The Smart Energy Showcases - Digital Agenda for the Energy Transition (SINTEG) funding programme aims to set up large-scale showcase regions for developing and demonstrating model solutions that can deliver a secure, efficient and environmentally compatible energy supply with electricity being generated to a large extent from volatile sources such as wind or solar. The solutions developed are then to be rolled out on a wider scale.

The programme places a clear focus on building smart networks linking up the energy supply and demand sides, and on the use of innovative grid technology and operating strategies. It thus addresses key challenges of the energy transition including the integration of renewables into the system, flexibility, digitisation, system security, energy efficiency and the establishment of smart energy systems and market structures. The project makes an important contribution to moving forward the digital transformation and the energy transition.

Showcases demonstrating the future of the energy transition

On 6 December 2016, State Secretary Rainer Baake handed over the formal notices approving funding for five showcase regions under the programme. He said: “The five showcase regions will help us to take not only to take the next step in moving forward the energy transition, but also the steps needed after that.” On 4 and 5 May 2017, more than 300 representatives of companies and research facilities based in the regions that have been awarded funding, but also of the business community, academia, the political world and the trade unions with an interest in the subject met for a two-day kick-off conference in Berlin.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is providing more than €200 million in funding for the five showcase regions. Adding the investment that will be made by the private-sector companies involved, a total of €500 million in investment will be available for bringing about the smart energy supply of the future. This sends an important signal, helps boost the transformation of Germany’s energy supply, and strengthens Germany as a hub for innovation.

The projects seek to develop blueprints for a smart renewables-based electricity supply that can then be rolled out on a wider scale. The showcase regions are to pool knowledge, experience, undertake joint activities, address the technical, economic and regulatory challenges posed by the energy transition over the coming decades and deliver model solutions which have been tried out in practice.

The programme’s main goals are:

  • guaranteeing the secure and efficient grid operation at high levels of renewables,
  • harnessing the potential for greater efficiency and flexibility (in terms of markets and grids),
  • ensuring that all players of the smart energy system work together in an efficient and secure manner,
  • making more efficient use of existing grid structures,
  • reducing the need for grid expansion at the level of distribution grids.

New ordinance paves the way for large-scale tests

In order to make it possible for the participants of the SINTEG programme to test new technologies, procedures and business models in practice without facing financial disadvantages, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has developed a fixed-term ordinance, which provides these participants with room for conducting experiments. The rules set out under the SINTEG ordinance (in German) are not intended to prejudge any future regulation, but rather make it possible to learn from practical tests so that the existing legal framework can be updated. The ordinance was adopted by the Federal Cabinet on 10 May 2017. Prior to this, the German Länder and associations had been consulted, and were given the opportunity to submit comments until 28 February 2017. The comments submitted can be found (in German) here.

Model regions develop and test solutions for meeting a wide range of different challenges

The five showcase regions were selected by means of a competition. They were launched either at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017:

1. ‘C/sells: large-scale showcase in the ‘solar arch’ in southern Germany’

The ‘C/sells’ showcase spans the southern German states of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse. It focuses on solar energy. The goal is to optimise energy generation and consumption at regional level.

The ‘C/sells’ showcase is based on an energy system organised into cells. Regional cells interact within a supra-regional system. The cells vary greatly in size. They can consist of individual sites or whole distribution grids. Every cell generates energy for itself before supplying others. If possible, energy supply and demand are balanced directly within the cell. Energy that cannot be used directly within the cell where it is generated, is exchanged with other cells. This helps optimise the energy system as a whole, and, as all cells are part of a joint system, ensures an efficient and robust energy infrastructure.

Other central aspects of the showcase include incentives for improving flexibility in distribution grids and balancing energy via the heat and transport sector.

2. ‘Designnetz: a modular concept for the energy transition – from isolated solutions to an efficient energy system of the future’

The ‘Designnetz’ model region spans the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and the Saarland and showcases the optimised use of flexibility options that benefit the market, the grid and the overall energy system. The goal is to develop solutions for using decentralised solar and wind energy for the supply of large centres of demand. A mix of rural areas, big cities and industrial areas is typical for many German regions. The ‘Designnetz’ showcase tries to reflect this situation.

In order to ensure that the energy supply is secure and efficient, the project is based on a hierarchic system. Requests for flexibility are sent from higher grid levels to lower ones. Forecasts on the status of the grid and the flexibility available are fed from lower grid levels to higher ones. Data from some 140,000 meters is to be used in this process.

3. ‘enera: the next big step in the energy transition’

The ‘enera’ showcase located in the northwest of Lower Saxony addresses three priorities, namely grid, market and data. The goal is to find ideas and solutions for one of the key challenges of the energy transition – changing from a static to a dynamic, and from a centralised to a decentralised system.

By upgrading the technology used by generators, consumers and storage units, by using new technology, and by using new equipment to build a better grid, the energy system is to be made more flexible. It shall be possible for decentralised installations to provide regional ancillary services, e.g. to maintain voltage stability, so that the grid can be stabilised at the local level. This can help improve the reliability of the electricity supply in future. It shall further be possible to trade regional ancillary services on the electricity markets. In order to do so, regional information is to be accounted for in electricity trading. The data and ICT framework necessary for this will also be created as part of the project.

In addition to this, start-ups are to develop new business models for the smart energy supply of the future, e.g. to make buildings more energy-efficient.

4. ‘NEW 4.0: the energy transition in the north of Germany’

The ‘NEW 4.0’ showcase brings together the city of Hamburg – a large centre of demand – and the state of Schleswig-Holstein – a key centre for the generation of wind energy. The project attempts to show that it will indeed be possible to supply 70 per cent of the entire region’s energy demand from renewable sources by 2025 – in a way that is both secure and reliable. By using state-of-the-art technology and improved market rules, supply and demand are to be balanced in the best possible way.

One of the main goals is to ensure that surplus electricity can be managed efficiently. A two-pronged approach is used here. First of all, the frequency with which wind-powered installations have to be curtailed is to be reduced by improving the export of electricity to other regions. Secondly, the use of electricity in the region itself is to be increased by employing suitable flexibility options. The energy system is to be made more flexible, in particular by using demand side management, storage units and sector coupling in order to balance consumption. Improving flexibility is to also help reduce the share of electricity that has to be supplied from conventional power plants in times when only small amounts of renewable energy are generated.

5. ‘WindNODE: showcase for smart energy from the north-east of Germany’

This model region spans five eastern German states plus Berlin. Thus, it coincides with the balancing zone managed by transmission system operator 50Hertz (excluding Hamburg). The ‘WindNODE’ showcase aims to efficiently combine renewable energy generation, electricity grids and energy users through digital networking.

The focus is on the efficient integration of large volumes of renewable energy into an energy system which is optimised for all energy sources and combines the electricity, heat and mobility sector. Furthermore, ‘WindNODE’ focuses on the use of flexibility options at all levels. The clear goal of the project is to develop innovative products and services that complement the traditional business of selling volumes of energy, and to introduce consumer protection and data security standards so that people and companies that are part of the interconnected energy system are effectively protected against misuse of their data, and so that the highest possible level of data security is guaranteed. The project also addresses the issues of market design and systems architecture (Who controls what?).

The results are showcased in places that are open to the public, and are set in the context of the overall system.

Under the SINTEG funding programme, more than 500 million euros will be invested in the digitisation of the energy sector. This sends an important message and will give fresh momentum to the energy transition and to Germany as a hub for new innovations.

The SINTEG programme forms part of a package of measures entitled ‘Innovative Digitisation of German Business’ and is thus an important component that is serving to help implement the Federal Government’s Digital Agenda.