Picnic: designing the smart grid

Amy Klein
Amy Klein
Jul 10, 2018 · 4 min read

We all need energy, but most of the energy the world uses comes from fossil fuels. This pollutes our atmosphere with greenhouse gases like Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide. The EU Energy strategy states that by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions should be cut by 40% and that at least 27% of energy production should derive from renewable sources, like wind or solar power.

By creating more sustainable energy production and by being efficient with energy distribution, the energy transition can become an achievable aim.

Picnic is taking responsibility for decreasing the energy footprint of our customers. Our mission is to: maximise energy efficiency, source our electricity from 100% renewables and ensure that energy is used when supply is high and demand is low.

Energy Transition and Smart Distribution

Making the energy transition to renewable sources has its challenges. Renewables do not constantly generate energy. On cloudy days, or at night, we still need electricity but there’s no sun to charge solar panels. Therefore, an energy transition must go hand in hand with smart distribution that accurately plans energy use and batteries that can store it for later.

Picnic’s Energy Grant: Designing a Smart Grid

Picnic has been awarded an energy grant from the Dutch government. In a collaborative project with ENGIE and Dexter Energy Services, we will design a Smart Grid in the municipality of Rotterdam. The pilot project will be the largest of its kind. The aim is to optimise Picnic’s energy use and design a scalable energy model that can be replicated by other businesses.

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Some of our German ePVs hanging out in the Hub

Making Picnic More Sustainable

We’re already doing what we can. Our ePVs deliver to the doorstep, so customers no longer need to drive to buy their groceries. With an evolving distribution model, we ensure that deliveries are efficient, further reducing Picnic’s energy footprint.

But as a fully operational supermarket, Picnic is still a huge energy user. From our ePVs, to the large chilled and frozen cells that keep products fresh, we rely heavily on electricity.

By connecting our large fleet of ePVs to an operating solar energy farm, there is great potential to optimise Picnic’s energy footprint.

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The Smart Grid

A Smart Grid is an interconnected network between the energy consumer, energy storage, and energy production. With an energy management system that includes a digital toolbox of self-learning algorithms, demand is accurately planned, predicted, and coordinated, while responding to changing production. This creates efficient energy distribution and maximises the potential of renewable energy.

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A basic demonstration of how our smart grid will work

Within the network, all components, from solar panels, ePVs, to smart chargers, constantly communicate with one and other.

Let’s look at the role of ePVs in the Smart Grid:

As part of the pilot project, 160 ePVs will be equipped with smart batteries. These will harness energy harvested from the solar panels on the roof of a Hub.

The ePVs are not in constant use. Between deliveries, or on non-peak days, ePVs remain plugged into the smart chargers, storing batteries with solar energy. At night, this energy can be redirected to wherever it is needed. That could be too frozen cells to keep our ice cream arctic, or potentially to other users that are connected on the same grid system.

But before we get there, there are some concrete steps we have to take:

Minimise Energy Usage

First, we have to minimise overall energy usage. By monitoring where and how energy is used, we can craft a detailed understanding to ensure that all energy is used efficiently.

Maximise Energy from Renewable Sources

We have several large Fulfilment Centres and many Hubs spread across the Netherlands and Germany. That’s a lot of roof space, and there’s potential for a large solar farm. ENGIE is playing a pivotal role in the pilot project by sharing their knowledge about renewable energy, as well as providing the solar panels and the smart chargers.

Effective Energy Management

Dexter Energy Services will add to the pilot project by working with us to design an effective energy management system. With the help of self-learning algorithms, we will forecast energy usage and production. In this way, our Smart Grid can predict the most optimal time to use energy: when supply is high and demand is low.

Being Smart with Energy

By discovering the potential of energy storage and using a large fleet of electric vehicles in combination with solar energy, Picnic is making steps towards the global energy transition.

Currently, it’s not always profitable for businesses to use energy wisely. There is a high cost in the necessary hardware, software and knowledge required, so many sustainability projects have to be supported by subsidies.

While we experiment and develop ideas about how we can make Picnic more sustainable, we also want to see if our Smart Grid design is replicable to other businesses, and even if it can be scaled to cities. In this way, the pilot project will generate valuable knowledge and support for others who want to move away from fossil fuels.

The project has just started, but there will be many developments in the near future. Stay tuned to discover how we’re being smart with energy, and how we’re decreasing the carbon footprint of Picnic’s customers.

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