Revolutionizing Buildings with Hybrid Energy Systems and Demand Response

A recent study conducted by the Finnish Building Services 2030 group explores the potential technologies and business prospects for adaptable energy systems within buildings.

Building Services 2030 is a Finnish consortium of Aalto University, Tampere University, and 14 industry partners. The consortium has defined a shared vision for the Finnish building service sector and researches topics that help reach the vision. My company is responsible for the group’s communication, so I eagerly read the research reports as they come out.

One of the new reports I found very timely is about the energy flexibility of buildings. The authors are Senior Researcher Juha Jokisalo and Professor Matti Lehtonen from Aalto University. They highlight how the contemporary energy landscape is undergoing a significant transformation.

The study emphasizes the growing integration of local properties into broader energy systems and how it necessitates advanced building technologies for optimal control in coordination with intelligent energy systems.

Energy flexibility through hybrid systems

A key focus of the report is on energy flexibility and demand response. It underscores the importance of adjusting energy consumption in response to availability and price fluctuations. This concept is becoming increasingly vital at all levels, from large-scale operators to individual households. The transition towards renewable energy sources, especially wind power, is a driving force behind this change, leading to fluctuations in energy prices and challenges to the stability of energy grids.

Embracing hybrid energy solutions directly responds to the push for carbon neutrality and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. These changes demand new skills and knowledge in designing and optimizing such systems.

The report discusses how building technical systems must proactively adapt to internal conditions, weather forecasts, and market behaviors, aligning the perspectives of energy production and consumption.

Maintaining the stability of energy grids

On a broader scale, the report addresses the challenges of flexibility in energy production and maintaining the stability of electricity grids.

The introduction of large-scale renewable energy sources is expected to cause greater price volatility. Solutions like the hydrogen economy and large-scale storage solutions, such as hydropower, are considered to address these challenges. The need for quickly deployable energy reserves, like electric boilers in district heating systems, is also emphasized.

The evolving role of properties in the energy system involves anticipating fluctuations in production and prices. This entails using local reserves and hybrid systems to optimize energy use. The report delves into the feasibility and economic considerations of implementing energy flexibility solutions in properties, highlighting the need to balance technical feasibility and financial viability.

New technology requirements and business opportunities

Properties invest in energy solutions for decades, while the energy market can change instantly. Managing uncertainty thus becomes a vital issue.

Participation in balancing the energy network matters for prominent players, but energy and consumption flexibility can be implemented in every property. Building technology companies must create these capabilities.

According to Jokisalo, building technology companies must focus next on breaking down system boundaries and improving controllability. Systems must be able to receive external control signals.

Lehtonen suggests that all building technology providers should make the electricity market price a controlling factor in their systems. This requires an interface for reading the market price and implementing optimization scripts. For example, correctly timing the charging power of increasingly common electric cars can significantly impact costs. If there is own production, it must, of course, be included in the optimization.

Implementing consumption flexibility requires technical and financial expertise, which most property owners still need to gain. This creates new business opportunities for specialized consultants and service companies. To serve smaller properties, they must productize and automate their services.

The report Buildings’ Energy Flexibility and Demand Response is currently available in Finnish.

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