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Team explores integration of renewable energy devices

German researchers are hoping to make it easier to integrate different small-scale renewable energy devices in order to avoid intermittency problems.

A team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) is developing a smart energy management system that allows components built by different manufacturers to communicate.

This could make it easier to build self-sufficient power generation systems that use different types of renewable energy devices — such as wind or solar — to ensure electricity is always flowing, even when one source isn’t available.

‘In order to make communication between the different components possible you need to have a standardised protocol,’ Jakob Wachtel from ISE told The Engineer.

‘There are a couple of companies that sell a complete system off the shelf but it’s difficult to provide a system for any application.

‘That’s why it makes sense to have a manufacturer-comprehensive standard that would make it possible for the system designer to use components of different manufacturers.’

The energy management system helps balance the demand for electricity with the supply from its different sources, which could include batteries or a diesel-powered generator if no other option is available.

The Fraunhofer team has built a model of how such a system might work at a site in Wadi El Natrun, Egypt, where it is used to draw well water to irrigate fields.

This system combines a concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) system with a tracking device to follow the movement of the sun, a small battery and a water pump.

The CPV modules power the pump and the tracking system, and the battery allows the tracker to return the solar panels to an east-facing position once the sun goes down, ready to start collecting energy again the next morning.

energy management

Standard protocols are needed to integrate different devices such as the solar panels, sun-tracking module and battery at Fraunhofer’s test site in Wadi El Natrun, Egypt

’This application has a lot of controllable loads so you can have very small-sized storage,’ said Wachtel.

’But there are other applications, for example, if you’re trying to electrify a village, where you don’t have so many controllable loads, because when someone wants to switch on a light they don’t want to wait for the sun to shine.’

The model uses embedded systems that act as gateways between the management system and the components but the aim is to replace this with a set of protocols that allow the central computer to immediately identify and communicate with any devices added.

The researchers are working with a number of electronics and energy manufacturers, including larger companies such as Panasonic and more specialist firms such as Steca, to develop its Universal Energy Supply Protocol.

They hope to integrate this into the existing CANopen international standard protocol for control systems and make it available as an application for grid-independent energy supply systems in the next two years.

Readers' comments (7)

  • There are projects in mid Canada using windpower to pump water uphill to produce hydroelectric power on demand for the grid BECAUSE WIND POWER IS NOT DEPENDABLE

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  • Medium size PV farms can use power generated to produce Hydrogen abd Oxygen from water. Both these should be stored (storage for running fuel cells at night. Both technologies are mature and can be combined.

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  • This is rearranging the deck chairs on the 5% of our total energy that might become renewable while watching the 95% that is still planned to be fossil fuels rushing towards disaster……

    See “Without Hot Air” for details

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  • Julian T, your comment isn't related to the article, but your point is not totally valid either. Pumped hydro storage has been used for years to reduce peak time electricity. The water has been pumped uphill by electricity generated through fossil fuel power stations when the price was cheaper - i.e. at night. At least with wind power, pushing water uphill reduces the emissions from fossil fuels.
    Additionally, you are partially correct stating that wind is not dependable. We KNOW that wind speed is VARIABLE (we can actually depend on it to be variable!) and sometimes may not blow at all or be too strong, but we also know that when the wind does blow, we can DEPEND on some output that will mitigate fossil fuel emissions (which is what we are all supposed to be trying to do). Given enough turbines spread over a wide geographic area, the variability is smoothed and it becomes more dependable. Given that the wind might blow when demand is low, pumping water uphill allows some of that energy to be stored for later use when demand exceeds supply. Without efficient storage means, wind could not provide the energy we need, so it should be installed as one of a mix of technologies. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

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  • Instead of larger systems we should concentrate on micro regeneration .
    In a house water comes in under presure we use it and we throw it away.
    In most cases its hot we don't try too capture the heat to reheat new water and we don't try to recapture the force of the water either to regenerate power either.
    We can try to reduce every thing in that we use but we must move to a culture of reuse recapture redistribute and storage of energy thats the long term goal really .
    I like the wind mill idea to make hydro, but I think it's too big and we could do more if everyone's homes were fitted out with better recycling of the energy it uses.

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  • kier, I like your idea... we waste so much potentially harnessable energy. Fitting miniature turbines on cold and hot water supply for example. It may not be much gained at a time but linking many smaller suplies to one central control system multiplied by millions of homes in the future would definately have a positive impact.

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  • Wind power could be used to compress air and run air tools to work refrigeration compressors or compressed natural gas for vehicles as a different way to store wind energy during peak weather. It could even pump geo-thermal wells to get heat/cold from water on demand.
    But combining energy with this CAN bus makes a lot of sense.

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