Decarbonising island energy systems


Giannicola Loriga, Head of the RINA Research & Development Project Technical Coordination Unit, and Smart Islands Energy System (SMILE) Project Coordinator, speaks to Smart Energy International about the project.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

SEI: The focus of the SMILE project is on smart grid technologies on small islands. Can you explain the thinking behind the concept and perhaps more importantly, the current state of the project – the time left, the current state of the results, and next steps?

GL: I think that “Smart Islands” is a key topic today. In the last few years, special attention has been paid at an EU level to the decarbonisation of the energy systems of the islands. Actually, islands have a high dependency on fossil fuels and the energy production costs are much higher than on the mainland. Thus, the introduction of renewable energy sources and storage systems could have a impact bringing relevant economic, social and environmental benefits. Furthermore, Island communities can be more easily engaged in the real-life testing of solutions aimed at solving important challenges impacting life on the island and, in this sense, they constitute ideal laboratories for testing innovation. In this framework, the overall scope of SMILE is to demonstrate, in real-life operational conditions, a set of both technological and nontechnological solutions adapted to local circumstances targeting distribution grids to enable demand response schemes, smart grid functionalities, storage and energy system integration with the final objective of paving the way for the introduction of the innovative solutions in the market in the near future.

The three islands selected for the demonstration activities are Orkney (UK), Samsø (Denmark) and Madeira (Portugal). The technological solutions vary from the integration of different battery technologies, power to heat, power to fuel, electric vehicles, electricity stored on board boats, an aggregator approach to demand side management (DSM) and predictive algorithms. Each demonstrator aims to prove stable and secure grid operation in the context of the implementation of storage systems and solutions enabling demand response, intelligent control and automation of distribution networks to provide for smart management of the grid. We are now almost two and a half years into the project.

After having defined the requirements, the key performance indicators and the design of the overall architectures for the three islands case studies, the focus was moved to the selection of the technologies to be deployed and the development of the innovative ones. Currently, we are completing the implementation phase, where the technologies are installed before starting the assessment phase that will last until the end of the project.

In a nutshell, on Madeira, we are improving self-consumption from renewable energy sources; on Orkney Islands we are installing an innovative demand side management system; and, last but not least, on Samsø we are integrating a battery energy storage system on the pier. All actions that can actually make a difference to produce cleaner energy and improve the life quality of the people living on the three islands.

SEI: What have the most unexpected results been to date?

In principle, from a technical point of view, we are in line with the objectives and this is really a remarkable result considering the relevant challenges targeted by the project. Among the unexpected results, I would like to point out the genuine interest, commitment and enthusiasm of the end users going far beyond the initial expectations.

SEI: How have the people on the islands involved reacted to the project?

The choice of having SMILE solutions tested on island locations is not random, but indeed, it provides a fundamental advantage to the project. In fact, as mentioned before, island communities can be more easily engaged in the real-life testing of solutions and are the ideal candidates for demonstration activities requiring societal engagement and active residents’ commitment. We have organised several public workshops, such as the one at the Samsø Energy Academy, where we have explained the demonstration plan for the Ballen Marina to Samsø citizens and, finally, have delivered SMILE progress reports in order to make people feel part of our project and invite them to play an active role.

The same happened in Madeira and in Orkney and the people’s reaction was very positive: we are carrying out this project and we are creating a clean, affordable and reliable energy system for them, so we have understood that if you tell citizens what is going on their islands, the reasons why you are doing it and how they will benefit from the project, people are happy to be involved.

SEI: What do you wish you had known when you first started the project? And what would you do differently?

Ah, it would be too easy to have the possibility to change the past… in principle we do not regret anything. We are sure that the errors also represent useful lessons learnt that should allow us to achieve the final targets.

SEI: How do you believe this project will be rolled out, or the outcomes transferred into a real-life, full time opportunity? A big consideration I’d like to ask about is whether the cost of this type of project would be feasible for rollout without H2020 support?

H2020 support represented a great opportunity for us: we believe that creating a better world requires teamwork and this European research and innovation programme allowed us to build a strong international partnership, to develop much more advanced technological solutions and, most of all, with a high replication potential. In fact, the end goal of SMILE is to foster the market introduction in the future of the nine smart grid technologies developed in the framework of the project. The support of H2020 for developing and testing these technologies in real conditions on a large scale is vital. Concerning the replication activities, thanks to the participation of DAFNI in the project, we are already working to replicate our technologies on the Greek islands. Moreover, we are trying to organize our next public event on the island of Texel (Netherlands) to explore the opportunity to replicate SMILE technology there as well.

SEI: What is the overriding message you would like readers of this publication to take away with them?

We believe that to change the world we need to start doing something, no matter if it is just a small step, and this is what we are trying to do with SMILE: we are trying to create a clean, affordable and reliable energy system starting from the islands and, then hopefully, to replicate it all over the European Union. SEI

European Utility Week
Image credit: Stock

Giannicola Loriga will be speaking on 14 November from 11:00am at the EU Projects Zone Theatre