To help Flemish companies bring innovative and fully-integrated energy products and – services to the international market, Flux50 sets up and coordinates living labs in five ‘innovator zones’. These zones reflect the thematic priorities of Flux50. One such innovator zone is Microgrids.

Market opportunities – Context of the innovator zone Microgrids

Microgrids are groups of interconnected consumers, distributed renewable sources and energy storage solutions, within well-defined electric perimeters. Essentially, microgrids manage their own production, storage and demand facilities and are less depending on the distribution grid.
Microgrids are not new, but recent trends have fostered a break-through, especially in the US. For instance, microgrids allow increased auto-consumption and energy independence, and are thus key assets for high-tech companies, data centers and all businesses requiring a high security of supply and reliability. Microgrids have become increasingly cost efficient as the prices for their main power sources – like PV panels – have crashed. State-of-the-art control technologies and interfaces make the integration of distributed energy easier than ever, so microgrids can also help maintain the balance between supply and demand on the grid. Microgrids help ensure grid stability, while limiting the fluctuation of energy prices and contributing to overall climate goals.

By 2020 the market for microgrid-related technologies is estimated to grow to EUR 22,7 billion. The growth potential in Africa or Asia is almost unlimited: where there is no pre-existing central grid infrastructure, microgrids are the only option to provide people and businesses with the energy supply they need for an improved quality of life and economic competitiveness. Microgrids are one of the hottest opportunities in the global energy landscape.


Existing strengths of Flanders – Microgrids

Flemish companies can capitalize on the boom in the market for microgrid technology by building on the following strengths of our region:
  •  A strong competence base: Flemish research institutions as well as companies have gathered the know-how and infrastructure required to carry out large-scale integration and demo projects. Several of them are already involved in microgrid projects. Company examples include manufacturers of CHP installations (VanWingen), medium-sized wind turbines (Xant), Gensets (Anglo-Belge) or PV (Perpetuum). On the R&D-side, the laboratories of EnergyVille and Ghent University offer world-class facilities and have pooled their resources within the DER-lab consortium. This allows them to test the impact of microgrids on grid functioning (stabilization, frequency control, peak shaving, auto-consumption, reserves) under real-life conditions.
  • Pre-existing international links: Our large, local players (Engie, ABB, Siemens,...) were already serving the markets described above, before taking up an engagement in Flux50. This way, they can facilitate market access for the solutions they plan to develop in the innovator zone ‘Microgrids’, in cooperation with a whole ecosystem of Flemish companies (SME’s, start-ups…)
  • Belgium’s liberalized, complex energy landscape: Belgium was one of the first countries to liberalize its energy market and is still a forerunner in terms of unbundling and energy market participation. In combination with the historically complex structure of the country, Belgium/Flanders is a rigorous context for test driving new propositions involving many stakeholders.
  • The increasing strain on our existing grids: Over the past decade, the growth of both PV and wind has put major pressure on the existing grid infrastructure. This increased the Flemish willingness to adopt alternative solutions for integrating renewables into the system.

Focus of the innovator zone Microgrids

Within the innovator zone ‘Microgrids’ the focus lies on scalable hybrid microgrids for a wide range of residential and industrial settings. This is an interesting market segment because the large multinational technology providers are often not well-placed to offer competitive solutions for smaller types of microgrids.

Hybrid microgrids can operate in islanding or grid-connected mode and they flexibly switch between both as needed. To do so, they must be able to reconfigure internally – which will eventually include expanding or contracting their perimeter. It is quite a challenge to integrate generation, storage and control technologies in settings with lots of renewables and complex consumption patterns. Therefore, it is necessary to develop integrated concepts that combine different technologies and align with appropriate control systems.
Flux50 aims at a step-up from the current microgrid developments in Europe, which focus either on island-settings or on limited demonstrators in controlled settings. The projects in the innovator zone ‘Microgrids’ will build on recent advancements in energy market functioning, technology and regulation. At the same time, they will respect the boundaries set by standards, such as IEEE p.2030.7 and IEEE p.2030.8 on the modularity of and test protocols for microgrids.

All this runs in parallel to the ambitions of the grid operators and the storage industry to work on new market designs that fully incorporate islanding, flexibility management, aggregation and demand response.


A first project…

In May 2017, Flux50 launched a Feasibility Study Call. If all goes according to schedule, the first innovation trajectories/living labs per innovator zone will start early 2018.

However, the Proposal for a Flemish Energy Cluster – submitted to the Flemish Government in September 2016 and approved in December of that year – contains an Annex that describes one project idea per innovator zone. From page 186 onwards, the project ‘Microgrids used as a local grid with a minimum dependency on fossil sources and the distribution grid by surveillance of maximizing the local energetic balance immediately’, initiated by ABB, is presented. This is a good example of the type of project that can be carried out in the innovator zone ‘Microgrids’.

The project aims to build an open system for microgrids via a building block concept. A building block could be (non-exhaustive list) a CHP, genset, PV technologies, on shore wind turbines, storage units (batteries, flywheels, hydro, super caps…), grid-active and grid-interactive inverter systems, distribution related components and so on. These blocks must be completed with all types of functional block control systems. The interconnecting technology may be single- or three-phase AC, low-voltage DC or a hybrid.

Innovator zones