Aware of the importance of strengthening the fight against climate change, we have launched the Smart Grids lab, which aims to encourage innovation and development of smart grids to adapt to the future energy model, allowing sustainable energy management, ensuring electrical supplies and competitive prices of electricity. Current trends are based on energy diversification and self-sufficiency. This opens up new and very interesting prospects for an energy-scarce region as long as we can optimise network distribution in order to match production to demand. However, for this, we need to involve all the key players of the network (production, distribution, storage, consumption...) and experts in its smart management from universities and technological centres.
To carry out the Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) within the framework of our regional Smart Specialisation strategy (S3), we have deployed participation platforms that we have called “Innovation policy labs”. Some specific missions have been defined under the scope of the labs; each gather stakeholders of the quadruple innovation helix (companies and business associations, regional administration, universities and technology centres, and social agents). They meet to discuss about the missions aligned with the priorities of our strategy, and then agree on some mission-oriented pilot projects that the regional government may undertake.
To ensure stakeholders participation, the selection and setting-up of a seed group that have initiated laboratory’s works has been crucial. In a second phase, clusters and sectoral associations have opened the lab to companies, producers and consumers’ representatives, paying particular attention to participants’ needs. The strategy objectives are reviewed in the light of the analysis of stakeholders’ needs. The Smart Grids Lab is a good example of this collaboration.
In this particular case, the knowledge helix is represented by the Polytechnic University of Valencia, which is leading the virtual power plant project through the Institute for Energy Engineering, whilst the Energy Technological Institute – a private technological centre – leads the energy storage project with the support of the Generalitat Valenciana (the regional government body).
Companies are selected according to their skills and level of interests. They participate in the different tasks of the pilot projects, from its very first draft to the final development of applications and products. Other companies lend their facilities to implement the projects. Moreover, the Valencian Business Confederation (CEV) co-leads the lab together with the regional government. The contribution of the CEV to the RIS3 process has been very important, both to ensure the participation of sectoral companies as well as to increase interest and confidence in the process.
The diversity and open-mindedness of the discussions have enabled the group to come up with new, sometimes unexpected, considerations. With regard to the sustainable dimension of our regional priorities, and in relation with the regional energy distribution, we defined our “3Ds” social challenge of Decarbonisation, Distributed generation and Digitization. Besides, four specific missions were considered concerning the distributed generation of energy, based on i) renewable energies, ii) increasing self-consumption in public and private buildings, iii) improving energy storage capacity, and iv) the development of local energy markets.
Finally, in the first work cycle of the Smart Grids Lab, we selected the first pilot project: the implementation of a virtual power plant in industrial areas and the establishment of mechanisms for the sale of energy by prosumers (those who are simultaneously producers and consumers). The expected results will be verified by monitoring the set-up of new electrical equipment, applications and services and more importantly, it will have positive impacts on both economic savings for industrial users and the environment.
The Lab enables participants to obtain fruitful results, not only from the development of innovation projects but also through the use of existing knowledge, solutions and know-how that are combined together in an innovative way. For instance, in our pilot project, a Virtual Power Plant will use known and new technologies, as devices for measuring consumption, to establish an innovative energy local market among companies in an industrial area.
The leadership and commitment of the regional government guarantee the dynamism and regular functioning of these platforms. The biggest challenge has been to coordinate various agents and to ensure a win-win process with equitable participation by which the general interest prevails upon private interests of companies or research centers. The leadership of the Department of Sustainable Economy, Productive Sectors, Trade and Labor of the Generalitat and its involvement in innovation policies have been essential for the success of the EDP process. “Institutional support enhances participation of all the implicated agents, who understand that we all move in the same direction", said Empar Martínez, Responsible for the Directorate General of Industry and Energy at the Generalitat Valenciana.
The Lab is fostering the integration of scattered knowledge among the different agents, and has allowed not only for the detection of new innovative scientific-technological and market opportunities, but also for the integration of existing solutions in an innovative way.