The transition to clean energy and a carbon-neutral economy is one of the greatest challenges that we face. The twin green and digital transition calls for a better-functioning, smart, integrated and interconnected energy system, where new business models can emerge in a fast-changing market. With this in mind, the July 2020 Communication on powering a climate-neutral economy proposed the adoption of a system-wide Digitalisation of Energy Action Plan as one of the key actions to accelerate the implementation of digital solutions.
The digitalisation of energy has resulted in favourable regulatory conditions and technological innovations that open up new markets for services. As a result, the sector is becoming more user-centric and market-driven. For a better-functioning, smarter, more integrated and cleaner energy sector, the future needs to be interoperable.
As digital technologies transform the energy sector, operators begin to manage their systems more effectively. There are however many solutions to choose from, and not all can be combined to work well together. This complicates the lives of consumers and acts as a barrier for a rapid uptake of smart energy services. The Horizon 2020-funded InterConnect project develops solutions that address this challenge by means of an ontology-based semantic interoperability framework.
Employing digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), smart appliances and smart homes and buildings, connected storage solutions and electromobility is essential for such a “renewable revolution” to take place, and will help to enable the energy transition. Digital advances in these areas will create opportunities for European citizens, giving them more choice in their homes and more flexibility when adapting their energy consumption to green sources, by reducing their energy usage at peak hours and consuming less when solar or wind energy becomes available.
Launched in October 2019 and receiving around €30 million, InterConnect is jointly managed between the Commission’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology (DG CONNECT) and Directorate-General for Energy (DG ENER). This large-scale pilot (LSP) works on efficient energy management through interoperable technical solutions where demand-side flexibility can be integrated, offering many benefits to end-users in the comfort of their home.
The consortium consists of 50 partners from stakeholder groups in 11 different countries, covering the entire value chain, including research institutions, manufacturers, distribution system operators, retailers, ICT providers and energy users, working together to develop and demonstrate advanced solutions for connecting and converging digital homes and buildings with the electricity sector.
In order to ensure a truly pan-European impact, several tech- and energy-related associations are also involved in InterConnect’s work: seven LSPs located in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and Portugal, each with different end-users, are foreseen to guarantee full representation and dimension in terms of the number of appliances and services involved. InterConnect has succeeded in demonstrating a digital market environment over electrical systems with significant amounts of demand-side flexibility, reducing operational costs that not only benefit energy users, but also help the EU in achieving its energy efficiency and sustainability goals in the years to come.
Semantically interoperable solutions based on the ETSI SAREF ontologies are developed in 8 domains: standardisation, ontology, digital platforms, IoT, cloud, electric grid, big data and cybersecurity. In total, 177 application programming interfaces (APIs) of 69 services from 20 partners have been analysed to enrich the ontologies with smart buildings and smart grid energy concepts from 7 LSPs in Europe, in order to unlock this semantic interoperability. This has resulted in 10 new ontology modules that were submitted to ETSI for incorporation into the SAREF suite of ontologies.
The solutions will enable the seamless connection of appliances and services based on semantic concepts rather than traditional API standards. This will accelerate the digitalisation of homes, buildings and electric grids based on a reference architecture for secure interoperable IoT smart building and smart energy systems. Due to run until 2023, InterConnect will ensure interoperability between the equipment, systems and privacy of user data. This will be achieved by incorporating digital technologies such as AI, blockchain, cloud and big data based on open standards.
In addition, the project has set up an online community of interoperable solutions that connect smart homes, buildings and grids. This platform is designed for a broad range of stakeholders all over the world who want to network, mentor, and exchange ideas on such solutions. In order to grow its community of key players, InterConnect has launched 3 open calls in 2022, offering opportunities for entrepreneurs to select 42 innovative bottom-up projects by SMEs, including a call forInteroperable-by-Adoption Demonstrators – beginning in early 2023 – where each beneficiary will receive a €50 000 grant and a 4-month support programme.
Energy users in both residential and non-residential buildings, manufacturers, distribution grid operators and energy retailers should benefit most from the flexible and interoperable ecosystem currently under development. Consumers will be able to select and change technology and service providers while using energy sustainably thanks to the work set out by the InterConnect project.