As we increasingly decarbonise our electrical grid through renewable generation, focus is also now shifting on the use of this low-carbon electricity in demand-side sectors such as heat and transport, which represent the majority of our carbon emissions.
The transition towards a renewables-driven electric economy will impact all parts of our society, from how we heat our homes to the technological mechanisms and business models for energy supply and transmission.
A major European project is looking at how three different island communities across Europe can help lead this transition, and point the way to a more sustainable future.
The sites provide a unique opportunity to implement advanced demand-response control strategies across a wide range of building types and geographic locations
The REACT project is a 4-year Horizon 2020 project funded by the European Commission, which includes 24 partners across 11 different countries.
The main objective is to help island communities achieve energy resilience and sustainability through the use of community Renewable Energy Sources (RES), heat pumps and energy storage, coupled with a cloud-based platform for monitoring and control of these systems.
This project is currently being piloted on the Aran Islands (Ireland), San Pietro Island (Italy) and La Graciosa (Spain).
The sites provide a unique opportunity to implement advanced demand-response control strategies across a wide range of building types and geographic locations.
What is demand-side management?
The electrification of heat and transport will require adaptation of the existing supply and distribution system, from a centralised system to a more decentralised smart grid, with bi-directional flows of energy and information.
We also need to consider the intermittency of renewables, such as wind and solar power, and utilise intelligent means of shifting our demand patterns to match supply, assisted by the use of thermal and electrical energy storage.
Heat pumps can play a key role in enabling this demand-side flexibility, through an approach known as demand-side management (DSM).
Simply put, this means we shift our use of energy to periods when more renewable energy is available, meaning cheaper energy bills for customers and better utilisation of our renewable generation capacity.
Overall, this approach will be key to meeting our carbon emission reduction targets in a more economical and sustainable way.
The role of heat pumps in REACT
In November 2020, the UK government announced ambitious plans for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, creating 250,000 highly skilled jobs and installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
One reason heat pumps are a core part of this plan is that they provide an incredibly efficient means of generating hot water and space heating, providing approximately 3 kW heat output for every 1 kW electrical input (i.e. Coefficient of Performance, COP, of 3). This is up to 4 times better than what you might expect out of a modern gas boiler running at 80-90% efficiency.
However, there is another less-publicised, but equally important benefit of heat pumps when it comes to their role in the future smart grid, which is their ability to respond to variable demand at very short notice.
Mitsubishi Electric Ecodan heat pumps utilise an inverter-driven variable-speed compressor in converting energy from the air into heat. In practice, this means we can modulate the output of a heat pump to respond quickly to a variety of external factors, including renewable generation availability.
This is a key point when we consider the nature of the future smart grid, which will include a mix of local and grid-scale energy generation and storage, with competing demands in balancing user comfort and grid stability.
This is where the REACT project aims to provide solutions to a number of the social and technical challenges facing the energy sector.
The REACT Platform
The project focuses on connecting domestic and community energy assets such as heat pumps and energy storage systems to the REACT platform to enable them to be controlled automatically, to make best use of available renewable energy and ensure stable supply.
Users will benefit from lower energy prices without any impact on their perceived comfort.
Since people and communities are critical to the success of this approach, the REACT project also focuses on user engagement, providing clear information about the technology as well as energy-saving tips and advice.
Island demonstration sites
There are more than 2,200 inhabited islands in the EU.
Despite having access to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and wave energy, many of them depend on expensive fossil fuel imports for their energy supply.
The REACT project will be demonstrated on three pilot islands with similar size, but with different climate zones, energy requirements and population densities:
- Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland;
- San Pietro Island, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the southwestern Coast of Sardinia, Italy;
- La Graciosa Island, the smallest and least populated of the Spanish Canary Islands.
- Additionally, five follower islands, including the Isle of Wight in the UK, will provide a basis for wide-scale replicability of the project outcomes.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 824395.
Daniel Coakley, Senior Research Engineer, Mitsubishi Electric R&D Centre Europe B.V.
James Freeman, Research Engineer, Mitsubishi Electric R&D Centre Europe B.V.