TwinERGY enables citizens at the heart of the energy market — an interview

“Citizen participation and community co-ownership schemes play an increasingly societal role by fostering citizens’ participation in energy matters and raising acceptance of renewable energy. They can bring tremendous benefits for citizens and communities by placing them closer to the energy transition and fulfilling Europe’s decarbonisation goals,” says Dr. Athanasios Chassiakos as we speak with him, Dr. Stylianos Karatzas and Vasiliki Lazari about their transformative and collaborative project TwinERGY.

The TwinERGY project embraces synergies, ideas and work of communities from around Europe. Get to know the consortium team.

This interview is part of an ongoing TwinERGY Interview Series and was first published at “proofing future, bridging people + ideas”.

Dr. Athanasios Chassiakos is an Associate Professor and the Director of the “Project, Infrastructure, and City Management” Laboratory of the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Patras. He holds a Diploma in Civil Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens as well as MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Minnesota. He is the Project Coordinator of the TwinERGY project.

Dr. Athanasios Chassiakos is an Associate Professor and the Director of the “Project, Infrastructure, and City Management” Laboratory of the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Patras. He holds a Diploma in Civil Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens as well as MSc and PhD degrees from the University of Minnesota. He is the Project Coordinator of the TwinERGY project.

Vasiliki Lazari holds a Diploma in Civil Engineering and MS in Intelligent Transportation Systems and Project Management from the University of Patras. She is a PhD candidate in “Smart Infrastructure Management” at the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Patras, and a member of the TwinERGY Project Management Team.

CITIZENS

Sebastian Klemm: TwinERGY puts citizens at the heart of the energy market. Why are better energy ecosystems needed, and why is there a need to increase citizens’ active role in the energy market?

Athanasios Chassiakos: It is generally accepted that it is vital to protect the natural environment and avoid reliance on excessive and non-sustainable exploitation of natural resources such as fossil fuels in order to ensure the health of our planet and resources for future generations. This means that a transition to a more sustainable, better energy ecosystem is required by adopting new technologies, new business models and corresponding social change to displace currently entrenched carbon-based systems.

Citizen participation and community co-ownership schemes play an increasingly societal role by fostering citizens’ participation in energy matters and raising acceptance of renewable energy. They can bring tremendous benefits for citizens and communities by placing them closer to the energy transition and fulfilling Europe’s decarbonisation goals.

Stylianos Karatzas: The energy market and ecosystems in the countries of the European Union have a long-standing issue of discussion among the competent authorities due to the numerous impediments and trade barriers existing, the pricing policies and measures as well as other reasons like environmental and safety regulations.

The fact that the quality of our lives nowadays depends on a reliable supply of energy at an affordable price, should be considered among the key causes, that make the improvement of the existing ecosystem necessary. In addition, the link of the energy activities, as they are conducted today by utilizing polluting methods and means, to the phenomenon of environmental pollution, due to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and the damage to the natural ecosystem and the unfavourable effects on human health, make the change of the existing ecosystem imperative.

The European Legislative Framework on the energy issue, as it has been formed since 2018 and onwards, has put people at the center of the energy market. This was made because it is believed that consumers can reap the benefits of technology and renewable energy by lowering the value of electricity. While at the same time, the mass utilization of such technologies by a larger part of the population leads to the reliability of the network, as it increases the self-production which can lead to its security.in this way the two main causes that lead to the continuous search for improvements in the energy system are achieved,while at the same time giving a set of new possibilities to the general public for the creation of new services that will improve their lives.

Sebastian Klemm: What is the role of both innovative technology, the Citizen Engagement Framework and the interoperable platform with regard to the pilot cities?

Stylianos Karatzas: Consumers need and seem that they are willing to be transformed to active energy market players, towards reducing their energy bills and tackling energy poverty. Therefore, consumer empowerment stands as a major target and as a challenge while lying among the most important lessons learned from projects, which have run under the H2020 umbrella. Taking into consideration the type of technology being used to each use case as well as the variable demographics of each pilot, the Citizen Engagement Framework has been developed to enhance the co-design element in the project activities, which helps to maintain citizens at the heart of the developments and thus democratize the energy system. Moreover, there is a clear relationship between active participation and the innovative technology being selected, given that, in practice, citizens are only able to participate if they are familiarized with some sustainable energy solutions that are used towards providing services in the framework of the energy market.

