“Our SmartHome innovations make life easier and more convenient. They also help us use energy with a greater awareness and more efficiently.”
Dr Lioudmila Simon heads the Research and Development division for electromobility and innovative customer solutions
The energy customer of the future will be more than just a consumer. Modern technology is already revolutionising the way we use energy at home and is changing the way we keep ourselves mobile.
A reliable supply of energy has always been one of our basic needs. However, the way we generate and use heat and electricity is changing in a fundamental way. And this trend will definitely continue in the future. Customers are gradually becoming active players in the energy market. For example, they are producing an increasing share of their electricity using photovoltaic systems, store it at home and use it as needed. This means houses will even serve as charging stations, delivering green electricity for electric cars. Smart electric meters already enable our customers to constantly monitor how much electricity they consume and conveniently manage their electricity use from their Smart Home.
Reconciling and managing the small and large contributions of the many players in the energy market of the future will be one of our biggest challenges. Future technologies like artificial intelligence will assist us along the way.
We will all have to embrace the paradigm change within society as a whole and everybody will have to do his bit in order to achieve our climate targets. At innogy, we want to support our customers with good ideas and keep developing new products and services all the time. We want to provide our customers with the best possible level of comfort and help them design their own personal energy world.
“More and more cars will be powered by electricity in the future. Customer-friendly charging solutions are key to success when it comes to sustainable and forward-looking mobility. This is why we keep working on innovative charging options within our team of “technology pioneers” (#PIONIERGEIST)!“
Michael Schneider works with us on research projects revolving around electromobility
Innovative cable management. Charging an electric car can still be a little uncomfortable today. For instance, the driver always has to bring his own cable. During the charging process, the cable may get dirty and wet, which may end up on your hands or inside the car. So what can be done to make charging convenient?
A first step is the firm integration of the cable into the charging pole: before the charging process, the customer simply pulls it out, and afterwards it disappears again in the charging pole. We are currently developing such an innovative cable management system as part of a research project to improve the charging experience of our customers. We intend to launch the new concept as early as 2019.
What sounds easy, may actually be a little tricky. This is because the cable routing within the charging pole may cause the cable to wear faster. Moreover, the cables will be a lot thicker, heavier and bulkier in the future to charge the batteries of electric cars faster with more power.
We have already started to look for ways of automating the charging process to make sure that charging will not be less comfortable but more convenient in the future. At innogy, we are developing such solutions. The driver of an electric car would then only have to stop in front of the charging pole, and all the rest would be handled by the system itself, e.g. by connecting the charging cable automatically.
Metro. What if we could stop with our electric cars at charging stations in the future which can do entirely without electricity from the grid? This may still sound like a pipe dream, but we at innogy are already taking a first step towards this future: in Duisburg, we erected the first partly self-sufficient charging station in Germany with a photovoltaic system and electricity storage facility.
Fast charging systems are only rarely used to capacity: on average, only 15 percent of the installed connected load and charging capacity are actually used. Load peaks arise in particular between 8 a.m. and 20 p.m. The integration of a storage facility will thus make it possible to store electricity at times of low utilisation and to make it available again when demand is high so as to even out load peaks. The connected load can be reduced even more by local solar power generation; this is a major advantage in light of the challenges posed by the nationwide development of charging infrastructure for the electricity grid.
With the pilot project in Duisburg, we intend to determine the space requirements for a partially self-sufficient charging farm as well as the optimum size of storage battery, photovoltaic system and grid connection. Moreover, we will analyse economic efficiency and customer acceptance. It is planned to turn the concept into a series product after a successful pilot phase.
xHouse. Will single-family homes need no power connection anymore in the future? This is what our xHouse project is designed to reveal. The residential house has been equipped with a photovoltaic system, an electricity storage battery and a bi-directional charging pole which is designed not only to charge an electric car but also to discharge it so as to use the electricity in the house if needed. A Home Energy Management System (HEMS) takes care of the interplay of all the components and optimises the energy flows. The energy manager controls the power supply from the in-house storage battery, the battery of the electric car, the solar system and the grid. It responds flexibly to the energy demand in the house, the volume of the currently generated solar power, the charging level of the batteries and the charging requirements of the car.
The solar system provides electricity which can be consumed directly by the customer. Surplus electricity will be stored in the battery of the house or of the electric car. If the level of consumption in the house is particularly high, self-generated, stored green electricity is used as required. The car with the bi-directional charging system provides another option to optimise the energy flows. This minimises the customer’s electricity costs and reduces the load on the grid.
