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Will Smart Communities Enable The Smart Grid?

Here is how you create a mesh: You start by creating small knots and make them work. In a second step you connect these knots to a bigger mesh. As soon as this bigger network works you connect it to others, similar networks to form an even bigger one. Repeat that and your mesh will grow.

Translating this ideal process to smart grids would mean to start with smart, energy-efficient homes. As soon as all houses of a community are “smart” it is time to connect them and make them work as a smart community. This step is often neglected and is a very important process sitting in between the much stressed terms smart home and smart grid.

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Smart cities and communities will make it easier to implement the idea of the smart grid on a large scale

A community of only a few houses could be able to distribute resources in a highly efficient way. This  would eliminate the need to consider the requirements of every single household when connecting the community as such to the next bigger network.

The idea of building communities with a decentralised supply of energy is now tested in a three- year experiment by the FZI Research Center for Information Technology in cooperation with several other companies.

During the project 40 households and businesses in the German town of Walldorf are linked with intelligent technology in order to operate optimally coordinated decentralised energy systems such as heat pumps, photovoltaic systems, combined heat and power storage.

This forms an energy community of electricity producers and electricity consumers with roles that change dynamically. Based on self-learning software the intelligent and efficient exchange of electricity within the pilot community and beyond is enabled.

The smart energy management which is supported by an electricity storage with 100 kWh capacity (Lithium-ion technology) enables the decentralised network to optimally integrate renewable energy sources.

One goal of the project is to develop sophisticated software capable of controlling and optimising virtual power plants and their components.

In addition, it will be possible to adapt the amount of energy which is used to top-up electricity and heat storages according to the yields from renewable energy sources. For example, on a windy summer day with high amounts of energy being produced by photovoltaic and wind power it would be possible to increase the amount.

Besides the technological research the project will also deliver a huge amount of user feedback from the participating households and businesses. This is very important in order to understand how to integrate these solutions effectively into a community and how to generate acceptance for similar concepts among the people living in an urban area.

The project is funded as part of the BWPLUS program of the Ministry of Environment Baden-Württemberg with around one million euros over three years. The results of the project could be significant during the move to the smart grid.

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