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Interview: In Southern Burgenland, energy expert Andreas Schneemann demonstrates how digitalization helps to create renewable energy systems which can serve as international role models.
Andreas Schneemann has numerous qualifications. He is a Photovoltaics designer, an energy autarchy coach, an energy and CO2 manager, a renewable energies consultant, and more. In 2005, the 43-year old Burgenlander founded his own engineering company in Stegersbach which has gradually evolved. In 2013, it spawned the Energie Kompass GmbH which currently has seven employees – an innovative service company which accelerates a fully integrated use of renewable energies. The act4.energy innovation laboratory has been established as part of the company.
Burgenland is inevitably associated with two notions: wind and sun, both of them renewable forms of energy. In your role as "Mr. Photovoltaics", do you automatically find the power of the sun to have the biggest potential for the future?
Andreas Schneemann: Both technologies are valid, and we will need both of them to master the technological revolution. With our innovation laboratory act4.energy initiative, we strongly focus on photovoltaics because we are very small-sized and wish to involve as many users as possible. With photovoltaics, our company creates opportunities for individuals, small companies or communities to add valuable contributions to the energy revolution. Independent of its technological advantages, photovoltaics plays an important part here, also in terms of the organizational structure.
The act4.energy innovation laboratory's goal is to create a digital renewable energy system. What are the characteristics of this system?
Andreas Schneemann: In its first step, it is a regional energy system where the energy is handled or produced locally in the best possible way via renewable energies. It is shared and stored intelligently, so that as little energy as possible needs to come into the region or into the energy cell from higher-order networks. Regional means that the project involves ten communities with about 20,000 residents. We then want to position the regional energy cell as a role model and scale it, and then get as many other regions as possible excited about this system so that more such energy cells can be built and linked. Many building blocks of this digital energy system are already in place, and we expect to create a very representative model within the next two years.
What is the strength of a cross-sector energy solution, and how is it supposed to work?
Andreas Schneemann: To put such regional energy cells into practice, cross-sector consideration is essential, which means power, heat and mobility. Anything else would be patchwork, which isn't productive. Photovoltaics energy, for example, can be turned into heat and is available for future use in the area of electro mobility.
One of the problems of renewable energies is their volatility, however. How can the innovation laboratory help to master this challenge?
Andreas Schneemann: A digital, renewable energy system can react to the volatility of renewable energy with suitable automatic control mechanisms and linked storage solutions. They will enable us to run an exclusively renewable energy system in the future. This can only work with the tools of digitalization, however. The control scenarios need to be performed fully automatically, with logarithms and artificial intelligence routines, because otherwise it won't be possible to keep track of everything. It is not possible to manually regulate it all the time – which is why digitalization is an important aspect.
In terms of renewable energies, how does Southern Burgenland, as part of the Vienna Region, compare to other regions, nationally and internationally?
Andreas Schneemann: Southern Burgenland, also compared to other regions, is very progressive in that regard, since important renewable energy initiatives have been implemented here for a long time. We didn't start the act4.energy innovation lab on a greenfield site – there has been a great number of projects and initiatives before us. An important factor that separates Southern Burgenland from many other regions: we managed to sensitize all the important players to this issue, thus creating a real and honest collaboration. The ten communities which are involved cooperate at eye level and across party affiliations. Therefore, we are lucky that the political decision-makers understand that the initiatives also offer a great opportunity for the rural regions.
How can the Vienna Region become a true role model of the energy revolution despite the current frame conditions?
Andreas Schneemann: Within the current frame conditions, the very ambitious, challenging goals for 2030 cannot be completely reached. There is a lot of potential to improve the frame conditions. The most important thing is to discuss which solutions are productive in a way that is open to new technologies. Still, we must not wait for the frame conditions to develop, but become active now. Digitalization offers more and more possibilities which allow new solutions. One of the biggest challenges in that regard is the interface compatibility so that the systems can communicate with each other. This is one aspect we are working on intensively, in order to connect not only the systems and solutions which are already on the market, but also those which are in development, to bring them into the bigger picture.
Which partnerships and joint projects are required to produce a digital renewable energy system?
Andreas Schneemann: We are following several paths while intensively involving the communities. That way, they are assuming their role model status for the population. However, it is impossible to bring all parties on board. We cooperate with many institutes and research units, but also with the economy and the industry. For example, we installed a strategy team to identify which building blocks are necessary to bring a regional renewable energy system from theory to reality. It involves notable partners like Siemens, Kapsch, Renault, Vaillant, Fronius, the AIT, Siblik, the Rabmer Group, Blue Sky Energy, KIOTO, but also partners from Germany like Mennekes. This shows that we are recognized internationally, too, and that our plan is innovative and has potential for the future. The new systems need to be developed in a user-friendly way so that they will be accepted. Therefore, it is vital to bring the population on board. We managed to do that by realizing a lot of public participation projects first.
As a last thought – do you feel that the people in Southern Burgenland see themselves as part of the Vienna Region?
Andreas Schneemann: I think if you ask three people from Southern Burgenland, at least two of them will not yet identify with the Vienna Region – but I find their marketing and positioning initiative very important, especially from an international perspective, since it increases the reputation of Southern Burgenland. Also, it puts the regional activities, such as our initiatives, into the spotlight.
The interview was conducted by medienkomplizen / Christian Scherl
Photo: Andreas Schneemann (c) Andreas Schneemann