In Europe, Germany’s second largest utility RWE, is looking to distributed energy technologies to transform its business model, by piloting several projects in a bid to avoid succumbing to the so called “utility death spiral”.
According to a report by The Energy Collective, RWE’s central power plant business is losing a large amount of money, as a result of Germany’s aggressive push toward renewable energy generation.
In order to modify its current business model and provide relevant services to its customers, the Essen-based utility has embarked on the rollout of numerous pilot projects across Europe in efforts to bring together large-scale renewable energy, customer-sites energy resources and local control system to identify new cost-effective and reliable methods of integrating clean energy into it operations.
A document drafted by RWE, detailing its path to the transformation of its business model, states that the utility plans to re-design it business “from dependence on large-scale power generation to a capital-light, distributed energy model”.
Andreas Breuer, vice president of new technologies and projects, added: “We are not building new technologies – we are screening technologies and deciding which could be implemented for our retail business.”
Distributed energy technologies
RWE has formed partnerships with a number of companies help its business model transform into a more renewable-focused energy company.
The project includes virtual power plants built in conjunction with power engineering giant Siemens, tying together combined heat-and-power systems, backup generators and small-scale hydropower resources.
The German utility has also created a “Smart Operator” system, used to regulate energy flows and grid conditions on a local level. The system features a control box that links individual homes to a local substation.
In its report, The Energy Collective states that the Smart Operator system is built to maintain local data links and allow systems to act independently, due to the fact that “changes on distribution level change too quickly for central control system to manage”.
Addressing security concerns
To ensure security of these distributed energy systems, potentially susceptible to tampering, RWE is mandated to comply with the security requirements of the Bundesamt fur Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI), Germany’s information security office, which oversees privacy and security aspects of utility systems being deployed.
To this end, RWE has joined a consortium of European technology companies and fellow German utility, Vattenfall dubbed “SPIDER”, through which the companies have developed an in-home controller with networking that complies with BSI’s requirements.
Breuer added: “RWE is now looking at ways to incorporate this [in-home controller] across our infrastructure.”