The FUTUR/E/MOTION Initiative
Four years ago, CEZ Group came out with a new strategic initiative, designed to develop innovation and innovative technologies. The initiative was ČEZ’s response to trends in the power industry and related technologies that represent potential future growth opportunities, but could also be a threat, given the long-term lifespans of power industry assets. So, it is becoming crucial for power industry players to monitor trends. In terms of their background, these changes have several common denominators: protection of the environment and climate, energy conservation, enhancing energy independence by utilizing local energy sources, and the development and related integration of information technologies.
The FUTUR/E/MOTION strategic initiative is perceived as a flexible tool for developing new trends and technologies at various levels of intensity. The goal is not so much the technologies themselves, as their practical application to generate value over the long term. The initiative is to operate as an “incubator” of various new technologies, following initial identification, elaborating them into pilot projects, at which point they can be handed over to line management. This approach reflects the process by which new technologies and trends arrive and are gradually integrated into our lives.
When the initiative was launched, it was conceived as consisting of four interrelated pillars:
- supporting scientific research and putting new technologies into practice,
- supporting local power sources to supplement traditional big power plants,
- introducing intelligent solutions in the areas of distribution and grid control (Smart Grids),
- developing electromobility. Of course, new themes may emerge in the future.
Research and Development
Research and development forms the logical basis for innovation at CEZ Group. It is unique in that it is a common thread that ties together the pillars of FUTUR/E/MOTION with the areas of nuclear and conventional power, renewable sources, and district heating. Our interest in this area is in applied and industrial research and development, not primary research. R&D at CEZ Group is divided into eight areas encompassing the entire power industry, with priorities including, for example, nuclear energy, increasing plant efficiency, and energy storage.
In terms of nuclear research, we are seeing the first palpable results from our membership in the international shared research community of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which has 450 member organizations from 40 countries. Within the EPRI, CEZ Group nuclear technologies cover all research areas important for optimizing the operation of existing power plants, such as degradation of materials, reliability of equipment and nuclear fuel, non-destructive testing, safety, radioactive waste, and new nuclear technologies. Other significant areas of research include the behavior of key materials and joints (e.g. heterogeneous welds) and safety (e.g. the issue of accidents that exceed design parameters, which is a very current topic following the events at Fukushima).
In conventional power, we completed research into ways to reduce the moisture content in fuel coal – which is one possible way to increase the efficiency of conventional coal-fired generation units. At the same time, projects are ongoing to reduce emissions through more perfect knowledge of the combustion process (and the temperature field) and our ability to control it – with pilot projects currently ongoing on the fluidized-bed boiler in Poříčí and the drybottom boiler in Tisová.
Yet, research into renewable sources is not neglected. In cooperation with VUT Brno we are developing a so-called vortex turbine, a hydro power technology that could be used in lowhead conditions. In order to step up the utilization of biomass, an automatic biomass sampler was developed at Hodonín Power Station.
Another important area is our major support for rolling out Smart Grids – in the “Smart Region Vrchlabí” program. Projects in this category include automating various grid components and developing a dynamic model of distribution grid behavior in cooperation with VŠB-TU Ostrava.
Great importance is also attached to researching energy storage technologies. In the future, they will become more and more necessary as more power is generated from difficult-to-manage renewable sources, and as more decentralized power sources are developed. A basic study was conducted into the current state of energy storage technologies and their readiness for practical use, and preparatory work was completed on a pilot project to install batteries in the distribution grid.
Small-scale cogeneration is an example of a project that has gone from initial idea all the way to the commercial application phase under line management. The objective of small-scale cogeneration is combined heat and power generation off the grid “backbone” that serves the big power plants. Construction and operation of cogeneration units is done by ČEZ Energo, which currently owns 45 units in 16 locations in the Czech Republic with a combined total installed capacity of 12 MW. The company’s long-range goal is to have 200 MW of cogeneration installed capacity in operation by 2020.
