InterFlex – exploring flexibilities, local interactions and smart connections in Europe

InterFlex aims to deploy smart grid technologies at industrial scale in five countries.

As the custodians of the distribution system, the distribution system operators (DSOs) are impacted more than any other player by the move to a decentralized, consumer centric energy market model. Growing levels of intermittent renewables, new loads such as electric vehicles (EVs) and the rise of prosumers as both generators and suppliers are driving the DSOs to adopt a local approach to ensure the continuing supply of electricity and balancing of the network.

Building on Nice Grid

Conceptually the new energy market model is relatively straightforward but implementing the model at the DSO level is another matter. In order to investigate the complexities and the technology requirements, the Nice Grid project was conceived as part of Europe’s largest smart grid project to date, Grid4EU. Specifically, the focus of the project, which was conducted in the Carros region of southeastern France, was on PV integration, islanding of an LV district, peak demand reduction and the involvement of prosumers.

With the completion of Nice Grid and in response to the next call for proposals for European Commission Horizon 2020 (H2020) funding, the French DSO Enedis has set up the InterFlex project. The aim of the three-year project, which was awarded €17.5m (out of a total project cost of €22.8m) from the H2020 programme, is to move the smart grid experience “from demonstration to industrialisation,” says Thomas Drizard, project manager at Enedis.

The project was officially launched in Nice on January 26, 2017 in a ceremony chaired by Philippe Monloubou, President of the Executive Committee of Enedis. Participants included Philippe Pradal, Mayor of Nice, Anna Colucci, Head of Unit, Retail Markets at DG ENER, Françoise Grossetête, MEP European Parliament, and the moderator Adam Malik, CEO of Engerati.

InterFlex – a strategic view

InterFlex investigates the INTERactions between various forms of FLEXibilities provided by energy market players and the distribution grid, in order to optimise the system on a local scale. In particular, the focus is on energy storage, smart charging of EVs, demand response, islanding, grid automation and the synergies between different energy carriers (gas, heat, electricity).

Furthermore, aspects related to the interoperability of systems, replicability of solutions and the identification of relevant business models as well as regulatory recommendations constitute major objectives.

The project will be implemented through DSO-led regional demonstrators in five countries – in addition to Enedis in France, these are ČEZ Distribuce in the Czech Republic, which takes the role of technical coordinator, E.ON in Sweden (with two demo sites), Enexis in the Netherlands and Avacon in Germany.

In total there are 20 partners in InterFlex, including vendors, consultants and academics.

“The H2020 support underlines the strategic aspect of this project for Europe and for Europeans,” said Monloubou in his opening address, pointing to its role in addressing some of the key issues raised in the November 2016 Winter Package. Among these are renewables and EV integration and the role of flexibilities, all at the distribution grid level.

Monloubou noted that InterFlex is differentiated from past projects such as Grid4EU. “For the first time the objective is not only to establish cost-benefit analyses of technical solutions for each actor on the value-chain, but also to assess new business models as well as new regulatory frameworks.”

He added that InterFlex also will strongly contribute to the BRIDGE initiative, which aims to develop synergies between the (more than 20 so far) various H2020 smart grid and storage projects, and the emergence of policy recommendations for the EC.

InterFlex regional demonstrators

Drizard explains that the InterFlex demonstrators in the five countries have been structured into different focus areas that represent the technical business innovation axes of the project.

They have also been organised so that several of the demonstrations use the same technologies or are focused on similar areas but are approaching them from different angles in order to demonstrate the interconnections and role of flexibility.

InterFlex demonstration organisation

The French demonstrator is located in and around the city of Nice and encompasses business parks, a ski resort and a Mediterranean island. The project will extend Nice Grid to this broader geographical area and will test different innovative approaches with respect to the management of the electrical system, taking into account the local environment (production of renewable energies, electric vehicle charging stations, changes in consumer behaviour, new uses, etc.). Several types of flexibilities will be offered, including ‘hybrid’ flexibilities interacting with both the electric and the natural gas networks (cogeneration, hybrid boilers), modulation of EV charging and battery storage. In addition, an aim is to set up business models of electrical flexibility.

The Czech demonstration will be located in several areas of the country in order to prove replicability and interoperability of the solutions. The project will be partially built on the experience gained in the GRID4EU/Smart Region Vrchlabí project and is focused on the implementation of novel distribution solutions to address the most urgent challenges facing DSOs, such as increasing distributed generation hosting capacity, EV charging station implementation and energy storage. In addition, an aim is to propose grid code and standards updates in order to ensure smoother future integration of the adopted solutions.

In the German demonstrator Avacon is developing a ‘Smart Grid Hub’ to facilitate communication and coordination between the large number of decentralised active participants such as generators and flexibility providers in the emerging energy system. Three use cases will be studied – feed-in management of small distributed units, ancillary services provided by generation, consumption and storage devices, and distributed sources of flexibility within the distribution grid.

The Swedish demonstrator comprises two parts. The first aims to optimize small scale energy systems, such as local thermal grids for district heating, by applying demand response. Applications include utilising a building’s thermal capacity to shave off peak load production and optimising power-to-heat production with heat pumps. A key goal is to commercialise the optimisation and find new business models for the shared responsibilities and benefits.

The second is focussed on testing technical and commercial interactions with the E.ON Elnät microgrid in a town in the Skåne region. The aim is to validate the commercial implications surrounding the roles, responsibilities and relationships between the Grid Access Provider, Grid Operator and Resource Provider. Three use cases will be executed – providing passive customers with decentralised balancing technologies for DSO demand response, creating a local energy market, and developing advanced algorithms that will allow a high degree of microgrid automation.

The Dutch demonstrator in Eindhoven will enable ancillary services, congestion management, and voltage support for PV integration using grid connected storage systems. The aim is to optimise all the available local flexibilities, using interactions between the DSO and the EV charge point operator to utilise the charging infrastructure for congestion management and voltage control.

An additional key work package will focus on ensuring the interoperability of the demonstrators and the interchangeability of flexibility devices, under the leadership of RWTH Aachen University. Experiences will be collected the experiences from the different field tests with the goal to identify common points and typical interactions among stakeholders.

InterFlex – a three-year project

In conclusion, Drizard says that while a significant amount of work has been done on setting up InterFlex over the past year, the project – which runs through 2019 – is still at its beginning.

“We believe that collectively within our team we have the key competencies along the value chain of distribution grids and electricity retail markets to successfully implement the whole project and the demonstrations.”

Collectively, the team represents a significant part of the smart grid sector in Europe with the five DSO countries representing more than 35% of Europe’s and 48% of the net electric power production.

“DSOs have a key role to play in the energy transition and in contributing towards the meeting of EU climate targets. Pooling our common experience will allow synergies between us and the sharing of the results throughout Europe, as well as time and money savings.”