Project INSIEME – De-centralised European Consumer Activation Framework
Today, more and more energy consumer activation initiatives and frameworks emerge within and beyond the electricity sector, enabled by European legislation and their member state (MS) transpositions. In the energy sector, two EU Directives recently established consumer activation schemes in different forms and at different levels: Directive (EU) 2018/2001 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable source1 and Directive (EU) 2019/944 on common rules for the internal market for electricity of the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package. Services of this kind provide incentives and instruments for – previously mainly passive – consumers, to participate actively in the energy transition. Respective provisions encourage consumers to change their individual behaviour in an environmentally, economically and grid-friendly way. Moreover, it foresees schemas for collective self-consumption to co-create, co-own, and co-operate renewable generation projects without the need for full-blown obligations that apply to large-scale traditional actors like suppliers or energy traders.
However, the main barrier today is that there is a big diversity in the form and in the degree of the MS transpositions of these schemas. Therefore, national structures are hard to compare, and without comparability, no interoperability between environments can be established. Hence, also no uniform, plug-and-play, easily accessible information and communication technology (ICT) toolset for consumer activation can emerge. This means a severe handicap for new services, e.g., advanced innovative energy community toolsets, to emerge, raise the energy awareness of citizens and foster economic growth based on the emergence of bottoms-up, de-centralised energy resources (DER) in a wider sense on a European level.
Many MSs have seen the enormous potential of collective self-consumption as means to strengthen local revenue streams, increase participation, and create green jobs. As an outstanding example, Italy will invest 2.2 billion euro of its national COVID recovery plan-related funding into renewable energy communities (RECs) and citizen energy communities (CECs), as it has been discovered that especially those regions most struck by the SARS-CoV-2 virus benefit most from the dynamics induced. To cope with the big wave of collective self-consumption initiatives, it is important to have easily accessible, highly automated and professional – ideally open-source – digital platforms broadly available, and that also the enabling infrastructure is ready by then. This will leverage the European funding received and speed up the arrival of desired effects.
To ensure and facilitate the emergence of truly pan-European players in that important sector, it must be avoided that innovative solutions act on national data-sharing, consumer activation infrastructure and practices, which limits their scalability and growth perspective. Constraints for the capability to scale pose a disadvantage in the energy sector for European solutions in comparison to less-fragmented market regions. It is a crucial objective for the digital decade to overcome these interoperability bottlenecks to allow for innovative European solutions and to keep pace with an increasingly competitive world market. Europe is ahead in the democratisation of energy generation, which leads to a thriving innovation on our continent in that sector and we need to allow for related inventions to scale right in their home markets.
Not only on an industrial, but also on an economic level, it is hard to find out, how to get access to different kinds of energy-related data and provisions for consumer activation schemas. Even if the know-how is available, it is still a considerable effort to develop and maintain an integration with another MSs environment. On a social level, the readiness and pressure of European citizens to generate their own electricity – individually or collectively – is outstanding, which can be observed by ever-increasing installations of rooftop PV systems in many countries. Yet, rather high-income households currently can afford a sense of autarky and the roll-out must be orders of magnitude faster than that of today.
The opportunity to collectively plan and finance locally generated and renewable energy, the co-operation in lowering each other’s carbon footprints and energy bills, captured the hearts and minds of European citizens. The energy communities we consider can be of different kinds and sizes (e.g., cooperating individual households, communal or regional cooperation).
INSIEME is the Italian word for together. This also describes the core idea of the project: a free-to-use conceptual and implemented framework that puts institutionalised players and new energy market roles to work together. Due to these considerations, the INSIEME consortium proposes a decentralised, distributed, human-centred, interoperable open-source consumer activation solution, aligned with the European regulatory framework as well as with the directions of the work on the Implementing Acts on Interoperability as mandated by Article 24 of Directive (EU) 2019/944, the European Data Strategy and accommodated with the European Data Spaces Initiative.
The project will establish comparability between MS environments and collective self-consumption solutions, allowing for European-wide structured scientific assessment and the sharing of best-practices and quick wins. At the same time, INSIEME provides low-threshold opportunities and incentives for energy community managers in a structured and user-centric way. Concerning the industrial limitations, the resulting INSIEME Framework will act as a launchpad for even more innovative customer activation services by allowing them to focus on their core task and their own differentiating mission statement. Using the solution as a basis lets energy community toolset providers work and compete in a common European market.
Solution and main objectives
To solve the topics discussed above, INSIEME will enable truly European-scale plug-and-play consumer activation solutions based on data available in online energy data hubs, in-house and publicly available data on energy consumption by providing an open-source energy community operating system for community managers, interoperable ICT solutions for consumers to actively participate and consumer participation facilitation systems for enabling infrastructure providers to cope with the expected boom. INSIEME builds upon existing infrastructure (e.g., mandatory real-time interfaces on smart meters, energy data-sharing infrastructure for access to metering and consumption data) that must be available in all MSs by European law, and therefore is set perfectly to feed back into further improving legislation, and to act as a coded focal point for further research and lifting of opportunities in the field. This framework will not only support nascent project, but also existing ones with a highly flexible capability building block system. The project establishes furthermore a marketplace for consumer activation solutions to facilitate future sustainable innovation in the field.