Athanasios Chassiakos: The innovative technology such as the digital twins that are used to deliver the TwinERGY solution as well as the development of an interoperable platform facilitates the connection of different tools, modules and services to enable more sustainable, effective and efficient energy use, while making the proposed solution more attractive to the general public and easy to use.

TwinERGY has high interest in involving participants from each pilot city into the co-creation, testing and evaluation of technological solutions to ensure that the project accommodates their needs and priorities. TwinERGY’s interoperable infrastructure ecosystem will constitute the backbone for all demonstrators’ support, and will assure the replicability and scalability potential of the proposed solutions. It is designed to facilitate all processes in order for new business models to be defined and introduced to third parties that will facilitate consumer involvement and represent them in energy market transactions.

Sebastian Klemm: The TwinERGY website reads “We provide a suite of innovative tools to predict citizens’ consumption patterns and their comfort preferences, analysing the flexibility potential that individuals, buildings and communities can provide to the electrical grid thus maximising their aggregated value. This information facilitates the design of a personalised demand response strategy that allows citizens and communities to save on their energy bill without impacting their comfort and ordinary activities.Does this mean that citizens do not need to change their consumption habits, as savings are ensured by digital systems that only leverage market price fluctuations? Else, how can TwinERGY help translate consumption insights into nudging behavioural changes for concrete reduced energy consumptions as well?

Stylianos Karatzas: The TwinERGY innovative, value-adding services focus on non-intrusiveness, comfort and well-being preservation, non-violation of prosumer daily schedules as well as maximization of benefits through transparent and open participation in markets. This does not necessarily mean that citizens will not have to change their consumer habits, as this is a necessary consequence of changing their energy behaviour. Although, the use of services offered within the project will lead to the adoption of new consumer behaviour and in changing habits in a way that will not drastically affect their daily lives.

The aforementioned will be achieved by introducing elements of automation and algorithmic logic in the programming of energy processes and more specifically by introducing the technology of digital twins.

Digital twins will facilitate the deployment of human-centric Demand Response optimization strategies, enabling personalized control functions and automation, indoor environment quality or daily operations/ schedules for the provision of the required amounts of flexibility to aggregators. It will also ensure the improvement of demand forecasting at the short- and mid-term through the utilization of real-life data streams from the consumer assets, to enable:

i) better predictability of future states of the distribution grid and

ii) highly effective Virtual Power Plant configuration at the aggregator side and minimization of Demand Response strategies overrides. Nevertheless, digital twins integration will act as an intelligent node that utilizes a variety of tools and applications to ensure energy consumption and flexibility awareness increase, personalized Demand Response optimization through automation and remote controls, promotion of self-consumption at the prosumer level and maximum integration of local Renewable Energy Sources.

Athanasios Chassiakos: The TwinERGY solution can make predictions on the consumption patterns of the individuals and run flexibility models that will provide recommendations to the citizen to adjust the energy usage within a day without however interfere with certain aspects of the user’s comfort. For example, if a participant considers that his comfort levels for the room temperature is within the 18–22 degrees of Celsius then the received recommendation for decreasing energy consumption will not be to lower the heat to the 16 degrees of Celsius but could be rescheduling using the dishwasher two hours later when the total home energy demands will be decreased. This means that TwinERGY raises people’s awareness to track their energy use and adjust their consumption whenever needed but not in a way that compromises their well-being.

USE CASES

Sebastian Klemm: TwinERGY is being piloted in 4 cities: in the City of Athens — Greece, in Benetutti smart community — Italy, in the Hagedorn village of Steinheim — Germany, and in Bristol City — United Kingdom. What are the varying conditions and what distinct exemplary use cases do you initiate in each of these pilot cities?

Stylianos Karatzas & Athanasios Chassiakos & Vasiliki Lazari: The four places chosen as demonstration sites of the project show different levels of readiness, and all of them are working towards becoming smart cities and deploy their Smart City plans. Targeting at different types of loads — including heating and mobility sector — while enforcing the increase of Renewable Energy Source penetration rate, the proposed system will be based on carefully designed business models, in order to provide the custumers with novel sources of income or opportunities for financial benefit.

