Smart Grid

October 01, 2012

IBM and Swiss Supermarket Use Distributed Energy to Run Refrigeration Units

In Switzerland, IBM (News - Alert) has joined with Migros, the nation’s largest retailer and supermarket chain, in a consortium that will demonstrate innovative and “cool” smart grid technology. Their initiative, called FlexLast, will use refrigerated warehouses as a buffer against the intermittent availability of solar and wind energy on the grid.

In addition to Armonk, New York-based IBM and Zurich-based Migros, the consortium partners include BKW FMB Energy Ltd, the electricity utility provider of the Canton of Bern; and Swissgrid, the national grid operator.

"Besides demonstrating the technology behind the project, we also hope to illustrate how industrial energy consumers can re-engineer their processes for optimal power system integration. It's a financial win–win," said Wolf-Christian Rumsch, project manager for BKW.

For Swissgrid, improving the stability of the electric infrastructure— which will have a positive impact on the availability of energy supplies—is a no-brainer.

Like a 200,000-square meter (215,000 square feet)-sized refrigerator—roughly the size of 30 football fields—the three cold storage warehouses used by Migros keep perishable goods at a frigid 28 degrees Celsius (−18 degrees Fahrenheit) around the clock. Maintaining this temperature for vegetables, meat, fish, dairy products and baked goods requires 500,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, equivalent to the consumption of approximately 1,500 homes. This gets increasingly complicated when the cargo doors are opened and cold air escapes daily as the trucks distribute thousands of palettes filled with goods to the chain's 990 stores.

Using logistics and warehouse sensor data on temperatures and consumption from Migros and BKW; real-time energy data from BKW and Swissgrid; and software and algorithms developed by IBM scientists, the FlexLast pilot will optimize the balance between the production and consumption of energy. "’We asked ourselves, 'How can we do this smarter?'," said Migros’ Head of Energy Purchase Roland Stadler.

"We know when our trucks arrive and depart, and we know the schedule of our employees. Therefore, if we could integrate this data with our energy needs based the availability of renewable electricity; we can maintain the temperature of the warehouses and simultaneously contribute to the future stability of the grid. This is how we can continue the tradition of our founder and philanthropist Gottlieb Duttweiler far into the 21st century."

The project has the potential to contribute to Switzerland's energy policy goal of increasing the proportion of electricity produced from renewable energy by 5,400 gigawatt hours (GWh)—or 10 percent of the country's present-day electricity consumption—by 2030. According to the latest available statistics, approximately 55.6 percent of Switzerland's overall electricity production comes from renewable sources, with hydropower by far the biggest contributor at more than 96 percent.

"IBM has demonstrated that electric vehicles, appliances and homes can be used to buffer the irregular production of electricity from future renewable sources for greater stability of the grid," said Dieter Gantenbein, leader of Smart Grid research projects at IBM Research – Zurich. "Now with FlexLast we can add cold storage warehouses to the mix, thereby broadening the landscape of techniques we can use to balance supply and demand on the grid."

The pilot will begin next month and finish at the end of 2013.IBM is involved in more than 150 smart grid engagements around the world, in both mature and emerging markets.

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