The objective of the “Smart Grids” project is to vet new distribution technologies and gradually integrate them into the grid. These technologies will enable reliable and efficient grid control even under new conditions – particularly in light of the development of decentralized generation. CEZ Group is currently implementing two pilot projects in the Smart Grids area: “Smart Region Vrchlabí” and “AMM”, a smart electric meters project.
The basic principles of electricity generation and distribution were invented in the 19th century. Since then, we have been merely improving the technologies used. Over time, electricity has become an integral part of our lives. The modern devices we meet at every step in today’s world cannot operate without it. Customers in advanced countries have come to take electricity for granted: they do not care how it is created or how it gets to the electric outlet. The population is growing and living standards are rising. New fuel resources, and new ways to generate and transform energy to meet our needs, however, have not yet been discovered or developed, and at the same time the existing resources are getting scarcer. Our dependence on limited fossil fuel reserves is growing, and today’s technology is limited to “merely” converting those fuels into heat, on a massive scale. It is this heat that is subsequently converted into electricity. The pressure is on to find ways of generating and converting energy that would put less of a burden on our planet – for example, attention has turned toward generating electricity from the sun and the wind, as well as “moving” heat using heat pumps.
We are on the cusp of a new age which requires the implementation of new technologies not just so we can maintain our standard of living, but also – and most importantly – for us to behave more efficiently and not have our very existence put needless burdens on the environment.
The “Smart Region Vrchlabí” pilot project is designed to investigate how the smart grids concept works in practice – through on-line participation of all grid connection points with no impact on their comfort, active control of both sources and appliances, and the integration of local cogeneration and difficult-to-manage renewable sources.
“Smart Region” has become part of the biggest European demonstration project, “Grid4EU”, cofinanced by the European Union and led by six of Europe’s largest distribution companies – Enel, EdF, Iberdrola, RWE, Vattenfall, and CEZ Group. This is a big opportunity to try out a number of modern technologies in practice and, at the same time, gain access to our international partners’ know-how and experience.
The Smart Grids Concept
The futuristic idea that, one day, computers will help to manage our households is not as unrealistic as we may have thought. The modern smart meter promises not just on-line monitoring of household energy use and evaluation of consumption history, but also control of household appliances via wireless modules and many other new possibilities.
In the “WPP AMM” pilot project, over 30,000 households at three locations in the Czech Republic – Vrchlabí, the Jeřmanice area, and the Pardubice area – were equipped with smart electric meters in the second half of 2011. CEZ Group is subjecting the technology to a detailed analysis in real-world conditions in the Czech Republic so as to be able to assess the impacts of the European Union’s requirement that these meters be installed in a majority of households by 2020.
The European Union is demanding that consumers be given the ability to better monitor their electricity use, and to respond appropriately. Today’s electric meter only records total consumption, and is read only once per year for billing purposes. Customers whose homes are outfitted with smart meters will be able to see how much energy they used at any particular time, and use this information to optimize their electricity use in the future. The system also makes it possible for electricity dealers to develop new tariffs that will give customers an incentive to limit consumption at hours when the price of energy is higher – e.g., by not turning on the washing machine or dishwasher during peak times. CEZ Group is investigating whether customers are willing to take advantage of additional features beyond today’s two-tariff rates, and whether the investment in smart electric meters could be offset by benefits and cost savings for individual market players.
Without a doubt, “Electromobility” is one of the most significant CEZ Group CAPEX projects that develop environmental technologies. CEZ Group has been involved in electromobility for several years now – in 2008 we commenced preparation of a pilot project. That was a time when a number of factors emerged, indicating that the development of electricity for propelling road vehicles was one of the major trends of the coming years and decades. Technology development, falling prices, and emphasis on reducing environmental burdens – those are the principal reasons why electromobility, though still in the early stages, is being taken seriously by all the major players.
For us in the power industry, electromobility is both an opportunity and a potential danger. Electric cars run on electricity, which power companies produce, distribute, and sell to end customers; logically, then, electromobility is a business opportunity. At the same time, there arises the question of how the electric vehicles will be charged, since charging of large numbers of vehicles could put undue stress on the distribution system, and an uncontrolled expansion could become a source of problems.
