Automated guided transport vehicles powering German energy grid


Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) and its partners are developing ways to integrate the battery capacities of their automated guided container transport vehicles (AGVs) into the German energy network.

The publicly funded FRESH project is being tested at the Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA).

FRESH stands for flexibility management and control reserve provision of heavy goods vehicles in the harbour.

The Container Terminal Altenwerder is one of the most modern and efficient container terminals and is currently being developed into the first zero-emissions terminal in the world.

It is simultaneously a testing ground and laboratory for new technical and environmentally friendly applications at HHLA. At CTA, FRESH is researching market access solutions for mobile energy storage units for the first time in Germany.

The final result of the project will also make it possible for other industries with mobile energy storage units to gain access to the energy market – for instance, logistics warehouses with electric forklifts or hospitals that might use electric vehicles for patient care.

Now, for the first time, Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG and Next Kraftwerke GmbH, one of the largest virtual power plant operators in Europe, are investigating the extent to which industrially used mobile battery capacities can be connected to the German power grid so that primary control reserves may be rendered for grid stability under economic conditions. Terminal operations may not be impaired by this.

By 2022, the approximately 100 AGVs in use at terminal Altenwerder for the transport of containers will be completely converted to fast-charging lithium-ion batteries. In purely mathematical terms, they could then provide 4MW for the energy market at the 18 electric charging stations.

“This is, of course, not their primary purpose – container transport is. But in less busy times, free AGVs could provide battery capacity as mobile power stores to safeguard grid stability,” says Boris Wulff of the CTA Terminal Development department, who is responsible for the FRESH project at HHLA.

Together with Next Kraftwerke, the OFFIS Institute for Information Technology in Oldenburg and the University of Göttingen, HHLA is developing within the three-year FRESH project a process and software solution for accessing the power market. It will digitally control the demands of the virtual power plant operator and smooth terminal operations.

“Capacity utilisation at the terminal determines whether AGV capacities are free. These in turn depend on such factors as ship schedules, weather and tide conditions, traffic volume and loading cycles of the AGVs,” explains Wulff. All these parameters must be included in order to develop reliable, efficient and, especially, automated processes. “In this way, we can predict quite precisely when and how long AGVs can dock at the electric charging stations, in order to either give or receive energy when the power grid requires it.”

Alexander Krautz, team manager of Innovation & Development at Next Kraftwerke: “The digitisation and electrification of the logistics branch – with its high energy consumption and special requirements – represents a challenge for our power system, while at the same time offering new possibilities for optimisation and stabilisation. Together with our FRESH project partners, this is precisely what we want to demonstrate.”

FRESH is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy as part of the “IKT for Electromobility III” technology programme and receives subsidies of approximately €1.4 million.

How AGV can support grid stability as mobile power storage units