It respects that many of its users will start with limited knowledge of energy-related processes and dependencies, technological, legal and business aspects. For many market roles, there is a development over time of their needs vis-à-vis the experience they gain in the process of their activation, which must be seen as a step-by-step exercise and observed over time. INSIEME “picks up” target users where they are on their journey to either become more conscious citizens, active energy consumers, self-producing prosumers, or community operators.
INSIEME’s capability to source consent-based near-real-time data streams for consumer activation services provides consumers willing to share the data with the infrastructure to feed community control systems with their real-time information and allow it, therefore, to effectively manage assets under its control. In ways like this, active consumers will play a significant role in our way towards European energy independence resilience and the transition towards net-zero and beyond. All of these aspects are urgent and – respective to the current geo-political challenges – more than ever of utmost importance. In parallel to the unprecedented actions that are currently undertaken top-down by politics and institutionalized actors, bottom-up approaches need to be created for direct mobilisation of a strong civil society to contribute to carbon saving efforts. Freed from many obligations that full-scale suppliers would face (e.g., they are not balancing responsible usually), they are able to work also under new principles This allows for them to act much more exploratively and act as an umbrella for innovative concepts.
To get the acceptance of new INSIEME solutions in civil society, the development of all components and demonstrators is driven by a multidisciplinary and participatory approach that considers social, economic and legal dimensions as well as safety and security issues of all technologies and iteratively involves diverse stakeholders. This participatory approach is applied throughout the full life cycle from design to implementation and evaluation and relies on the strong multidisciplinary expertise of the key scientific participants of the consortium (AIT, LIC, VIE, FHO and ESA).
INSIEME has six main objectives as a common European launchpad for active customers and activators of customers to play a conscious, educated, democratised and driving role in the energy transition – facilitated by intensified co-operation with grid operators and residual suppliers:
- Develop a European model for energy consumer activation processes to streamline legislative and regulatory activities and get to a common reference model for related procedures, environmental factors, data exchange and better comparability of national transpositions of enabling European legislation.
- Provide the European-scale INSIEME Framework as a comprehensive, decentralised, human-centred, interoperable and open-source platform. The components of this platform shall be plug-and-play and easy-to-use by energy community operators and customer activators. All software components delivered by INSIEME will be free-to-use and feature technology readiness level (TRL) 7 or higher.
- Demonstrate and scale-up INSIEME Framework components (a) at a large number of 25 real-life demo sites in 6+ MSs, (b) featuring a diversity of MS legal frameworks for customer activation and energy community legislation and (c) taking account for social, behavioural, motivational and economic dimensions as well as safety and security issues of all technologies from design to implementation and evaluation.
- Carry out a multidisciplinary scientific assessment of the demonstrators (a) to identify drivers and rules beyond marginal pricing which can steer the transactions within energy communities, (b) to identify and disseminate small or big hurdles while conceptualising and developing INSIEME components in MSs in relation to national and European legislation which allows improvement and convergence in that sector and (c) to assess multidisciplinary social, economic and technological dimensions of the demonstrated INSIEME components.
- Start and stimulate a virtuous cycle for the development of energy communities, their operators, related service providers and active customers for the ongoing and continuous growth of bottom-up energy transition scenarios. For all INSIEME Framework components, we put a particular focus on human factors and security to support the social acceptance of new energy technologies and increase participation of consumers in energy to stimulate our intended virtuous cycle.
- Ensure that the INSIEME Framework becomes a focal point which is ready to be used, to stay and to serve further developments by commercial actors and the open-source community, European organisations and players with a stake or interest in general – all by means of a human-centred and participatory development approach and diverse exploitation and dissemination activities.
Vision and uniqueness of INSIEME
State-of-the-art digital platforms are primarily technology-driven and have not been designed with humans at the centre or their needs and demands as the driver for further developments. Also, there is already a number of commercialised solutions with business and operation models prone to establishing long-term vendor lock-ins for European consumers. However, in many MSs collective self-consumption and individual consumer activation projects are booming and there is a lack of low-threshold, broadly visible and low-cost digital platforms to support these developments and keep them frustration-free. INSIEME strives to deliver solutions for these needs right at the European citizen’s doorsteps without the issue of evolving vendor lock-in scenarios.
INSIEME envisions facilitating both technology-driven and community-driven approaches simultaneously. Technology-driven journeys allow integrating the flexibility of new devices self-adopted by prosumers through their own residential decarbonisation journey and interconnecting them through the interoperable INSIEME Framework. In the community-driven approach, energy communities act as promotors and advisors of early adopter citizen benchmarks and best practise to activate their flexibility moving forward.