The different use cases being tested in the different pilot places are presented in the following figure. The selection of the use cases to be tested in each one of the pilot sites is a result of the special characteristics of each site, the needs of the consumers that have been taken into account and the regulatory barriers that we might face based on the national legal framework applied in each one of the countries.

According to each pilot’s special characteristics that are linked to geographical conditions, regulatory requirements, technology adoption level and maturity in participating in energy related programs the following use cases will be tested per site:

Use Case 1: Maximize self-consumption and self-sufficiency in the Home Energy Management to reduce the energy cost to the end user, while ensuring comfort levels and security of supply.

Use Case 2: Increase the generation of Renewable Energy Sources in domestic and tertiary buildings to change the overall share of energy.

Use Case 3: Use electric vehicles as distributed energy storage tools for expanding grid capacity and exploring the possibilities of cooperative electromobility.

Use Case 4: Empower citizens to actively participate in local energy trading markets to sell their flexible energy loads and excess capacity through decentralized transactional platforms.

Use Case 5: Improve grid’s flexibility and stability through optimal management of distributed energy resources.

Use Case 6: Develop different incentives to be provided to consumers to promote reduction or shift in electricity use.

Use Case 7: Explore socio-economic and cultural dimensions as drivers for energy behaviors in demand response programs.

Use Case 8: Use wearables devices to obtain the level of comfort of consumers and design personalized incentives to encourage changes in their energy behavior.

Use Case 9: Combine data from individual consumers to create a Digital Twin model of the community that allows to predict its capability and enhance its trading or selling power.

SYSTEMIC SUSTAINABILITY & SCALING

Sebastian Klemm: How do you plan for the evaluated innovative tools and platform to be further maintained in the pilot cities after the official TwinERGY project scope?

Stylianos Karatzas: The project, which completed its first year of operation last month, will permanently provide the equipment to citizens who decide to participate in its pilot demonstration activities. This is a first example of citizen recognition, and there are plans to support citizens and continue to offer the services designed under the project after the end of its life cycle. The project team will evaluate the services performance and once they are validated, we will intensify our efforts to offer these services to as many people as possible, starting with the initial pilot participants. This will be done, due to the fact that these ‘early adopters’ have recognized the value of the project’s vision from its earliest stages and actively supported it throughout its lifecycle.

Athanasios Chassiakos: TwinERGY project has already decided to offer the installed equipment required for the pilot demonstration implementation to the participants after the official project duration. In this way all participant’s trust in the project scope will be rewarded in a way that will have a direct alignment with the project’s goal to enhance people’s awareness regarding energy consumption and behavioural patterns and actively support citizen participation in the energy market. Moreover, a series of different types of datasets will be provided by TwinERGY for public use concerning pilot demonstration results, software artefacts, project deliverables and scientific publications. However, in terms of providing the project’s platform to the pilot cities this is something that is yet to be defined and remains a topic of discussion among the project consortium.

Sebastian Klemm: How will you disseminate thus tried and tested tools and participatory processes after the TwinERGY project scope, to enable scaling and replication of positive impacts in further cities and regions?

Stylianos Karatzas: The project team is particularly interested in the element of extroversion and information sharing for both the platform and the tools that the project introduces as well as the activities that are being carried out. The project has joined the European Commission‘s Open Research Data Pilot initiative for open data. In addition, from the initial stages of project implementation, the overall communication and dissemination strategy has been drawn up and will be carried out, taking into account best practices while establishing procedures that can contribute to raising awareness regarding project objectives and results among multiple audiences.

A typical example of the above is the recent participation of members of the project team in the Enlit exhibition, which took place in Milan, during which we were given the opportunity to present the vision of the project, as well as our future actions. Finally, our efforts are supported by the constant updating of information material and the strong presence of the project on social networks, but also by the preparation and the presentation of the project results through publications in scientific journals and conference participation.

Vasiliki Lazari: The project focuses mainly in three different directions for replicating its results and positive impacts in further regions.

Firstly, we aim in disseminating our approaches to a broad audience through the project website and the creation of a video series, which will include stories from pilot experiences as well as interviews with experts, and to a more targeted general audience through the organization of two events at a European level to showcase the research, pilot projects and best practices with the goal of spreading their outcomes and sharing learning.

Secondly, the project participates actively in the European BRIDGE initiative which fosters the value-added collaboration between European projects. BRIDGE community accelerates the upscaling and replication of viable solutions by enabling the delivery of conclusions and recommendations about the future exploitation of the project results through specific working groups mainly concentrating in the areas of Data Management, Regulation and Citizen Engagement.

