The grid is becoming increasingly decentralised and flexible. With e-cars, photovoltaic plants, home batteries and heat pumping technology, many different parties can influence electricity generation, right down to individual households. That is why Swissgrid joined forces with TenneT NL and Terna to found the crowd balancing platform (CBP). Since the conclusion of the pilot project in 2020, Swissgrid has been working with various transmission system operators in Europe on the integration of decentralised energy resources, which can together provide additional flexibility on the market. APG, Tennet DE and TransnetBW also subsequently joined the initiative. With the crowd balancing platform, Equigy allows secure data interchange so that large numbers of aggregators can participate in the balancing energy markets. Equigy wants to establish cross-industry standards for the whole of Europe to make market access easier for aggregators.
Lyuba Schulz works at Equigy on Swissgrid projects, among others. In an interview, she describes the tasks she carries out and the difficulties she encounters. Lyuba explains the functioning and goals of Equigy in more detail and tells us how Swissgrid is involved.
Lyuba, what are your responsibilities at Equigy?
I am a Product Owner for the crowd balancing platform, in five countries. That is to say, in the countries where the transmission system operators have come together to work on Equigy. I basically decide on the priorities for the development teams. There are various requirements relating to the projects of transmission system operators or the projects initiated by Equigy itself. All these projects end up in what we call the product backlog. This is a list of requirements for the functions of the CBP platform. My job is to decide which of these requirements should be prioritised and in which order we should do things, taking into account the technical possibilities at the same time. I also have to consider the opinions of various stakeholders, such as transmission system operators (TSOs), architects, business consultants and developers. In the end, this results in a steady workload for the teams. In the worst case scenario, several TSOs may come along with a project at the same time. Then it’s harder for me to assess which one has priority. I have to decide which requirements have lower priority for the time being. But fortunately this hasn’t been the case very often so far.
What do you do when this happens?
It’s difficult. Equigy’s strategy must be taken into account. I always have to keep in mind what Equigy wants for itself, and in which direction it wants to develop in general. This helps me to assess which project is the most important in the short term. Objective criteria often play a role too. For example, if there are two activities going on at the same time, and one of them involves market parties, by which I mean the traders who want to enter the market, then this activity has a higher priority. That’s because this type of project has an immediate impact on processes and brings extra added value to the market. In a pilot project, on the other hand, the dependencies on external parties are not as significant. Projects like this are still important, but they can be implemented later on. They would therefore be given lower priority.
«I always have to keep in mind what Equigy wants for itself, and in which direction it wants to develop in general. This helps me to assess which project is the most important in the short term.»Lyuba Schulz
At Swissgrid, you worked as Specialist Economist & Contracts. How can you make use of your knowledge in this area at Equigy?
I can contribute a lot of market expertise thanks to my previous experience. I’m quite familiar with how the energy markets work – not only in Switzerland, but also in other countries. I dealt with this sort of thing a lot before joining Equigy. This knowledge helps me to understand the requirements of the transmission system operators properly. In discussions with IT staff, I can describe the interdependencies very precisely, so I help with that sort of thing. Sometimes, employees speak in different languages when it comes to their area of expertise. It can be difficult to understand the technical language of another field. I’ve had a lot of feedback that colleagues appreciate it when I translate between technical languages, because it gives them more context. The employees appreciate as well little kick-off presentations for the teams before we start a project. I tell them how a tiny little jigsaw piece from a single project fits into the overall picture of Equigy, and how it will ultimately be used by the market. I think it’s beneficial for everyone to see the purpose of the work they are doing.
Do you decide all by yourself which requests are prioritised and which you follow up on?
At the end of the day, yes. But of course I also talk it through internally to make sure that we all agree and that there are no surprises.
Who can take part in Equigy? Who is Swissgrid actually looking for as partners?
In Switzerland, it is currently the distribution system operators and the aggregators. The aggregators bundle decentralised flexibilities and market them. The higher the number of aggregators who are active in the market, the more distributed resources there are that can be used in the balancing energy market. And that is the objective of the transmission system operators who participate: to ensure that more decentralised flexibilities can be used in the market.
So, on the one hand, distribution system operators can participate. Is Equigy also open to private individuals who can feed energy into the grid in a decentralised manner?
That’s not possible, because it takes a lot of know-how in the energy industry to be able to participate in the market. What’s more, there are certain regulatory requirements that one has to fulfil as a market party. You have to remember that the current market rules still apply. Equigy does not in itself create an additional market, but helps to bring these decentralised flexibilities into the existing market. To participate in balancing energy markets such as primary, secondary and tertiary control reserves, or for redispatch, you have to be prequalified with Swissgrid as a balancing services provider. Among other things, this means that a number of mandatory contracts have to be concluded. As a private individual, this is not currently possible. For example, if I have an electric car in my garage and I think I could make some money from it, the first thing I would have to do is find an aggregator and sign a contract with them. The aggregator would then be directly connected to Equigy and would remunerate the asset owner for their contribution. So private individuals only participate indirectly.
«That is the objective of the transmission system operators who participate: to ensure that more decentralised flexibilities can be used in the market.»Lyuba Schulz
I’ve seen that there are projects similar to Equigy in other countries. What makes Equigy so innovative? How is it different from the others?
These platforms are a hot topic at the moment. A lot of people are working on similar projects, which is actually a good thing, because decentralisation will be the biggest challenge for the energy market. So it’s good to approach it from different angles and with different ideas. I would say that one of the main advantages of Equigy is that there are already functioning platforms. This means that the transmission system operators can gain initial experience. Depending on the outcome of projects, they can adjust the market rules, e.g. for pilot projects with distribution system operators. If the result is satisfactory, they continue to work in the same direction. Thanks to this decentralised design, Equigy allows fast and reliable data interchange between all partners. Data interchange is one of the most important factors for these small plants that participate. That’s because you have to transmit the trading data, all the schedules and activation details, then you have to check what has actually been delivered and what hasn’t. Equigy can work like a hub, so that all the parties involved receive the same data at the same time.
So would you say that Equigy has already made good progress with the project?
In the Netherlands, there are already parties participating in the market for the automatic Frequency Restoration Reserve (aFRR). In other words, the aggregators register their resources, they send in bids, they may or may not receive a contract, and then they are activated. That’s how it works on the existing balancing energy market. In Italy, Equigy has offered a platform for the UVAM (virtually aggregated mixed units) project since May 2022. There are two traders who offer their flexibilities through the Equigy platform. There is a project in Austria for aFRR, and a pilot project in Germany for redispatch, where the flexibility of heat pumps and electric cars can be used by the TSOs. Technically, it doesn’t matter to Equigy which product is being offered.
Is that because the system is the same?
Exactly, it’s basically about registering, bidding to win contracts in auctions, reserve activation and sending measurement data.
Do you enjoy working for Equigy? It’s definitely something new.
Yes, it’s quite different. I’ve been at Swissgrid for years, so this was a great opportunity to meet new people, discover other sequences of operations, hear different points of view and gain new perspectives. It’s very inspiring and enriching.
It’s certainly an advantage that digital collaboration has evolved in recent years. Especially since you have so many employees from different countries working together.
Yes, precisely. Another of Equigy’s goals to try and establish an international standard on all the markets. Of course, each market has its own specific rules, either regulatory or based on its individual conditions, but we always try to use the same data exchange rules and set the same standards. This way, if market parties participate in one market through Equigy, they can participate in other markets relatively quickly and easily. That’s Equigy’s ultimate goal. But there is still a long way to go.