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Energy from the Cloud

Feature Article | December 1, 2017 by Jonas Lerch Hot Story

In his energy-positive home, SAP employee René Längert is tackling the challenges of the current energy transition head on. Meanwhile, SAP is hard at work on software solutions that could revolutionize the energy market.

René’s motivation is as simple as it is understandable: “I’ve taken on an active role in the energy revolution because I want to make sure my kids live in a healthy environment,” he says. To make his own humble contribution to the cause, René, who has worked in the Products & Innovation Tools department at SAP for 10 years, has invested quite a bit of time and energy of his own into building his home.

Besides using sustainable materials, he has made sure that the house burns no fossil fuels. René gets the energy he needs from his own photovoltaic installation or other renewable sources, which means he’s both a consumer and a producer of energy. His photovoltaic system generates around 9,000 kilowatt-hours each year, covering the some 6,000 kilowatt-hours his home requires (and leaving around 3,000 for e-mobility purposes).

The house produces more than enough energy to meet its needs, but not always at the right times, unfortunately. That’s why René has a lithium iron phosphate battery in his basement, which provides the electricity that keeps the TV running in the evening. This long-lasting storage system also feeds energy into the public grid during shortages. Here, René is a customer of the startup company SONNEN, which hopes to use an intelligent network of batteries to implement a decentralized supply system based on renewable energy.

 One Small Step at a Time

The smallest energy producers actually represent a major step toward achieving the climate goals governments have set to see through the current energy revolution. While this transition is definitely on its way due to rising CO2 emissions and the finite nature of fossil fuels, the right way to go about it is often a contentious subject.

Renewable sources already account for the largest part of Germany’s energy mix (29%). At the same time, Germany is Europe’s largest consumer of brown coal, one of the energy sources most harmful to the environment. Renewable energy is also often generated in places where it isn’t consumed, which makes it impossible to take advantage of peaks in production. Luckily, there are many intelligent ways to distribute and consume energy based on corresponding data.

Big Data Opens the Door to New Types of Energy Use

One of the companies demonstrating how to use Big Data to optimize energy consumption is Switzerland’s Enersis. By combining information on consumption and geography, Enersis creates maps that include various options related to building modernization. Its software enables urban planners to see where such efforts make economic sense, for example, while private users can find out whether installing their own photovoltaic system would pay off. Underneath the Enersis solution’s sleek interface lies SAP HANA, which is in charge of processing the energy data.

“The big energy companies run SAP, which is how we eventually heard about SAP HANA,” explains Thomas Koller, founder of Enersis. “We determined that it’s the best and fastest performance platform out there right now.”

Joerg Ferchow, solution expert in the Utilities industry business unit, at SAP headquarters in Walldorf.

The energy market is evolving at a tremendous pace. In the past, a few major providers served a large number of small — and some more sizable — customers. But now practically anyone can feed energy into the grid or create a startup that offers innovative services, including integrated energy storage. This poses huge challenges to the industry’s leading players. Meanwhile, new technologies like blockchains and the Internet of Things (IoT) are giving rise to all-new business models.

Employees within the Utilities industry business unit at SAP are among those working on how to leverage the related benefits. In one possible scenario, the world’s energy giants could gradually transform from utility companies into service providers, replacing parts of their core business with new offerings in the process.

“These companies could then show customers how they can reduce their energy consumption based on smart meter data, for example, or help them install solar panels on their roofs,” points out Joerg Ferchow, a solution expert in the Utilities industry business unit.

The Key to It All: Smart Grids

Here, the main challenge lies in bringing big companies together with small, decentralized, intermittent producers; using software to connect them on a smart grid; and tying consumption to the amount of energy currently being generated. This is where e-mobility also plays a special role: The batteries in a fleet of electric vehicles can serve as a buffer by taking on excess energy and feeding it back into the grid as required.

SAP helping to see the energy revolution through and realize a digitalized, integrated energy industry

For a long time now, it has been impossible to imagine an energy sector without SAP solutions. But how is SAP currently helping to see the energy revolution through and realize a digitalized, integrated energy industry?

Starting in 2020, smart meters will be required for private households in Germany, replacing the conventional meters previously used. Besides measuring current electricity consumption and reporting it to the utility company in real time, smart meters can identify individual consumers and consumption patterns. This generates a lot of data that can be used as a basis for optimizing consumption, for example – or predicting future energy requirements. Demand can then be compared with the anticipated energy production, the calculation of which should account for weather forecasts and other factors.

To link this data to other information — on the battery levels of electric cars, for instance — and perform various analyses, SAP is working on a solution called SAP Cloud for Energy. With it, utility companies can offer their customers energy management services that promise a number of benefits, including more efficient use of peaks in production.

In the future, energy production plants will also be built in a more decentralized fashion. This means that outages could quickly become expensive or put people’s access to energy at risk. Here, predictive maintenance makes it possible to monitor failure-prone components, such as the power inverters in photovoltaic installations, and identify potential blackouts before they happen.

One day, we may also be able to leverage blockchains and other technologies in advancing the energy revolution. Imagine a regional energy market in which excess electricity can be sold straight on to a neighbor, for example, with a blockchain automatically handling the billing.

A Power Plant for SAP

In its hometown of Walldorf, Germany, SAP is also working on an energy revolution of its own, one involving a facility the company recently built to provide its headquarters with local heating. There, a biomass plant fueled by wood pellets works in tandem with a combined heat and power plant and a gas turbine for peak load periods. This combined approach is a highly efficient way to generate both heat and electricity, and it also makes the company less dependent on utility companies.

While discussions of the energy revolution often come down to the costs, René is confident that his decision was the right one in financial terms, as well. He has made investments in his own facilities, but in the long run, producing his own green energy won’t cost him more than what he would have paid as a “normal” consumer.

As for René’s vision of the future? “If more people start doing it this way, things will get even cheaper. Then we’ll be able to take the big power plants off the grid someday,” he says.

Green Cloud: 100% Green Energy

Since 2014, SAP has used nothing but green energy to power all of its buildings and data centers around the world.

  • Customers can also effectively neutralize the emissions they produce in running SAP software at their data centers by moving their systems into SAP’s “green cloud”.
  • SAP has already won awards for its sustainable data centers.
  • All the carbon offsets the company purchases are required to improve social and/or ecological conditions around the world (through investments in the Livelihoods Fund, for example).
  • As part of its conversion to green electricity, SAP joined the RE100 initiative in 2015.
  • Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP and chairperson of its supervisory board, is a member of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

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