Smart Grids Need to Fit into Daily Life if They are Going to Catch On

By October 21, 2011
Keywords : Smart city, Europe

EcoGrid will test the willingness of the inhabitants of a Danish village to accept new solutions for managing their energy consumption. The consumers will be able to decide in real time, using their mobile phones, when they want their household appliances switched on and off.

For smart grids to work efficiently, consumers must be free to manage their own energy consumption. With this in mind, the European Union and a consortium of companies have launched the EcoGrid Project , which consists of installing an intelligent energy network fed by a minimum of 50% renewable energy. Individuals will be able to manage their energy consumption from their PCs or mobile phones. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the system, a large-scale experiment will be taking place over a 4-year period on the Danish Island of Bornholm, involving more than 2,000 homes out of the 28,000 on the island. The objective is to encourage the inhabitants to take responsibility for managing their electricity consumption from a timing and pricing point of view.

“Intelligent” energy management via smartphone or PC

Spreading out power demand not only means lower prices as peak periods are smoothed away, but also is likely to lead to lower overall consumption due to a net reduction in wasted energy. In order to carry out the experiment, the project leaders have installed software that can calculate the price of electricity almost instantaneously, precisely reflecting supply and demand. They have also equipped the homes taking part in the experiment with residential demand response devices/appliances using "smart" controllers activated via smartphones or PCs. This means that the consumers can programme the timing of their heating system, washing machine and other household equipment in response to real-time electricity price signals.  

An EU-sponsored project intended to be more widely rolled out

In addition, some of the inhabitants will be provided with appliances that can decide autonomously when to switch themselves on or to save energy using storage devices. In this case the user determines the criteria - time, exact price of electricity at a given moment, etc - in advance and the machine switches itself on or off when these criteria are met. Once the results of the experiment are known and assessments made about whether this kind of system is viable, the researchers hope to be able to identify any obstacles to rolling the system out on a large scale. Around 50% of the project is being financed from European Union funds, the rest being provided by private companies, IBM being the latest company to join the project.

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