A better way to do demand response? IBM's Swiss pilot may show the way

A better way to do demand response? IBM's Swiss pilot may show the way


By Jesse Berst

Demand response requires "flexible load" -- that is, power use that can be shifted earlier or pushed later to avoid times of peak demand. I've been wondering for years why so many people are fixated on finding it in residences. Residential usage has some flexibility, but not a lot. More importantly, residential loads are relatively small, so you have to aggregate thousands of houses to make a difference.


Industrial and (to a lesser extent) commercial loads are different. They often have large power uses that can be shifted minutes or even hours without harm. Take the IBM research effort described in detail on page 2, which uses industrial freezers. Freezers offer "thermal storage." Once you get them cold, they'll stay that way for a long time. That means you can easily pre-cool them in advance, or postpone cooling for a while without harm.


In this case, the Flexlast project - a collaboration between Migros, Switzerland’s largest retailer and supermarket chain; BKW, the electricity utility provider of the Canton of Bern; Swissgrid, the national grid operator, and IBM -- is using the load flexibility to match up with renewables. When, for instance, the wind is blowing, the freezers run high. When it dies down, they throttle back. But the principle would apply equally well. The point -- there's still a lot of flexible load out there lurking in factories, plants and commercial high-rises. It's a win-win. Utilities can shave the peak for far less than building a peaking plant. And customers get an additional revenue stream from the demand response payments.


There's gold in them there chills.


More on demand response



Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.


MADE IN IBM LABS: Swiss Energy Utility and Supermarket Chain use Renewable Energy to Run Smart Grid Pilot

·         Freezer warehouses used to balance energy fluctuations generated from the sun and wind

·         Energy utilities can benefit from a more predictable and stable grid

·         Combination of sensor and real time energy data with advanced algorithms balance supply and demand on the grid

ARMONK, NY and ZURICH, Switzerland: IBM today announced it has joined a new consortium that will pilot a smart grid based on renewable energy in Switzerland. The unique project called Flexlast will use freezer warehouses as a buffer to help balance energy fluctuations generated from sun and wind availability on the power grid. For energy and utility companies this has the potential to increase the use of renewable energy, balance grid loads, reduce failures and ultimately build a sophisticated smart grid that will be capable of managing future energy requirements.

In addition to IBM, Flexlast is a collaboration between Migros, Switzerland’s largest retailer and supermarket chain; BKW, the electricity utility provider of the Canton of Bern; and Swissgrid, the national grid operator.

Using data collected from warehouse temperature sensors and logistics from Migros, real-time energy data from BKW and Swissgrid and software and algorithms developed by IBM scientists and IBM Global Services consultants, the pilot will optimize the balance between the production and consumption of energy. Simply put, when the sun shines and the wind blows, the air conditioning units in the freezer warehouse will run high. When renewable energy isn’t available they will run less or shut down completely.

"Besides demonstrating the technology behind the project we also hope to illustrate how industrial energy consumers, like Migros, can also re-engineer their processes for optimal power system integration - it’s a financial win-win", said Wolf-Christian Rumsch, Project Manager at BKW. For Swissgrid, a key motivation to participate is the potential contribution of FlexLast to improve the stability of the grid - which will have a positive impact on the security of energy supplies.”

Similar to a 200,000 square meter sized-refrigerator, roughly the size of 30 football fields, the three freezer warehouses used by Migros keep perishable goods at a cool -28 degrees Celsius (-18 degrees Fahrenheit) 24/7. Maintaining this temperature for vegetables, meat, fish, ice cream and baked goods requires 500,000 kilowatt hours per month, equivalent to the consumption of approximately 1,500 homes. This gets increasingly complicated during equipment maintenance and when the cargo doors are opened causing air to escape as trucks transfer thousands of palettes filled with goods daily to the chain’s 990 stores.

"We asked ourselves, how can we do this smarter?,” said Roland Stadler, Migros’ Head of Energy Purchase. "We know when our trucks arrive and depart and we know the schedule of our employees, therefore if we can integrate this data with our energy needs, based the availability of renewable electricity, we can maintain the temperature of the warehouse and contribute to the future stability of the grid simultaneously”.

The project has the potential to contribute to Switzerland's energy policy goal of increasing the proportion of electricity produced from renewable energy by 5,400 gigawatt hours (GWh), or 10 percent of the country's present-day electricity consumption, by 2030. According to the latest statistics available, approximately 55.6 percent of Switzerland's overall electricity production comes from renewable sources, with hydropower by far the biggest contributor at more than 96 percent.

"In the EDISON and ECOGrid EU projects IBM and its partners demonstrated that electric vehicles, appliances and homes can be used to buffer the irregular production of electricity from future renewable sources for greater stability of the grid,” said Dieter Gantenbein, A Smart Grid scientist at IBM Research. "Now with Flexlast we can add freezer warehouses to the mix broadening the landscape of techniques we can use to balance supply and demand on the grid.”

Funding for Flexlast is provided by the Swiss Federal Department of Energy (BFE).

The project will be piloted in 2013.

IBM and Smart Grid
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