Developing new business models with ProCom software


BoFiT Forecast – Flexible in Use for Various Tasks

Stadtwerke Saarbrücken GmbH is a good example of how smart software can be used flexibly in the energy sector: As a long-time user of the two ProCom solutions BoFiT Optimization (operational planning) and BoFiT Forecast, the portfolio management team of Stadtwerke is well versed in using software and created a new business model with ProCom’s software: Stadtwerke Saarbrücken offers small and medium-sized distribution network operators forecasting for the differential time series. A forecast model in BoFiT is used to more accurately predict deviations from the standard load profile. This makes it easier to offset the balance group, which in turn lowers the management costs thanks to the reduction in balancing energy.

“Typically, our customised solutions for differential energy forecasting save 1-2 euros per standard load profile metering point annually”, Martin Germann, Head of Portfolio Management at Stadtwerke Saarbrücken reports. He also added that the service is risk-free for customers. “We only charge a service fee if we achieve demonstrable savings based on an agreed quota.”

The service is made possible by the broad range of mathematical models for different tasks offered by BoFiT Forecast. In addition to the typical profile methods (standard load profiles, day parameter dependent load profiles and user-defined profiles), regression models, artificial neural networks (KNN) and methods of the SARIMAX family are available. These options provide Stadtwerke Saarbrücken with the essential tools needed. Using the customers’ historical network data, the individual forecasting algorithm is analyzed and structured in BoFiT. Together with site-specific weather data, this constitutes the main building block to create the differential energy forecast.

“Digitalisation leads to more transparency in the energy sector and provides data that can yield true added value when the right tools are used. Smart solutions, such as BoFiT Optimization and BoFiT Forecast, take the usability of this data to the next level”, says Germann. In the case of differential energy forecasting, there are even multiple benefits: it reduces the costs for balancing energy both for the municipal utility company and for the customers of the service. In addition to revenues, Stadtwerke Saarbrücken is gaining additional know-how along the way, which will be useful for the development of new digital business models.

Read also the exclusive interview with BoFiT user Martin Germann, Head of Portfolio Management at Stadtwerke Saarbrücken GmbH:

“Digitalization Creates Twice the Benefits”

Martin Germann, Head of Portfolio Management at Stadtwerke Saarbrücken GmbH, sees vast opportunities in digitalization – both for the optimization of internal processes and to establish new lines of business. It took modern computing to make a new business model possible: a differential energy forecast solution developed by the company from Saarbrücken for distribution network operators. In the interview, Germann explains how this service came about, how it was implemented, and what the team is expecting from further digitalization.

Mr Germann, is digitalization an opportunity or a risk for Stadtwerke Saarbrücken?

Germann: We see it primarily as an opportunity. Our previous digitalization projects have clearly moved us forward. One example is the operational planning for power plants, where many different parameters have to be taken into account. To achieve maximum profit margins, you have to create transparency not only in terms of the technical limitations but also with respect to the market. For example, the fuel and market prices must be monitored at all times, contracts and plant restrictions must be taken into account and the usage of plants must be coordinated in advance. Without high-performance processes and software, it would be impossible to handle all of these aspects in a dynamic market environment.

What solutions do you use?

Germann: An important component of our solution landscape is the optimization and forecasting software BoFiT from ProCom. These systems work in an integrated manner so that our processes can be mapped very efficiently. The systems provide us with the information necessary to make operational decisions in terms of the plants and help us make the most of the flexibility we have.

Speaking of making the most of flexibility: can you give us an example?

Germann: Our plant park includes multiple cogeneration units (CHPs) of the two-megawatt class and an electric boiler, but the ultimate showpiece is the gas and steam plant of an industrial customer, for whom we handle the operational planning of the plant as a service. This plant’s flexibility comprises the ability to make excess quantities of current beyond the intrinsic electricity production available to the market. The associated heat accumulator plays an important role, as it facilitates the decoupling of electricity and heat production and thus enables us to allocate heat to our customers as needed. This gives us the flexibility to produce current at times when profit margins are high on the market. And we achieve this with operational planning using BoFiT Optimization as well as prognostics with BoFiT Forecast.

What is the connection between operational optimization and the differential energy forecast (*) that you offer to distribution network operators as a service?

Germann: The mathematical solutions offered by BoFiT permit many different applications. In terms of our in-house services, we took a look at the differential time series and noticed that our costs for balancing energy were high. Then we requested the data from the responsible department and established a model in BoFiT Forecast, on the basis of which we were able to create a day-ahead timetable for the differential time series.

The financial gains we had through the reduction of balancing energy motivated us to use this process for the Group’s differential energy forecast. Our distribution network operator was thus our first customer. Subsequently, we further optimized the method with BoFiT and presented our solution to other municipal utility companies. The feedback was very positive, as we can offer our customers added value of about 1.5-2 euros per standard load profile (SLP) metering point annually.

How does it all add up for you and your customers?

Germann: It’s a true win-win situation. We measure success based on the status quo of the customer’s differential time series  management. We are only paid for our services if we generate demonstrable added value, which we have achieved every time thus far. So our customers benefit from low balancing costs and not having to buy their own prognostic tool or programming one, and not having to dedicate personnel to such an undertaking.

Speaking of programming: How complex was it to adapt BoFit to differential energy forecasting, since this is an entirely different process?

Germann: It does take a certain level of know-how to work with BoFiT to be able to adapt it to new tasks.  We decided very early on to train some employees to become BoFiT experts. ProCom offers corresponding basic training, which was tailored to our needs. So we were in a position to try new things in the system and expand our range of solutions at an early stage. This comes with a wide range of possibilities, such as the forecasting methods offered by BoFiT.

Will you develop further IT services?

Germann: Yes. The success we’ve had with the differential energy forecasting service has encouraged us to do so. What we are currently looking at are issues related to the Smart Meter and Smart Grid. We see great potential here. If the points of consumption and the network are smart, we will be able to provide more transparency in the network by efficiently processing this bulk data. This has significant advantages for suppliers and network operators, both in terms of controlling and energy demand management. We think this is the perfect angle for us to further apply our digitalization know-how.