Lastly, the project will also focus on an effort to pursue the implementation of the recommendations into regulation, for example network codes or other legislation, including national legislation. To achieve this, the Consortium will create communication channels with policy makers from national regulators, system operators, local and regional authorities and other stakeholders to provide our insights into barriers and recommendations learned in the implementation of the different case studies.

EUROPE

Sebastian Klemm: Infrastructural fabrics can be the starting point for a new understanding of politics as material-bound collectivity. The political invention and narrative of Europe’s unity is linked to infrastructure policy in a special way. Europe’s unification process began with infrastructural alliances. The Coal and Steel Union, created in 1951 with the Treaty of Paris, was founded in the hope of merging political interests through infrastructural cooperation. To this day, the technological notion of an infrastructural unity of the continent is supposed to answer questions of political integration and provide remedies for a system of governance that is increasingly being critically discussed not only as an economic community but also as an emerging polity. In what ways does TwinERGY and its pilot projects translate technical connectivity into social collectivity?

Athanasios Chassiakos: On the aspect of technical collectivity TwinERGY is focusing on bringing together innovative technological tools and methodologies to deliver an open and interoperable energy solution for citizens.

However, this is not the only aim of the project, but the heart of TwinERGY is to unite citizens and place local communities at the center of energy markets. The TwinERGY project supports social collectivity and bonds by promoting the development of “energy communities” that will be involved in local energy trading markets and who will work towards engaging into demand response activities as a collective force utilizing community digital twin’s capabilities for dynamic Virtual Power Plants.

Vasiliki Lazari: The technical connectivity that the project aims at with the introduction of new technologies, has the ultimate goal of delivering innovative services to citizens and offering a comprehensive solution to empower citizen’s active participation, into the new EU energy market. The promoted technical connectivity can be turned into social collectivity in TwinERGY due to the provision of the services within an energy community framework.

Energy communities were introduced by the European Commission as part of the ‘Clean Energy for all European Package’, in order to place the consumer at the heart of the energy transition. With the Renewable Energy Recast to 2030 (RED II) directive and the recast electricity market directive (EMD), a legal framework for “citizen energy communities” (CEC) and “renewable energy communities” (REC) was introduced, in order to be adopted and transformed into the member states national legislation. The services that can help transform pilot sites into energy communities are therefore the TwinERGY project’s contribution to transforming technical connectivity into social collectivity.

Sebastian Klemm: Pegasus, a previous Interreg project in the Northern Mediterranean that ended in 2019, had tested the development of microgrids technology in order for consumers to be able to produce electricity through renewables and create local energy communities, selling it to neighbours or to the grid at a guaranteed price. In a follow interview, Ivana Ostoic, an expert involved in Pegasus, said: “We proved that technically there are no problems at all. But EU member states have not integrated into national law an EU Directive that allows people to be electricity prosumers so that they can sell the energy as individuals. Except France, where they now have some minor changes in their legislative framework, in all other countries there is no legislation.To what extent do these legal obstacles still exist in various EU countries, and what legislative adaptations at country level are you aware of that have meanwhile helped to overcome this threshold enabling the reselling of locally produced renewable energy to neighbours?

Vasiliki Lazari: The EU has no specific legislation on prosumers, self-generation or self-consumption, nor has it a common definition of prosumers. Moreover, there are national laws which differ in maturity from country to country within Europe. However, existing European energy legislation and directives do include some provisions applicable to this field.

