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It is striking how many scientific projects and publications currently revolve around a very specific topic - and it is also reassuring in a way, because climate change is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges mankind has had to face to date. The challenge is to develop methods that enable energy to be generated in a climate-friendly way and used as efficiently as possible - on both a large and small scale. Until there is an eventual breakthrough in fusion technology, for example, renewable energies from solar, wind and tidal power plants are likely to play the decisive role - with the well-known disadvantage that the energy generated in this way is often not available on a consistent and reliable basis. Therefore, it will become even more important in the future to consume energy when it is available.

Using energy intelligently when it is available

If at all possible, however, neither economic nor private life should be restricted by the imponderables. Solutions are therefore needed that automatically match energy consumption to energy availability. Of course, this also includes an adapted grid expansion, since currently most renewable energy is generated in the north, but most energy is consumed in the south and west. However, since above-ground power grids within sight of populated areas are unpopular for understandable reasons, and a nationwide underground expansion is hardly feasible, it again comes down to adjusting consumption behavior as much as possible, which gives the grid expansion a bit more leeway.

Smart microgrids as a service

The Smart Microgrids as a Service (SMaaS) research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the leadership of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is now addressing these necessities. The aim of the project is to develop a system that allows local consumers to trade electricity and heat among themselves in order to achieve the greatest possible efficiency in the local energy system. To this end, virtual energy agents are being developed that take over the shopping of energy for the consumer and provide recommendations for investing in efficiency-enhancing equipment. Via a mobile application, customers can map their plants and control them according to their preferences.

Playfully reaching the goal

These solutions are based on market mechanisms determined with the help of game-theoretical research, which allow participating households to trade the energy generated among themselves with little effort. Artificial intelligence methods are used to control generation and consumption and are applied in such a way that they increase the efficiency of the system in the long term through investment recommendations.

If all goes well...

In order to test the methods developed by the project, they will subsequently be tested for their practicality in real laboratories, at end consumers and on a research campus. The result of the project will be a construction kit that will enable smart microgrids to be marketed nationally and internationally as an integrated solution in a market that is estimated to be worth 39 billion dollars by 2023. This could even turn the local energy revolution into an export hit.