The ReDREAM project, funded by EU Horizon 2020, wants to put consumers at the centre of the energy market. As Steve Gillman explains, people and businesses can shape their supply and demand by owning local renewable generation and combining that with smart systems that give visibility of prices and generation to enable control of demand, right down to the level of heat pumps, washing machines, hot water systems and EVs. A 30-household pilot is already running in Bath (UK) with demo sites in Viterbo (Italy), Valladolid (Spain) and Zagreb (Croatia). The ReDREAM package should be ready for the market in 2023. It makes sense to give as much agency as possible to consumers in our race to shift to clean energy and greater efficiency, to add to the efforts of policy-makers and markets at the EU and national levels.
An energy crisis is piling pressure on Europe’s power grid and causing electricity prices to skyrocket, but a new research project believes it can lay the foundations for a more resilient future by giving consumers more flexibility to determine their supply and demand.
Many of Europe’s electricity grids are based on power plants burning gas to meet the fluctuating energy needs of consumers, but if more people and businesses shaped their supply and demand it could shift society away from fossil fuels and more towards renewables.
“We have to adapt our consumption to energy generation,” said Dr. Álvaro Sánchez Miralles, an energy system expert from the Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, Spain. “By adapting consumption, we enable more renewables, reduce gas dependency and cut energy costs.”
ReDREAM: giving consumers control
Alvaro is the project coordinator of ReDREAM, a research project hoping to revolutionise the energy system by giving consumers control over how much power they use – through flexible generation, interconnectivity and behavioural change.
Over the next three years, ReDREAM will develop an online ecosystem where consumers, from households to companies, are presented with an analysis of their consumption to optimise their supply of electricity, which can help them save both energy and money. Through this application, consumers also create a network of connected green technologies or smart devices – such as solar panels, heat pumps, washing machines, hot water systems and electric vehicles – that work together to send power where it’s needed.
“Consumers are encouraged to be flexible in their consumption for several reasons – it improves energy efficiency and helps the electricity system become more balanced and stable,” said Dr. Miralles.
The application is further complimented by a price forecast that indicates when it is profitable to consume electricity alongside automated energy saving decisions driven by an artificial intelligence. The service can also set more sustainable energy parameters for consumers, such as limits on how warm it should be indoors.
“Our ecosystem helps show consumers how much they can save on energy bills,” said Dr. Miralles, adding that this is important to convince those unwilling to turn down their heating – despite the big energy gains it could provide. “Consumers must be motivated to be flexible,” he explained.
Case study: FlexCommunity (UK)
ReDREAM’s researchers are building upon the success of another project called FlexCommunity, which currently works with over 30 households in Bath (England), where they benefit from over 12.35 megawatts of community-owned renewable energy – enough to match the annual electricity demand of 4,000 homes. Alison Turnbull is the project manager of FlexCommunity and explains that local renewable generation is only one side of the coin when it comes to society’s clean energy transition, the other being how we use that power. ReDream’s online ecosystem system will help FlexCommunity further improve its supply and demand of renewable energy, as well as supporting the project to incorporate more urban and rural households around Bath.
“We’re now signing up more people and getting smart kits installed into their homes that can remotely monitor their electricity consumption,” Turnbull said, adding this will help even more households save money, use renewable energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
FlexCommunity’s pioneering path towards local energy cooperation is also acting as a blueprint for ReDream’s other demo sites in Viterbo (Italy), Valladolid (Spain) and Zagreb (Croatia), where teams on-the-ground are adapting some of Bath’s best practices to their regional conditions. Alison hopes that if these regions successfully showcase the economic, environmental and social benefits of flexible energy communities’ then others will begin follow suit, enabling the concept to spread across Europe where its full potential can be realised.
“Energy flexibility can facilitate more renewable power into the grid and help replace burning gas to meet household demand,” she said. “This can help countries wean themselves off imported gas, for example from Russia, and enable them to have their own clean source of electricity for heating and transport.”