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One of the biggest obstacles to deploying energy efficiency solutions is the part of it you can’t see – the lack of data interoperability between various components. Europe is struggling to ensure smart energy efficiency is truly interconnected.

Today, Europe finds itself at an energy efficiency crossroads. There are more digital applications using household, company and transport energy more efficiently. But at the same time, the various systems are not able to communicate with appliances and utilities effectively, to make switching to smart energy simple for consumers.

There is a multitude of wifi-enabled smart thermostats on the market, but trying to install them in a home with a traditional gas boiler, and have the boiler receive and send information to the utility, can be technically problematic because they simply can’t communicate with each other.

The problem is data interoperability. For a variety of reasons, different EU countries have developed incompatible semantic systems, and different companies have been wary of sharing their data with others over competitiveness concerns. It’s something that developers and policy-makers in the EU are trying to solve.

Consumer participation

Milenko Tošić, director of innovation at VizLore Labs Foundation, said: “Lately one of the main discussion points inside the European Commission and one of the main parts of the energy sector and digitalization plan was to tackle this consumer participation in different energy-saving applications and how can they be interoperable.”

So far, attempts by the private sector to connect energy-saving applications to appliances, systems and grids have been a challenge, he explains. He said they are interoperable in the sense that the data is tackling the same issue. But there are difficulties that the grid side can face and they need the participation of the young consumers in different ways to tackle these challenges.

Tošić remarked: “On this highest level we can say that they are taking the same thing. But when we go deeper into the technology we see that in most cases, these applications are operating more or less like extended technological silos.”

For this reason, Tošić has been working with the European Commission on the InterConnect project, in which 51 European entities are involved in demonstrating advanced solutions for the digital convergence of smart homes, buildings, and the electricity grid. The project, funded under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, aims to bring efficient energy management within the reach of end users through interoperable solutions. But it has not been without challenges.

The problem – digital interoperability

Digital interoperability and data-sharing may sound like an easy problem to solve, but people involved in the semantics area say it’s much more complicated than it seems. There are two main problems: lack of cooperation between governments, and lack of cooperation between companies. Both involve a certain level of distrust, protectiveness and inertia.

For one thing, many of these standards have been developed at the national level over many years and convincing governments and companies to suddenly switch to something new for the European greater good has been a challenge. But the semantic standards, those digital communications that go unseen by the normal user, can make or break energy efficiency technology.

A basic example would be an individual consumer who orders a Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostat and tries to install it only to find that it cannot communicate with their gas boiler. The problem then radiates up in scope and complexity. The gas boiler and electricity unit may be unable to communicate with the grid operator and utility in real-time in order to give them data about usage.

The data generated by the grid may not be able to then feedback data to industrial users and governments. And governments may not have data that is compatible with one another. A smart appliance bought in one EU member state may not be compatible with the data system of another one.

The solution – Interconnect project

The Interconnect project is working on fixing these semantic interoperability issues to support the EU Energy Efficiency Directive, which sets a binding target on member states to reduce final energy consumption by at least 11.7% by 2030 – an ambition that was raised this year from the previous 2018 directive.

The project is establishing large-scale pilots that will use Key Performance Indicators (KPI) objectives to measure whether the EU is on track to meet the target. The pilot projects will seek to maximise the integration of buildings with microgrids, e-mobility and smart city services and then measure the energy efficiency improvements that result.

“In a consortium this big it was inevitable to have direct competitors participating, even within the same pilots,” says Tošić. “It’s really an open ecosystem of data sharing we’re proposing where everything can be accessible, and in the industrial world and the real market that’s a stretch, to say the least.”

Tošić explained that they introduced and deployed these solutions gradually, so they could test them in a constrained environment with mock data – also restricting access level and who the data can work with, to establish the ecosystems needed for the pilots and initial tests.

“Some pilots remained quite closed. Some were more open. It depends on the composition. But this was actually necessary to allow them to still feel in control of where their information data and the knowledge actually goes,” said Tošić.

The funding – FundingBox Accelerator

Of course, these projects also require financing and significant capital will be needed to scale up.

Interconnect is being executed in partnership with the FundingBox Accelerator, a Polish non-profit supporting, promoting and launching technological & innovative start-ups and tech SME initiatives in Europe. It is also hoped that the project can tap into other research and innovation funding available through the EU budget to get to widespread deployment.

FundingBox is managing open calls for the project and has launched two so far. The first, Interoperable-by-Design Prototypes, attracted 66 submitted applications from more than 20 European countries. Ten of these were selected and each received €150,000 in funding.

The recipients included projects enhancing semantic interoperability between smart home devices and building systems, optimising demand-side flexibility to improve grid stability, developing innovative solutions for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure and creating smart energy marketplaces and incentive mechanisms.

More funding – ‘Demonstrators of Energy Applications’

A second call titled ‘Demonstrators of Energy Applications’ is specifically designed for projects mitigating the current energy crisis. Seven projects that enhance grid stability, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering energy costs for consumers were awarded €100,000 each. They were also able to integrate, implement, and test their applications using InterConnect’s interoperable demonstration project framework.

To make the results as tangible as possible for consumers, FundingBox has also developed three mobile apps: Flexi App in Italy, Pilot App in Greece, and The Wattch.r in Portugal. They allow consumers to track their energy consumption, understand how their choices impact the grid, identify opportunities to reduce energy use and save money and support grid stability through smart energy management.

The next round of projects will be part of a tender called the DIGITAL Programme, which calls for the deployment of the Common European Reference Framework for energy-saving applications. The Commission is currently considering those applications following the close of the call in September 2023. The project that will be selected, is expected to lead the deployment of the second-generation blueprint of the Common European Reference Framework for energy-saving applications.

The goal, according to the project’s architects, is to get to a future where your home is no longer just a place to live but an active participant in the energy grid, where consumers are empowered to make informed choices about their energy consumption and where businesses can develop innovative solutions that benefit both the environment and their bottom line.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Dave Keating

Quelle/Source: Euractiv, 20.03.2024

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