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22 October 2020

Project INSULAE accelerates energy transition in islands

Interview with Laura Giménez de Urtasun, Director of Network Studies & Smart Grids Group at CIRCE Foundation and Coordinator at INSULAE Project.

INSULAE project

What is INSULAE project about?

We kicked off INSULAE in April 2019. It aims to contribute to the Clean Energy for EU Islands Initiative by providing an Investment Planning Tool (IPT) able to create action plans for the islands to generate their own sustainable and low-cost energy.

We were awarded with around 10m€ grant from the European Commission to foster the deployment of innovative solutions for the decarbonisation of islands. A series of demonstrators will take place at three Lighthouse Islands (in Croatia, Denmark and Portugal). This will result in seven replicable use cases that will validate the Investment Planning Tool. The IPT will then be applied in four Follower Islands (in Spain, Germany, Netherlands, and Greece) for the development of adhoc Action Plans to decarbonise the mentioned islands.

The chosen islands are complementary in many aspects: location, size, connection with the mainland, economic development, renewable share and carbon intensity.

During the project, two demonstrations will aim at supporting the transition of islands towards a zero-emission mobility. First, DC grids with interconnected V2G chargers and second, electrification of the islands’ transport will be showcased, looking to grid frequency and voltage regulation.

What motivated you to launch this project? What are the challenges this project faces?

In May 2017 a "Political Declaration on Clean Energy For EU Islands" was signed in recognition that islands face a particular set of energy challenges and opportunities due to their specific conditions. For instance, they usually need to import a high amount of resources, their orography or specific protected zones make it difficult to install renewable energy generation facilities, etc.

In line with this, the European Commission published the Communication on "Clean Energy for All Europeans", reassuring its commitment to tackle the energy concerns of island inhabitants, which are at the forefront of the energy transition and related policy developments.Given that, the importance of island decarbonisation has been acknowledged at the highest level.

We wanted to contribute with our long term experience in sustainable electrification. The strong presence of the service sector  onislands leads transport to account for more than half of the energy consumption and about 1/3 of the GHG emissions. Its electrification will thus have a huge impact on the decarbonisation of the islands. Moreover, considering EVs as mobile storage systems, they would be able to provide new flexibility services assisting RES integration and grid stability.

What are you working on now?

Most of the isolated electrical systems throughout the world suffer from similar problems of fragility and high dependence on external resources to get energy. Smart Grid solutions and integration of renewable energies in order to solve their problems have increased, although it is necessary to know their specific characteristics to select the optimal solutions for each case. Therefore, first of all we needed to characterise a set of Reference Islands, which will be the basis of the IPT to be developed.

For that, we have defined characterisation vectors based on a selection and analysis of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) gathered from exemplary EU islands. From this exercise we have obtained seven Reference Islands that act as a representative of the EU islands. Building upon this, INSULAE islands, lighthouse and follower islands, have been classified under one corresponding reference island in order to link the project experiences to the whole set of islands under the same reference group.

The planned INSULAE Investment Planning Tool (IPT), that will guide decision makers in the design of cost-effective decarbonisation Action Plans, will provide examples of the solutions implemented in islands matched through the typology of Reference Island. This will help new islands to match their problems with similar situations and possible solutions, and define what to apply for each problem and how.

What are the main obstacles you have encountered so far?

Collaboration among all actors is crucial here. This is why our consortium is so complex: we have five public authorities, six energy and water related utilities, four technology providers, two software developers, six research and technology centres, an environmental NGO, a business models expert, an engineering company (RINA-C) and an entity for social aspects and local community engagement.

Furthermore, citizen engagement is a major challenge for projects on islands. The involvement of the end user is essential to run the demonstrators in a relatively large scale and under real conditions. However, mass consumer acceptance of these new technologies is not achieved yet, so participation of citizens in these projects is low.

We are collaborating with public authorities to launch awareness campaigns in the islands but due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is very complex and we needed to postpone some of the related activities.

Because of this lack of participation we needed to modify our first demonstrator deployment plan to adapt our installations to the actual use citizens will give to that.

So, what are the demonstrators you are working on?

We are working on a number of demonstrators in three different islands, but I will focus on two of them, as they are the ones that relate the most to the integration of vehicles into the grid.

In Madeira, we focus on smart charging. We are working in the installation of four 10 kW V2G, two 50 kW quick chargers and one fully SiC 50 kW fast charger. This last one will be installed at the EEM (Electricity utility in Madeira) headquarters. They are combined with a 100 kW storage system to provide ancillary services to a weak microgrid, integrating new functionalities for frequency support and voltage regulation, and therefore allowing grid stabilization and operation in islanding mode.

Finally, an advanced distribution management system (ADMS) will be adapted to low voltage microgrids incorporating real-time control functions for the whole system.

We expect to get 300 MWh/year energy from renewable sources, reducing it from the use of fossil fuels and therefore reducing emissions by 213 tCO2/year.

In Bornholm, we want to improve the performance of its distribution grid. We will install PV panels and connect them through Direct Current (DC) to the chargers. In addition, we will install energy storage devices to provide further flexibility to the microgrid. DC grids can improve the efficiency of the network by over 30% in comparison to Alternating Current (AC) - which is the most common mode.

The implementation of a DC grid enables the minimisation of the grid connection cost and power losses and allows a higher share of renewable energy production in the grid, a faster introduction of EVs and the provision of auxiliary grid services by storage.

It took time to find the right place for this demonstrator, as we needed to find a facility with a high level of electricity demand, including many EV drivers willing to connect their cars to the chargers. We’ve finally found a school next to a mall and in the city centre, which has 180 kW PV plant structure, and a large parking area with frequent commuting.

We expect to achieve significant savings thanks to that: a reduction of 5.509 MWh/year on fossil fuels and 3.994 tCO2/year on CO2 emissions.

What are your lessons learned so far? How do you plan to ensure a good replication of the solutions in such different frameworks?

First of all, the level of experience of the public authority has a substantial impact on the agility to execute the action plan. More experience means a significantly higher flexibility of their regulation, and therefore a greater reaction capacity.

Through these projects, we expect not only authorities, but all stakeholders to gain the experience we all need to contribute continuously more to energy transition. We need to collaborate to unlock the replication potential of solutions across Europe and make our continent a global pioneer in the decarbonisation field.

The investment plan tool, IPT, we are developing is crucial to allow efficient replication. Decisions need to be based on SMART indicators.

Characterization vectors were developed on the basis of a characterization methodology that links a real island with a set of Reference Islands. The linkage of any new island using the IPT to reference islands helps provide the new islands with an assessment on the probability space of their investment plans. The aim is to develop andimplement  a decarbonization plan considering the demonstrations already evaluated, and offering the decision actors, authorities and companies, mainly, to take proper decisions in order to reach their objectives related to islands decarbonization.

Detailed introduction to INSULAE project