Malcolm Yadack, Sim4Blocks coordinator, hosted the first project podcast, speaking to some of the experts involved with Sim4Blocks on what the project is hoping to achieve and for what purpose.

Sim4Blocks recently released its first project podcast, hosted by project coordinator Malcolm Yadack. Five representatives, working on “relatively complicated engineering aspects of buildings or optimisation systems,” shed some light on how flexible energy use can contribute to a new renewable energy system in Europe.

The five panellists were:

Professor Ursula Eicker, head of research at HFT Stuttgart, who works on sustainable energy technologies;
Professor Jessen Page of the University of Applied Science Western Switzerland, responsible for demand response optimisation algorithms;
Jordi Cipriano, director of the Building Energy and Efficiency Group at the public research centre in Catalonia, who studies energy efficiency in buildings;
Peter Fröhlich, senior scientist at AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, who has been looking at user perspectives;
Bert Claessens, head of research at Restore, who has been investigating future technology development.

“For users to accept flexible energy and use different types of energy, they have to understand it and understand what the motivations are,” began Yadack. Sim4Blocks has the challenge of understanding the expectations that society holds and what both the customers and the project wants of the project. And the ultimate question: what will demand response mean for both the older and the younger generations in terms of adapting how they live?

“People need to understand that it will be much more complicated in a renewable [energy] future, it will mean a different lifestyle,” said Eicker. There will be a transition away from using energy when we want, but we need to understand that this isn’t a bad thing. With the right communication and education on how to manage energy and why it is necessary, Sim4Blocks has a better chance of meeting its targets of reducing CO2 emissions with its flexible energy services.

But Sim4Blocks is not just focused on changing how people use electricity. “Heating systems are also an integral component to demand response,” said Yadack. Eicker added: “Users need to be aware that gas and oil won’t be available forever – but that the electricity sector can provide an alternative to heat homes”. There are already many ways to harness renewable energy for electricity use such as wind and sun, and this electricity can be used to generate heat pumps too, but “this strain to the electricity system needs to be balanced,” said Eicker.

The project is testing as many heat pump options as possible at the different pilot sites to see which is more effective. For example, at one pilot site they are using a low temperature thermal network to distribute water in low temperatures to the different buildings using heat pumps, therefore using low temperature water as the source of heating.

The project faces many challenges, but to achieve the best demand response adoption rates a balance needs to be struck between using the right technology and attending to the needs of people. There is, on the one hand, the difficulty of testing the influx of new technologies and devices in real environments, and on the other not enough attention is being paid to what humans want and need.

At the Spanish pilot site, “real user feedback and user interactions base how [they] decide energy usage and understand the potential changes and behaviour of customers with regards to non-automated demand response services,” said Cipriano. However, how they will collect and test this service, using for example questionnaires or websites, has not been decided. Customers can find certain methods complicated or too long a process.

The problem with the human factor lies in keeping customers regularly recording their energy usage, and for this to happen there needs to be an “easy-to-use system interface that is understandable,” said Fröhlich. But for demand response services to implement these solutions Sim4Blocks needs to pay heed to both “those who want to actively do something to help energy, and those who are interested but would rather someone else did it for them,” continued Fröhlich.

There are a number of diverse challenges for actors in the market from “the human factor, energy poverty – those who can’t even afford the energy costs – and what companies have to face in the future,” concluded Yadack. “But whose challenge is it to make users and companies see the value in demand response at local pilot sites and then EU-wide?”

Discussions continued by drawing upon the EU patchwork of national regulations and customer, policy maker and stakeholder duties within Sim4Blocks and how they fit into providing solutions that are applicable EU-wide for the benefit of scalability.

Listen to the podcast and hear the complete discussion here