What makes INSIEME unique from a conceptual and architectural viewpoint, is that it aims for a solution that is modular, decentralised, open-source and non-profit:
- Modular: Depending on the specific needs, building blocks of the INSIEME Framework can be adopted, adapted and deployed on any edge IoT device, desktop computer or cloud environment under the full control of the actor using it.
- Decentralised: There is no need for a central instance or a Pan-European Energy Community Hub or a Central Consumer Activation Service. Energy community managers, grid operators and other types of consumer activators can use and run the proposed ICT components on their own infrastructure and build their own specific services on top. The decentralised approach also guarantees a maximum degree of scalability, suitability, flexibility and resilience.
- Open-source: All INSIEME Framework components developed within the project can be freely downloaded, forked and changed, without any fees or licensing constraints. After the project lifecycle, the INSIEME consortium will transfer the management and maintenance to a capable body.
- Non-profit: Apart from the innovation and know-how generated during the work on INSIEME, neither of the consortium partners is expecting any direct returns or profit out of the deliverables. All participants have expertise in different domains or geographical areas, which they want to contribute to a greater – common – profit and a reliable infrastructure for an enhanced market.
Next, INSIEME’s vision is to be wide-reaching. After implementation, all components of the INSIEME Framework will be deployed to demo sites. INSIEME is for a good share initiated and driven by European energy community managers, grid operators and experts working in EU legislation, who are participants in the consortium. The consortium carefully selected participating demo sites in AT, EE, ES, FR, GR and IT with the aim to represent diversity in a number of aspects, including:
- Type of consumer activation: We cover the whole set of scenarios from individual automated participation through data to jointly acting self-consumers, different types and flavours of renewable and citizen energy communities, but also out-of-the-box initiatives.
- Member States and regional distribution: INSIEME represents a geographic distribution across Europe and covers the full spectrum of diversity of national transpositions of relevant European laws. In addition, there are initiatives aboard from diverse geographical regions as they witness different challenges with consumption and production patterns.
- Urbanisation, wealth and income situation: INSIEME has demo sites in high-income, sub-urban EV smart charging communities as well as lower-income, rural communities to get a complete conceptual overview and European-wide solutions.
- Size and member structure of energy communities: INSIEME components are demonstrated at small and large community structures with different forms of facilitation, generation infrastructure, governance and gender diversity in the leadership of participating projects.
- Common good priority: Most demo sites within INSIEME are not-for-profit initiatives. Although for-profit initiatives have their value and justification in the present and future landscape, we still decided to mainly support non-for-profit initiatives with the development power of public fundings.
Finally, INSIEME builds upon and aims towards contributing to ongoing research on consumer and citizen engagement in the energy sector. Thus, our methodology for the design, implementation and evaluation of all INSIEME components considers identified gaps and recommendations of the BRIDGE Working Group on Consumer and Citizen Engagement in the following way:
- Engagement strategies and assessment: The large number of diverse energy communities in the consortium (type, region, wealth, size, business models) allows us both, a broad and thorough user research and the participation of stakeholder to guide the development of our solutions and a wide-reaching deployment of our solutions with real consumers (e.g., private, collective and industrial) to assess our engagement strategies from technological to socio-economic aspects.
- Community building and sustainability: Our methodology puts humans at the centre of the process from defining role models for energy communities and their stakeholders to their active involvement from development to assessment. Both, our user research approach and including consumers in co-creation activities of INSIEME solution are intended to (1) early increase the awareness of consumers and identify their needs (e.g., social, technical, legal, political) as extensively as possible during the starting phase, then (2) design our INSIEME solutions together with the users during the operating phase, (3) to create consumer engagement and support their specific needs in the best possible for the sustainability phase.
- Organisational models and tools: INSIEME will develop technical components with capabilities for energy communities of different levels and for different needs accompanied by support models. The INSIEME Marketplace serves as a platform to both, (a) offer and deploy INSIEME solutions, and (b) find and exchange with other energy communities, across Europe. It will also serve as a platform for consumers searching for communities in their vicinity to join (which is facilitated by the INSIEME Framework).
Furthermore, INSIEME solution building blocks are based on an Interoperability Layer, which enables them to operate in all EU MSs alike (see schema below).
Based on this high-level idea, architectural and solution building blocks are based around a Capability Architecture that shows functions that consumer activation schemas typically develop over time and in the future:
The whole approach is accompanied by a holistic data management that is very promising for the application of value-adding technologies like (highly skilled adaptive forecasting and decision making using ML and explainable/ethical AI).
Unfortunately, the project was not directly funded in the first go, but follow-up activities and new attempts are planned. For further information on the initiative and possible participation or requests for adaptation, please contact us.