From this perspective, “Electromobility” is a typical example of a project that will remain in the non-commercial sphere for the next few years, and only during the pilot phase will certain assumptions be verified and practical experience gained, on the basis of which it will be possible to arrive at a suitable long-term technical solution.
Therefore, CEZ Group decided to launch a pilot project to test the key hypotheses and enter into collaboration with other partners in this new area. In so doing, CEZ Group sees its role in electromobility as that of a service provider: i.e., the operator of a network of charging stations for electric vehicles.
The pilot project was launched in 2010 and will run until 2013, at which time it will be assessed and a decision made concerning further steps. In 2011, the project entered the key phase when a supplier chosen in a public tender began installing public charging station infrastructure. By year end 2011, seven public charging stations for normal charging (alternating current) had been installed and began to yield the first data and practical experience. Dozens more stations are in the pipeline, scheduled for installation during 2012. They will be located at so-called CEZ Group infrastructure partner locations – places that attract many visitors and where there is a greater likelihood the stations will be used. The first installations are in Prague and its surrounding areas, but the project calls for the network’s steady expansion to cover the entire Czech Republic. The project also envisions the installation of ultra-fast charging stations based on direct current, which bring the time required to fully charge a car down to just tens of minutes, but have much higher requirements in terms of connection capacity.
CEZ Group charging stations are state-of-theart, combining safety and performance with practical elements and intuitive controls. In order to use the stations, one must become a CEZ Group electromobility customer. Then, for a symbolic fee, one can charge one’s vehicle through the pilot project with no restrictions.
In addition to installing charging stations, CEZ Group has also taken steps to forge partnerships with automakers. Our strategic partner in this area is Peugeot, which has agreed to deliver up to 65 Peugeot iOn vehicles for use in the pilot project. By the end of 2011, the first twenty electric cars were put into operation, being tested and used by CEZ Group and partner organizations such as selected city district governments. Another two vehicles are engaged in long-term testing as part of the “Smart Region Vrchlabí” pilot project, where they are providing transportation for employees of city hall and the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše) National Park Administration, and where they are being tested in very demanding weather conditions. Other partners include suppliers of electric scooters and electric bicycles (AKUMOTO, Citybikes, and AVACOM), and manufacturers of utility vehicles (SMITH) and buses (SOR Libchavy). The aim is to demonstrate that electromobility is gradually gaining a foothold in all vehicle categories and that, even now, it can present a realistic alternative for certain situations. In addition to data gathering, exchange of practical experience, and awareness, the collaborations with our partners aim to present “Electromobility” to the general public at various events and trade fairs, often with the opportunity to try out the new technology.
One of the events designed to highlight the advantages of electromobility was one where we teamed up with AKUMOTO to set a new world record for distance traveled on an electric scooter within 24 hours. The recordbreaking event took place on September 19 and 20, 2011 at the velodrome in Prague’s Strašnice district, where the riders racked up a total of 1,136.3 kilometers within a continuous 24-hour period.
CEZ Group also began testing electric vehicles as full-fledged parts of the company’s fleet. ČEZ Měření is set to replace two conventional vehicles with Peugeot iOn in a two-seater “cargo” configuration. The objective is to verify their readiness for daily use transporting technicians as they go on service calls and perform electric meter replacement at various locations throughout the city, and for whom an electric car can be a suitable alternative. The testing will take place at the company’s Ostrava and Hradec Králové branches.
Through the “Electromobility” pilot project, CEZ Group is endeavoring to commence cooperation with other projects and market players. For example, we are participating as an associate member in the “Green E-motion” project, exchanging experience with other power companies and with automakers, and, together with other partners in the public sector (the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Czech Republic, CzechInvest, the Economic Chamber) we are striving to remove the barriers to the development of electromobility in the Czech Republic as a technology with major potential for improving the air and quality of life, particularly in the cities. The pilot project has its own website (www.elektromobilita.cz), where one can both obtain more details on CEZ Group’s partners in the project and monitor the operation of our charging stations on-line.