Digital innovations are redefining the energy sector, encouraging a move away from large-scale and centralised power plants to more local and personalised sources of energy.
All around the world, governments are building more solar parks, wind farms, and hydroelectric plants to generate power. In Europe, the EU is aiming to become the first climate-neutral economy by 2050, one of the cornerstones of the European Green Deal.
Over the last few years, Member States have been striving to integrate Renewable Energy Sources (RES) into their national energy grid. But doing so is no simple task. Before solutions can be rolled out onto the mass market, many challenges, both at the commercial and scientific level, need to be overcome.
Because renewable energy is one hundred percent dependent on the elements (sun, wind, rain, biomass), supply fluctuation is a common problem. Imagine a drought rendering a dam useless and taking away a whole country's energy supply? Or intermittent energy from wind or solar sources. What then? That's where innovation and new technologies kick in.
Solar panels and wind turbines are the most obvious signs a major change is afoot in the energy sector. But behind the scenes there is a whole digital architecture in place, making renewable energy sources work more effectively for both consumers and producers. CEF's Context Broker Building Block is at the heart of that digital architecture.
So, what exactly does Context Broker do?
Acting as a data aggregator, Context Broker gathers data from various sources and packages it in a way that allows public administrations and private organisations to work with information that's already filtered, organised, and labelled. In the context of the energy sector, data from power-plants, electricity "smart-meters," weather forecasts, and other sources are sent to Context Broker, which then provides the most up-to-date intel to those producing and consuming electricity. That way, energy consumers know how much to use, when, and from where. Context Broker offers a range of functionalities, such as updates, queries, registrations, subscriptions, and notifications, helping users retrieve, discover and access information as needed. One of Context Broker's key features is the publish and subscribe system. This system allows Context Producers (entities managing Internet of Things devices) to publish data by invoking update operations and to send out notifications when any of the monitored conditions change. By providing energy retailers with the tools to act according to their energy demands, the service's quality significantly improves.
FINESCE Marketplace Solution - the electronic marketplace for electricity
All over the continent, there are now a number of projects underway, focusing not only on maximising the benefits of RES, but making sure both consumers and energy producers are not left at the mercy of nature's whims. One of the projects taking full advantage of Context Broker is the FINESCE Marketplace. A consortium composed of dozens of energy companies, R&D centres, and universities from all over Europe, it essentially aims to provide an electronic marketplace for electricity. The project's goal is to enable customers to consume energy and electricity closer to where it's produced, resulting in the reduction of energy waste and a more efficient way of matching supply with demand. In order for it to work, the project requires a large amount of data coming from a variety of sources. From the information provided, researchers gain an insight into the different factors impacting energy consumption, such as weather conditions, social events, contract regulations, and energy dynamics. And that's where Context Broker comes in.
The eDREAM Project
Another promising effort being made at European level in the pursuit of smarter energy solutions is the eDREAM project. Using blockchain technology, the eDREAM Project is trying to figure out how to provide a secure, decentralised, tamper-proof and transparent pool for energy data. Due to the rapid growth of Distributed Energy Sources (DRES) across the globe, the need for a visionary, decentralised approach towards clean energy production and distribution is now widely recognised in the European Union. Just like with the FINESCE Marketplace, Context Broker is at the centre of this process.
In this particular case, a specific component called the smart-meter aggregator communicates with Context Broker to retrieve, translate and store the data into “BigchainDB” (blockchain database). With those components in place, the eDream Project aims to achieve three things:
- attain near real-time control and supervision of grid management and operation on all voltage levels.
- turn traditional, centralised market approaches and smart grid operations into novel, decentralised and community-driven energy systems.
- introduce new marketplace models, leading the way in adopting distributed ledger technologies for near real time closed loop ecosystems, making optimal use of block-chain based Demand Response processes.
The Context Broker's role is to inject near real-time data into the big data layer used to develop the clustering techniques for load, profiling and customers segmentation. The project is now in its third year, and an advanced prototype has already been delivered. Furthermore, the use of FIWARE open source technologies allows developers to rely on effective support, and reduce the cost of technological infrastructure.
The SOFIE Project
SOFIE stands for Secure, Open Federation For Internet Everywhere, and it is also trying to create a marketplace where consumers can search for offers on clean electricity, as well as monetise their spare electricity. A consortium of enterprises, research centres and universities, SOFIE is working on finding ways to use Electrical Vehicles to decarbonise cities. The goal is to turn electrical cars into “mobile rechargeable batteries”, as opposed to relying on recharging stations.
Ultimately, the goal is to build a trustworthy marketplace that enables data exchange between different parties, by setting the framework for connecting the Network of Things, and enabling automatic discoveries of other things.
In Internet of Things (IoT) platforms need to be connected via SOFIE-specified software adaptors. For that, Context Broker integrates and enhances the interoperability of these different software, creating a standardised platform (“system of systems") to manage, process, and analyse the energy data received.
The proposed solution is being validated in a pilot involving two potential customers in Italy: a Distribution Systems Operator (DSO - ASM Terni) and a Fleet Manager (Emotion), with a user base of circa 100 end users. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
What does the future hold?
For the past five years, the EU's Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) has played a key role in implementing the Commission's objectives in the areas of energy and climate policy. Indeed, CEF is a key instrument to facilitate the Union’s commitment under the Paris Agreement to reach a zero-emission society.
Last year, the CEF Building Blocks were introduced at the UN Climate Change Conference. It was an opportunity to learn about how smart software solutions are helping mitigate the effects of climate change in urban areas. It also showed how open source, standard-based, Data Models and APIs have a key role to play in achieving the EU's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At the moment, CEF's Building Blocks are helping a number of regions across Europe to address their environmental needs. For instance, in the province of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, Context Broker is being used to gather data from air quality sensors mounted on bicycles. Based on the gathered data, officials are able to identify specific locations where the air quality needs to be improved; in Barcelona, Context Broker was also used to address the city's air pollution.
The speed of change in the energy sector is constantly increasing. Aside from the European-wide effort to minimise carbon emissions, digital tools are also now in place to facilitate the implementation of smarter energy solutions. The advent of blockchain will play a major role in democratising and decentralising energy markets. The use of data, digital platforms, and increasingly interoperable systems in the sector have started unlocking innovation and tailor-made, value-added energy solutions for both consumers and energy companies. The CEF Building Blocks, and Context Broker in particular, will be at the heart of this energy revolution. By helping both energy consumers and traders use energy more efficiently, it will also be making a key contribution to the EU's effort to become the world's first climate neutral economy.
How can CEF help you?
At the Connecting Europe Facility, we give you access to free tools, support and funding to help you build your digital services. Here are some of the other Building Blocks you might be interested in.
Supports EU-wide cross-border public services using blockchain technology
Facilitate the preservation, migration, reuse and trust of your information
Exchange data and documents securely and reliably
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