future view

Accelerating the energy transition with HESI

22 June 2017 • 4 min reading time

Smart communication between energy suppliers’ systems and devices at companies and in people’s homes is vital if we are to accelerate the transition from fossil to renewable. At TNO’s HESI facility in Groningen, companies are testing innovations aimed at making intelligent and flexible energy systems a reality.

“HESI (Hybrid Energy System Integration) provides a cost-effective framework in which to develop and test smart energy systems. This work is carried out together with energy companies, equipment manufacturers, fitters, or service providers. Many devices in the home, such as smart meters or heat batteries, offer consumers a single solution from a single supplier. We are developing systems for the smart management of the energy supply, using a range of open technologies and interfaces. In the energy industry, we need standards that are as universal as Wi-Fi or USB. Everything has to be able to communicate with everything else”, says Richard Beekhuis, one of TNO’s energy experts, who is also the spiritual father of HESI.

Two birds with one stone

HESI is the only facility of its kind in Europe. It cooperates with energy labs in the US and elsewhere. These facilities are all linked together by the fastest internet connections available, which make it possible to perform real-time simulations. Companies can use the test environment to test their innovations (whether hardware or software) under controlled, realistic conditions. This greatly reduces the time required to progress from prototype to market launch. “In this way, we can kill two birds with one stone. In addition to using innovations to accelerate the energy transition, we are also helping businesses to start marketing their results sooner”, says Richard.

“In the Netherlands, HESI is the link to other laboratories throughout the world. This enables you to create international standards and helping opportunities”

Connect up and put to use

Business people do not need to build their own time-consuming and costly experimental set-ups, as TNO has equipped the HESI facility with a comprehensive range of up-to-date equipment and connections that companies can use to connect up and test their product or service. There is a standard electricity supply, together with options for DC, heat, gas, water, and Ethernet. There is a comprehensive range of up-to-date energy equipment, such as central heating boilers, heat pumps, batteries, buffers, fuel cells and micro CHPs (cogeneration systems). HESI is connected to SURFnet’s advanced internet backbone, a sophisticated network for teaching and research. This enables companies to connect up their devices directly and to use TNO’s equipment and software to make measurements that demonstrate the reliability of their own particular solutions.

Simulating and calculating in real time

HESI has an experimental set-up capable of simulating two hundred houses and buildings fitted with intelligent energy management systems. This enables real-life conditions to be simulated per house, office, street, or neighbourhood. Using advanced models, these can be scaled up to simulate cities with 100,000 inhabitants or more. TNO generates these complex network simulations by using SURFnet to link up with laboratories outside the Netherlands, such as the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Such simulations make it possible to calculate (in real time) the various aspects of managing supply and demand in the energy network. “This, in turn, can be used to reveal the effects of such management on the requisite investments in the energy networks. In the upcoming period, expanding the capacity of the networks is expected to cost many millions of euros. Our calculations indicate the available levels of energy flexibility in any given energy system. That can avoid unnecessary investments, thus saving our society a great deal of money.”

“Our calculations indicate the amount of energy flexibility that is available in any given energy system”

Enthusiastic partners

NREL is enthusiastic about the joint venture with TNO. Bryan Hennegan, Associate Laboratory Director – Energy Systems Integration says that “We’re very glad to have HESI join the network of global facilities working on energy systems integration. The challenge that we face with respect to the global climate is how to create a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supply. Places like HESI are an excellent location for entrepreneurs and utilities and established companies alike to experiment with new technologies, gain confidence and ultimately deploy them at scale.” Other partners outside the Netherlands include the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in the US and Belgium’s EnergyVille. Aruba, too, welcomes the cooperative venture with HESI (a branch of TNO has been operating on the island for many years). Juan-David Yrausquin, Minister Plenipotentiary of Aruba in The Hague points out that “Aruba is working towards 100% sustainable energy. The challenge of doing this is overcome by working together with TNO, with HESI and with the Smart Community project in Aruba. There are different energy sources. The HESI facility is basically modelling this environment.”

“The challenge that we face is how to create a reliable, affordable and sustainable energy supply”

Open protocol accelerates energy transition

Pallas Agterberg, Strategy Manager at Alliander (a network company) notes that “I think it’s great it’s opening here but also connected to other labs throughout the world but by doing so you can create international standards and helping opportunities.” In cooperation with organizations such as Alliander, TNO has developed the Energy Flexibility Interface (EFI), an open protocol for managing smart devices in the home. These could include heat pumps, air conditioning units, solar panels, or charging points for electric cars. Richard explains that “If manufacturers make their devices suitable for EFI, this will create an open market in which consumers can easily switch between the devices and services provided by different vendors. These highly flexible devices will operate within the smart energy system, accurately tailoring supply to demand. That will enable us to add more and more sustainable sources to the energy system, thus accelerating the energy transition.”