Could co-ops fit as aggregators?
Europe’s energy system is evolving to include more renewable technologies, making flexible resources fundamental to achieving a sustainable model, especially regarding Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) and energy storage solutions.
Frontrunner countries like Denmark have already reached 41% variable renewables , and solar photovoltaic (PV) per MWh has been proposed for less than €15 in a Portugal tender this summer . Solar and wind projects are breaking economic records year-on-year and will soon offer the cheapest MWh energy resource.
Nevertheless, what is the value of a wind- or sun- produced KWh when there is no matching demand when injected? Demand response aims at solving the equation.
FLEXCoop, a European project financed under the Research programme of the European Commission Horizon 2020 (No.773909 – grant agreement), was developed with the aim of building Demand Response tools for energy cooperatives. The project has an overall budget of €3.9 million and will last 3 years, until September 2020. The project gathers 14 partners co-developing the solution, each of them holding a different and complementary expertise needed to deliver the service.
The partners include electric engineers, Smart Grid IT-technology experts, demand response software and end-user interface developers as well as RES integration researchers. The team also includes two energy cooperatives who provide real-life ground for the research through their pilot sites located in Spain and the Netherlands and are experimenting with the role of aggregator.
The solution will enable Renewable Energy Cooperatives to fulfil the key role of aggregator and propose different demand response related services to their members. To do so, FLEXCoop introduces an end-to-end automated Demand Response solution, which equips cooperatives with innovative tools to exploit consumers’ flexibility as dynamic Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) providing balancing and ancillary resources toward grid stability.
FLEXCoop brings together a wide range of baseline technologies to build an open and interoperable DR optimisation framework including a complete tool suite for energy cooperatives (aggregators) and prosumers, ensuring the end-to-end interoperability between energy networks, energy management systems and devices.
This innovative solution allows cooperatives to access new business models in which residential energy consumers play a key role as active market players. FLEXCoop stands for the ‘decentralisation’ of energy systems, providing these systems with important amounts of renewables by supporting self-consumption at individual and collective level, but also the provision of ancillary services.
Fortunately, the progress in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), the spreading electrification of mobility and heating provides new opportunities to store energy through batteries or thermal inertia. Therefore, a new role emerges which consists in coordinating these consumption changes and ensuring they happen at the right time, respecting both the constraints and needs of the system and the consumer’s preferences.
This is the role of aggregators who have been quite successful in addressing industrial and tertiary sector consumers during the past decade.
The Renewable Energy Cooperatives (REScoop) represent an alternative to conventional commercial approaches. These are community value- rather than profit-driven entities in which citizens have direct control. Citizens active in REScoop are pioneers of the energy transition, investing and sharing services for a more sustainable energy future. They have the transparency and the right focus to address the challenges faced by their members to use (only) renewable resources. Som Energia (Spain) and ODE Decentraal (NL) are the project cooperative partners.
FLEXCoop solutions support them to induce different consumption schedules to their members’ devices, enabling them to answer to requests from the grid: consuming when there are more renewables, maintaining grid balance at 50 Hz, or supporting congestion management.
The design comprises a set of hardware and software tools automating some residential devices and making sure energy is consumed at the best time for the user and for the grid. To perform these services, the solutions address both the consumer and the aggregator levels.
Within each participating household, FLEXCoop connects sensors and devices through the Open Smart Box gateway and enables two-way communication, from the home to FLEXCoop and from FLEXCoop back to the user.
The Open Smart Box is a smart hardware device operating as a real-time two-way communication gateway. It gathers ambient sensor information, energy generated by the Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and usage data which are used by the forecasting and flexibility profiling components.
These components enable the platform to determine the flexibility that can be offered for each household without reducing the comfort of the inhabitants—this module is led by the partners Grindrop and Hypertech. The FLEXCoop Middleware acts as a central communication and data storage hub between all components—this module is led by CIMNE. In addition, the Middleware plays a key role in data security through authentication and management of access rights.
The Prosumer Visualisation Toolkit enables the Prosumer to monitor the status of its connected DERs as well as its current contracting options and demand response events triggered by the Aggregator—this module is led by Suite5. The user is permanently informed of the actions performed by the platform and has full control over and access to the data stored in the system.
The Visualization Aggregator Toolkit, on the other hand, provides specific visualisation interfaces for the Aggregator role. It supports the Aggregator by its task to balance demand and production, improve forecast of demand, analyse and register DERs at local and district level, configure VPPs, analyse flexibility and trigger DR events, and visualises the contractual offers to the Prosumers—this module is led by ETRA. The Open Marketplace and the DER Registry are the background services that enable contracting and DER device handling inside the FLEXCoop architecture. All connected DERs report their status to the DER registry. The Open Marketplace is the core component for contracting.
It combines the available flexibility options with the connected DERs into contracts between Aggregator and Prosumer—this module is led by Fraunhofer FOKUS.
FLEXCoop intends to strengthen the local economy in Europe by making it possible to set up ‘cooperative aggregators’ providing consumers access and control: making individual energy consumption and production more transparent to consumers; enabling consumers to become prosumers; and finally unlocking the integration of more renewables in a community-driven manner.
 WindEurope, “Wind energy in Europe in 2018 Trends and statistics”, 26 July 2018
 Euractiv, “Portugal’s solar energy auction breaks world record”, 31 July 2019