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Island demonstrators hint at new opportunities for the renewable energy sector

Islands are an ideal research ground for those willing to test out energy grid improvement solutions. Local communities usually favour renewable energy and face a wide range of challenges. The EU-funded SMILE project has been testing various combinations of new technologies to take these challenges on, for the benefit of island communities.


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Many countries in Europe are split between mainland territory and offshore islands. Despite sharing a common nationality, citizens in either of these settings often have vastly different lives. These differences touch upon everything, up to the very way energy is produced and consumed.

This poses particular challenges for the implementation of smart grids – modernised electricity networks where energy and data flow in two directions to ensure higher efficiency and better customer satisfaction. For the modernisation of the electricity system to be a success, stakeholders will need to consider the local specificities of islands. And this is precisely what the SMILE project is about.

“SMILE is proposing a set of both technological and non-technological solutions adapted to local circumstances. We developed different technologies along with a cross-functional, modular and integrated automation and control framework. At the end of the day, these solutions should make distribution in an electricity grid relying on renewables and storage systems more agile and competitive, by matching actual real-time data with predictions,” Giannicola Loriga, head of Corporate R&D Networking & Development Strategy at RINA and coordinator of the project, says.

The range of technologies proposed by SMILE is impressive. These cover novel thermal batteries, battery energy storage systems (BESS), power to heat, smart integration of grid users from the transportation sector (both electric cars and boats), an energy management system, an aggregator approach to demand side management (DSM), as well as predictive algorithms. By testing out different combinations, the SMILE team hopes to reduce the dependency of islands on fossil fuels while decreasing energy production costs.

Three demonstrators

Project partners selected three islands to implement their demonstrators: Madeira in Portugal, Samsø in Denmark and Orkney in the United Kingdom. “Generally speaking, island communities can be more easily engaged in the real-life validation of solutions aiming to solve important challenges with a high impact on their everyday life. They make ideal candidates for demonstration activities requiring societal engagement and commitment,” adds Loriga.

Whilst sharing similar topographic characteristics and a common engagement for renewable energy sources, the three islands are subject to different policies, regulations and energy markets. This presented a great opportunity to test out different solutions while ensuring their replicability. As Loriga points out: “The Orkney archipelago is electrically connected to the mainland network. Samsø is connected to the mainland, whilst Madeira is a total energy island not connected to the mainland network. The sites therefore effectively represent the majority of EU energy markets.”

In Orkney, the team aimed to transform a semi-smart grid system (managing power generation only) into a fully smart system able to manage both production and demand. Installation of the controllable loads (domestic heat installs, EV smart charging) was completed and is undergoing validation.

In Samsø, the core of the demonstrator is a BESS installed in the Ballen marina, as well as a DSM system. A heat pump covering 100 % of the heating demand in the harbour master’s office and the photovoltaic plant was installed along with a smart energy control system. Fluctuations of energy demand from berthed yachts and tourism called for bespoke SMILE solutions.

Finally in Madeira, the project team implemented five different pilots. “Two of them are related to the increase in self-consumption of renewables production by introducing storage systems and DSM (at both residential and commercial level), another two to smart charging of electric vehicles, and the last one to voltage and frequency control. For each pilot, the installations were completed and the last year is devoted to the validation of the solutions,” Loriga explains.

With these pilots being largely successful, the team is now focusing on the final assessment of its proposed technology solutions in real-life conditions. Once this is done, the door should be wide open to scaling up SMILE solutions for larger energy systems.

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator
Project participants:
United Kingdom
Total cost
€ 14 092 983
EU Contribution
€ 12 106 046
Project duration

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