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GridSense: “A system with a brain”

GridSense is the intelligent, decentralised system that controls energy supply in buildings. But what exactly is behind it? Marcel Morf, leader of the trailblazing project, explains its highlights and challenges.

GridSense is being hailed as the intelligent technology of the future leading to an energy revolution. Why? If you look at a traditional production plant, energy production is always central, stable and continuous. With the energy revolution, however, more and more energy is produced in a decentralised way – mainly with photovoltaic systems but also with wind power plants. These generate electricity in an irregular way and with large peaks, which are fed 1 : 1 into the network. But it's not designed to work in this way. A study conducted by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy shows that the electricity network would have to be expanded at a cost of 8-12 billion francs because of the energy revolution. With our intelligent GridSense system, we offer a more cost-effective solution by breaking peak stresses in the building directly and thus reducing expansion costs in the network significantly.

GridSense is – according to the slogan – more than just smart. What makes it so intelligent? The most important factor and one of the features that makes it unique is user be- haviour. GridSense analyses when the residents use hot water or when they travel to work using the electric car, for example, which has to be charged up. In short: the system understands when the user requires what amount of energy and adjusts accordingly. The second factor is that GridSense in- corporates the electricity price into all its calculations as this will be much more dynamic in the future than it is today. The third component taken into account is the load on the network – and this is unique compared to the competition.

How can I imagine that in concrete terms? GridSense are algorithms which can be set directly into the control of appliances such as heat pumps, photovoltaic systems, boilers, house batteries or electrical charging stations via software. The intelligent algorithms control the appliances in the house, so that they are activated when too much electri- city is available, for example at midday when the sun is shining. In addition, so-called “plug-ons” are produced. These are small boxes which can be attached to the pre-installed base of boilers and heat pumps.

What are the advantages for homeowners? They can optimise their own consumption. And make a very important contribution to the electrical supply company as load peaks are broken.

What is the feedback from the electricalsupply company? We have been in close contact with the electrical supply company since last summer and are receiving lots of very positive feedback – because it's modular and precisely covers what will come in the future.

GridSense works autonomously and supports the energy self-sufficiency level. Is Alpiq not cannibalising itself? No. With GridSense, we are not reducing energy consumption but providing optimum distribution. Alpiq's aim is to set new milestones with energy services as well as with the issue of energy efficiency.

And how far advanced is GridSense? We began a good year ago and will complete the development phase this autumn. We are currently already installing several prototypes. We want to come onto the market at the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016 – with the exception of the electrical charg- ing stations which will be on sale from the summer.

GridSense was developed together with the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI). How is this collaboration designed? We have a very intensive collaboration. SUPSI is responsible for development, Alpiq takes on the industrialisation and sales and marketing. Our contract runs until the summer of 2016, then there will be a transfer to Alpiq and the partner firms still to be selected, which we are building up to this point in time.

How will things move forward? The highest priority at the moment are the industrial partners that GridSense will integrate into its appliances. In addition to convincing product manufacturers, the second aspect concerns the technical integration of our software algorithms in these appliances. In addition, we are focussing on the expansion into our neighbouring countries, beginning with Germany, as these countries are very advanced when it comes to renewable energies such as photovoltaics.

What are the challenges with Project GridSense? They were and remain very varied in nature (laughs). There are daily challenges in the development process. SUSPI would love to do more research, but as an industrial company we need a product that we can sell. The second challenge is the marketing. We have to publicise our new, decentralised approach and convince the electrical supply companies and industrial partners of it. The third point – and here we have only just begun: we want to expand into Europe with GridSense.

GridSense recently won the Watt d'Or 2015. What is the significance of this energy prize awarded by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy? For me – as for everyone else involved – it is a nice touch of recognition for our work. We were all surprised, as we don't currently have a finished product to show; only development and the concept it is based on. That the SFOE acknowledges our product idea acts as an accelerant and a motivation factor. We now know that we are on the right track. Yes, the Watt d'Or 2015 was great.