexibility in the market to buy energy cheaply or sell it if it has already purchased it. The market platform, in turn, acts as a service intermediary to ensure that companies looking for flexibility are matched with supply. Aggregators, for example, can register on the market platform and report their interest in buying or selling flexibilities. The market platform then brokers the business flexibilities to the flexibility marketers. And these in turn sell the flexibility on the energy exchange. The energy synchronization platform is therefore not an energy trading platform on which energy flexibilities are traded. Rather, it mediates between traders on the energy exchanges and companies that can provide flexibility.

Reducing electricity costs with autonomous robots

Digital services that regulate the demand-oriented use of energy and help to reduce power consumption play a decisive role. With the battery usage optimization service, Yesilyurt has implemented one of these services on the company platform – it is already running in test mode. With it, industrial companies can avoid consumption load peaks: Production companies have high power consumption, especially when all machines are in use at the same time, the power consumption increases by leaps and bounds. These load peaks, also known as peaks, can be expensive for a company, because electricity providers use precisely these peaks to calculate the power price. Additional charges apply if they are exceeded. “Many companies have driverless transport vehicles (FTFs) equipped with powerful lithium-ion batteries. These batteries can be used to avoid consumption peaks. To do this, one only has to call the autonomous robots to the charging stations when power demand increases and feed excess charge into the company’s own grid. To do this, we determine the availability of the FTFs and match them with the peaks, and the plant can continue to operate,” Yesilyurt explains. The plants no longer have to purchase electricity from the supplier; the battery of the autonomous robots becomes the energy supplier. This is also called bidirectional charging. “So far, this concept only exists for e-cars, but not for FTFs. We are doing pioneering work here, so to speak. There is no comparable software service for production yet.” The digital service is already working, and companies are receiving reliable forecasts of how much money they can save. The only drawback is that the complete hardware, including the charging stations, is still missing.