Smart Otaniemi shows the way towards flexible energy system

Smart energy ecosystem Smart Otaniemi was created to capture the biggest value from the ongoing energy revolution and its opportunities. Its strength is that it calls together actors from different backgrounds as well as offers environments for seeding the innovations. The ecosystem is linked with cities reaching towards carbon-neutrality. It also connects companies with leading research actors.


Low carbon technologies and new energy system architectures are becoming the new normal. Energy challenge is global, but many new solutions are very local. Buildings will be essential part of the future energy systems and energy communities. The first two years of Smart Otaniemi covered research on building level intelligence and flexibility, smart mobility and data sharing and enabling technologies.

The future system needs to be more sustainable, reliable, and cost-efficient at the same time. This requires intelligence and flexibility from the system. When the system is flexible, it is possible to balance it and use more energy from renewable sources. Buildings offer many possibilities for this purpose, e.g. space heating and cooling, warm water, air ventilation, solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, lifts, and pumps. These can already be reached through building automation systems or remote monitoring systems. However, flexibility must never be implemented at the expense of user needs.


The sub-aggregator model relies on flexibility


The new sub-aggregator model for collecting distributed energy was created during the first phase of the Aggregator Business Model pilot. It will be further developed and tested in real life in the upcoming projects, for example in SENDER project. In the future the aggregator will be operating on cloud and utilizing system interfaces for collecting flexibility in connection with local flexibility markets. Clearly, the role of transport in the ongoing energy transition is vital.

‒ The need for flexibility is increasing due to the rising role of renewables in the grid. This creates possibilities for those who can adapt their use of electricity in a smart way. Now we have learned in practice that smart charging can be executed using existing interfaces that are found at the charging points. This saves a lot of investment costs compared to a solution where 3rd party aggregator installs new hardware on the site, says Matti Aro, Research Scientist and Project Manager at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd.


Attention to end-user engagement


During the first phase of Smart Otaniemi the value chain and business models were defined and interfaces between actors tested. In the upcoming SENDER project, the focus will be on end-user engagement.

‒ This is important since in the end they will decide what charging services they will want to use. During the project we will engage end-users into a co-creation process where user experience is defined and hopefully in the end improved too, Aro adds.


Electricity trade over borders


On-going standardization of Virtual Power Plants (VPP) is very important. Extensive and coherent standardisation of VPPs will enable electricity markets to operate across borders. Harmonisation of regulation in the EU area and the ongoing standardisation of VPPs will enable efficient trade of electricity across the whole continent.

Active consumers or so-called prosumers will be teaming up locally, forming energy communities where common rules for smart and flexible use of electricity must be agreed upon. This will guarantee lower shared prices of electricity for the energy community.

‒ Buildings, as well as electric vehicles, are meant to serve people’s needs. This means that the flexible use of electricity should not disturb the end user in any way. This has already proven possible in a previous project coordinated by VTT called EDES, in which flexibility was activated using heat pumps from real Finnish households, Aro says.

The role of business partners is crucial in the follow-up project, since the project aims to combine end-user needs and suitable service models together. The value of flexibility must be shared fairly both to end-users and service providers. Sustainable business models of the future are created together with all players.


Large-scale testbed for the Smart EV Charging to be implemented at Otaniemi


The next step concerning EV charging will be the implementation of an open, large-scale testbed at Otaniemi. The testbed will include charging infrastructure for multiple different use cases, and it will be linked to suitable other living labs, providing users and data for the needs of the research platform.

‒ The platform will enable all actors in the EV charging value chain to pilot, test, and research solutions in a multi-actor environment. For example, novel roaming solutions, more user-friendly payment methods for charging or real-life utilization scenarios for Vehicle-to-Grid can be explored in the platform, explains Marko Paakkinen, Research Team Leader from VTT.

According to Paakkinen one important lesson from the first phase was, that the charging infrastructure requires incentivization especially for the real estate owners, and for example in rental buildings it is not clear for the building owners what benefits they will gain from the charging points. Another important lesson was that collecting data and having the infrastructure open for research purposes is not straightforward, and closed systems just are not an option.


Zero Emission Mobility Hub to be established in Otaniemi


Zero Emission Mobility Hub is a new initiative to establish a charging hub in Otaniemi. This would be the first mobility hub in Finland targeted for commercial vehicles, such as taxis, logistics and maintenance vehicles. The hub will initially be deployed to serve shared passenger cars and commercial vehicle high power charging needs but will be later expanded to cover also lighter vehicles and other means of zero emission mobility, for example hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, cargo bikes and light four wheelers.

‒ We have currently a small internal project on-going at VTT to chart out the initial actors to establish the first minimum viable product of the hub. Currently, we are in an interview phase, which will be followed by workshops to process the concept further. This process will be finished by the end of January 2021, so we are moving quite rapidly with this, Paakkinen says.


Green transportation will be vital for Finland


Paakkinen would like to see the research around smart mobility getting even more serious in Finland. It would be important to invest more in the green transportation, as he sees it to be vital for Finland’s competitiveness in the future. The future of transport and mobility will be diverse, in terms of fuels, but also in modes.

‒ When comparing the investments in the sector for example to what the UK is presently doing, I wonder whether Finland can keep up with the pace. As an example, the UK has become the largest V2G piloting country in a short time. Finland has a lot of potential, but we need to bring it into use to create new export possibilities.

Paakkinen believes strongly that low-carbon solutions will have a significant role in determining the future of Finland.

‒ We can have a large carbon handprint and there is a large export potential, so we should not stick only to the end user role in transport. We need more electrified transport in all modes and vehicle classes, to speed up the market development.


Text: Sirpa Mustonen, Motiva