  • The 2009 Renewable Energy Directive requires Member States to provide either priority or guaranteed access to the grid system for all renewable electricity production, big and small. The only concession ‘for small projects and for decentralised devices’ is that Member States should ensure ‘simplified and less burdensome authorisation procedures, including through simple notification if allowed by the applicable regulatory framework’. Similar provisions are included in the 2009 Electricity Directive.
  • The 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive does not introduce special provisions for prosumers, but creates a need for them and for self-consumption by introducing the concept of ‘nearly zero-energy buildings’.
  • The 2012 Energy Efficiency Directive introduces a similar requirement for small scale and micro-combined heat and power (CHP). It also requires Member States to encourage participation of demand response in wholesale and retail markets and, when necessary, to include aggregators.
  • In its resolution of 2016 on Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers the Parliament called for a common operational EU definition of prosumers. It said individuals, households, cooperatives, communities and local authorities should be encouraged to become energy producers and suppliers, and that their active participation should include energy efficiency and demand response measures. The Parliament asked the European Commission to include a new chapter on prosumers in the revised Renewable Energy Directive, which would ‘address the main barriers and boost investment in self- generation and self‑consumption of renewables’.
  • The Clean Energy Package introduces energy communities into European legislation. It provides an enabling framework for Citizen Energy Communities (CECs) and Renewable Energy Communities (RECS) identifying the basic rights that energy communities and their members are entitled to.
  • The Renewable Energy Recast to 2030 (RED II) ensures i) the removal of unjustified regulatory and administrative barriers of RECs, ii) participation in renewable energy communities is accessible to all consumers, including those in low income or vulnerable households iii) regulatory and capacity building support is provided to public authorities in enabling and setting up renewable energy communities and in helping authorities to participate directly.

PUBLIC SECTOR

Sebastian Klemm: In many EU member states, public companies were entrusted with the supply of electricity. Production, transmission network and distribution network for supplying individual households were in one hand. In contrast, the EU’s “Internal Market in Electricity Directive” (96/92/EC) of 1996 aimed to “achieving a competitive market in electricity”. A similar directive of June 1998 aims at privatising the gas sector. In 2021, wholesale electricity prices in the European Union have soared to record levels. How can we easily understand the connection between liberal legal deregulation, meaning the reduction of government power in energy markets, and the rising energy prices?

Stylianos Karatzas & Athanasios Chassiakos: Energy deregulation works based on the model of reverse auction, where companies can competitively sell energy at the lowest possible rate. Energy is thus delivered through the existing utility infrastructure, with the utility companies owning the infrastructure not having rights upon energy tariffs, but only being responsible for transmitting energy. Independent agencies purchase the energy to cover the predicted demand and then set the optimum selling price for their customers. This process allows energy users to receive the same service, but at a price that fits their needs best.

During the first years of liberalisation in the energy market, end consumer prices decreased, but taxes on electricity increased, due to increased procurement, transport or measurement costs. In addition, the rising fuel prices and the introduction of new taxes have exerted a significant countervailing pressure on prices. End consumer prices are nowadays set at levels nearly twice as high than they were before liberalisation.

Sebastian Klemm: It may be argued that municipalities and public services are crucial to put people and our planet over profits. In the area of water, for example, 235 cities worldwide in the last 15 years have brought water services back under public control in frustration at rising prices and declining service delivery. How does the TwinERGY project help foster democratic ownership of energy? What ways to unwind or circumvent the liberal legal deregulation for energy may TwinERGY try to point out?

Stylianos Karatzas & Athanasios Chassiakos & Vasiliki Lazari: One of the main goals of TwinERGY is to provide solutions to enable grid decentralization and democratization by connecting the micro-grid operators to the Distributed Energy Source managers and their customers. It aims for an integrated energy business model through energy service expansion, customer engagement and financial inclusion. More specifically, the introduction of a Transactive Energy Platform, based on the blockchain technology, will provide to consumers the opportunity to sell their flexible energy loads and excess capacity on an open market to the (micro) grid operators or between each other.

Microgrid operators provide balancing and grid services at a local and micro-grid level. In TwinERGY, it is envisioned that the Transactive Energy Platform paradigm will enable grid decentralization and democratization by connecting the micro-grid operators to the Distributed Energy Source managers and their customers. It will provide an integrated energy business model through energy service expansion, customer engagement and financial inclusion.

The Transactive Energy Platform will use the Ethereum network and technology to create a trustless auction house where flexible capacity and demand from Distributed Energy Sources will be auctioned off through encrypted, shared, immutable, and publicly auditable Smart Contracts.

A cryptocurrency ecosystem is being created, which preserves the cryptocurrency asset value, solves volatility problems, and ensures high transaction processing speed. The Transactive Energy Platform will be designed to implement organized nodal electricity markets for the distribution grid, which will revolutionize the relationships among customers, energy companies, and the grid under the new emerging transactive energy paradigm. Ultimately, this platform will offer a path to grid decentralization, energy democratization, and a way to effectively leverage and monetize the emerging Distributed Energy Source infrastructure.

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