Energy experts and utility companies installed electric thermal storage systems in properties across three European countries. The technology could help create a greener future.

The race to provide consumers with sustainable, efficient and affordable energy has intensified in recent years, thanks to the EU strategy towards achieving an Energy Union. Enter RealValue, the EU-funded project which focused on smart electric thermal storage (SETS) space and water heating systems.

By involving the entire energy supply chain, the RealValue project demonstrated how local small-scale energy storage, combined with advanced ICT and modelling techniques, could be beneficial for all market participants. The RealValue consortium included technology developers, energy system modelling and market specialists, socioeconomic experts, electricity network operators and energy utilities. In addition to the SETS devices that were installed in houses, commercial premises and public buildings, smart plugs, sensors, smart meters and gateways were also used in the pilot trials.

As stated on the project website, the gateway, connected to the internet, links the heating appliances to an aggregation platform “which at cloud level provides the ability to interpret the flexibility of the devices. This information is transmitted to a cloud optimisation engine which is integrated with the electricity grids in each country allowing an understanding of the current and future wholesale prices, and other network constraints.”

The pilot study that was conducted in Germany, Italy and Latvia involved the installation of 750 SETS systems. SETS is based on the existing technology of traditional night storage heaters. These are designed to reduce the large differences in peak and off-peak electricity demand. The insulated thermal cores of traditional night storage heaters stock heat during the night when energy costs are lower, and release it during the day when demand and prices are higher. In comparison, the SETS system is more flexible, allowing the core to be charged at any time to suit electricity grid conditions. It also offers end users more control over the release of this heat and potential costs savings.

The RealValue (Realising Value from Electricity Markets with Local Smart Electric Thermal Storage Technology) project predicts that SETS devices, deployed at scale, can have a significant impact on power system operating costs. “SETS deployment is particularly valuable in future scenarios where fuel and carbon prices are high, or very high shares of variable renewable generation are achieved.”

SETS is a direct replacement for existing electric thermal storage heaters and water tanks with a combined load of 55 GW across the EU. It can also replace direct electric resistance heaters with further connected load of 93 GW.

Virtual power plants

The demand-side management (DSM) used by RealValue allows energy users of all kinds to act as virtual power plants. They can provide flexibility to the electricity system by voluntarily changing their usual electricity consumption in reaction to price signals or to specific requests. As the project points out, electricity supply and demand must remain in balance in real time to ensure stability on the electricity grid. “Traditionally utilities have called upon peaking power plants to increase power generation to meet rising demand. DSM, which includes energy efficiency and demand response, works from the other side of the equation – instead of adding more generation to the system, it pays energy users to reduce consumption.”

For more information, please see:
RealValue project website