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Swiss energy utility and supermarket chain pilot smart grid using renewable energy

FlexLast project for optimal power system integration

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Zurich, Switzerland, 21 September 2012—A new consortium was announced today to pilot a smart grid based on renewable energy in Switzerland. The unique project called FlexLast will use refrigerated warehouses as a buffer to help balance fluctuations of the availability of sun and wind energy on the energy grid. Flexlast is a collaboration between BKW FMB Energy Ltd, the electricity utility provider of the Canton of Bern, Switzerland; IBM (NYSE: IBM); Migros, Switzerland's largest retailer and supermarket chain 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 at BKW. For Swissgrid, a key motivation to participate is also the potential contribution of FlexLast to improve the stability of the grid, which will have a positive impact on the availability of energy supplies."

Like a 200,000-m2-sized refrigerator—roughly the size of 30 football fields—the three cold storage warehouses used by Migros keep perishable goods at a cool −28 degrees Celsius (−18 degrees Fahrenheit) 24/7. Maintaining this temperature for vegetables, meat, fish, dairy products and baked goods requires 500,000 kilowatt hours 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. Simply put, when the sun shines and the wind blows, the air conditioning units in the warehouse will run full blast. When renewable energy is not available, they will run at a lower level or shut down completely.

"We asked ourselves, 'How can we do this smarter?'," said Roland Stadler, Migros’ Head of Energy Purchase.

"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 project 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 and Smart Grid

IBM is involved in more than 150 smart grid engagements around the world, in both mature and emerging markets. More about IBM's vision to bring a new level of intelligence to how the world works—how every person, business, organization, government, natural system, and man-made system interacts: Smarter Planet.

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IBM Research - Zurich
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