Apart from the self-sufficient supply with no grid access, the xHouse project is also supposed to investigate the optimum design of the systems and to explore options of using the concept also in office buildings or car parks.
Solar energy. Apart from wind power, photovoltaics is the second heavily growing branch of power production from renewable energies. With the extremely thin, light-weight and flexible Heliatek film we are opening up new surfaces for solar power production, which are not or only hardly suitable for conventional solar modules.
Back in 2009, innogy acquired a stake in the company Heliatek, a carve-out from Dresden University and Ulm University. They produce the film from organic material conserving resources. In the last few years, we installed two pilot systems successfully on the fermentation tanks of our biogas plant at Bergheim-Paffendorf and on a facade of Lechwerke at Augsburg. We are testing these now in long-term operation. It has been particularly pleasing to see so far that Heliatek film maintains its efficiency even in poor light conditions and at high temperatures.
Meanwhile customers placed their first orders for installations, one, for instance at Duisburg harbour. Since we expect high demand for the future, a commercial-scale Heliatek production facility will come on stream in 2019. A parallel project is designed to integrate the product into innogy’s retail operation for business customers. In the next few years, the retail focus is then going to be on large roof-top surfaces with limited load-bearing capacity.
Heat supply. Climate protection requires decarbonisation, i.e. almost no CO2 emissions, and the electrification of heat supplies. At innogy, we are therefore developing new concepts ranging from heat production, through its distribution onto the use of heat. In this context, we are looking increasingly at new applications and combinations for technologies some of which have already been established for quite some time. One example, which just a few years ago was still believed to be economically or technologically not viable, is the integration of heat pumps into the heating systems of district heating grids. The improved utilisation of heat from the biogas engines used there enables us to increase the share of regenerative heat.
Furthermore, we are testing hybrid heating systems in the laboratory and in the field. They combine various energy sources, e.g. gas and electricity, or different generation technologies, such as combustion and a thermally driven heat pump, in a single system. Our technological range is rounded out by “power-to-heat” concepts converting electricity generated from renewable energies into heat with minimum capital expenditure, and storage systems keeping heat, which is currently not needed, available for later use. Moreover, we are exploring potential efficiencies opened up for heat supply by digitalisation: for instance, the optimised operation of generation and distribution systems, the identification of heat losses and more effective maintenance of heat generation plants.
Energy monitoring. A good example of how concrete demand in the market can be met by close cooperation of R&D and Retail, perfectly in line with our Pioneering Spirit campaign (#PIONIERGEIST), is the development of bit.B, a comprehensive energy monitoring solution for business customers. Simply put, bit.B measures everything that can be measured in an operation when it comes to energy. In so doing, it provides for maximum transparency of energy flows, consumption data and operating processes.
bit.B is a secure, cloud-based solution enabling our customers to view all data in real time through an online monitor from anywhere. The big advantage is that commercially available sensors, meters and machines can be connected with the system by radio link while the operation process is ongoing. This makes bit.B the price-benefit champion among the energy monitoring systems.
Initially, bit.B was designed for small and mid-sized production operations for which the straightforward and low-cost installation is an important point. Pretty soon, however, we also received inquiries from chain store operators and companies with multiple sites in Germany and beyond. The project bit.B multisites (= several locations) has been our response to this demand. The intention is to understand the specific requirements of chain stores, to identify solutions, test them and finally to translate them into practice.
Individual production operations have to have transparency of energy flows and operating processes mostly at a single site. Companies with multiple sites expect our system to meet totally different requirements. In fact, a regional manager may want to compare his sites with each other at plant manager meetings and may want to derive benchmarks from these comparisons. We will now keep developing our system on the basis of customer interviews so as to serve also companies with multiple sites in an optimum manner. This is how we intend to safeguard our top ranking for Data Intelligence solutions in the energy sector for the future.
Artificial intelligence. Be it robots for operating theatres in hospitals, autonomous driving or smart loudspeakers taking orders at home: artificial intelligence (AI) has long since arrived in our daily life. And it keeps developing at great speed. Ever more powerful computer systems acquire more and more human qualities like perception, logic, interaction and independent learning.
At innogy we are doing research in various areas as to how AI systems can assist us in providing our customers with even better services.
Inspection of local heat networks
Energy counselling for business customers