In this interview we talk to Alfredo Gonzalez Naranjo from AYESA, who is the project coordinator for the ISLANDER project. In our conversation, he shares insights into his perspective regarding the project’s primary challenges and objectives. In addition, Alfredo gives an overview of the current status of the project, describes the upcoming steps and shares his most exciting experiences during the project.
Alfredo, please give us a short introduction to your professional background.
I hold a degree in Computer Science Engineering at the University of Seville (Spain). After I finished the degree and started my professional career in the field of ICT consulting services I moved to Madrid to do a Master’s degree in Business Administration. After completing my Master’s degree, I realized that I liked different management areas and specialized in the field of project management, obtaining my PMI (Project Management Institute) certificate in 2006. Since then, my main role in projects has been that of a project manager, leading several national and international projects.
Currently I am Project Coordinator in ISLANDER apart from being involved in other R&D European projects.
Can you give us a short overview of the ISLANDER project and the main idea behind it?
The main objective of the ISLANDER project is to provide a solution for the main problem of many islands at energy level (dependency of mainland energy systems) and contribute to their full decarbonization. To achieve this, the approach of the ISLANDER project aims to make the most of the different technologies for renewable energy production and storage, the latest mathematical optimization techniques for the management of distributed energy resources (DER) in combination with hybrid energy storage (HES), pushing the state-of-the-art of Demand Response and Local Power Balancing approaches to a new level. The entire process is orchestrated by a smart IT platform that makes the decisions at all times.
In my view, the main differential characteristic of this project compared to others is that we put the inhabitant of the island at the center of the project.
What key opportunities does the ISLANDER project offer, in your opinion?
I think that the main opportunity presented by ISLANDER is being able to test in a real setting (Borkum Island in Germany) multiple technologies for energy production and storage, latest mathematical optimization techniques, interconnection of electricity and heat grids. In this way, it can be shown that by combining multiple elements, an island is able to be self-sufficient at energy level using renewable energies, all with lower investment and operating costs than using fossil fuels.
Can you provide us with the main updates on the progress of the project over the past year?
We are currently approximately in the middle of the project (month 35 out of 60). During the previous phases of the project, we focused on the requirements and design of the systems, development of algorithms, preparation of different plans and studies. In other words, all the preliminary work necessary to start the actual installation and deployment of the systems on the island is currently underway. Once all the systems are deployed, we will move on to the operation and maintenance phase.
What challenges were encountered during the project implementation and how were they overcome?
As every R&D project, we have faced a variety of challenges and unexpected situations, ranging from the increase of the prices for materials and services (motivated by different reasons: inflation, Ukraine war, etc.) to technical problems arising from the lack of knowledge of certain elements of the island. To overcome such problems, we have had to carry out an intensive search for material suppliers and installers whose prices match our budget and to overcome the lack of precise knowledge of the island, we have had to collaborate intensively with one of our partner in the consortium (NBG).
What has been most exciting in your work as project coordinator of the ISLANDER project so far?
There have been a lot of exciting moments along the project so far. At the general assemblies, for example, I was able to meet the project partners in person. Face-to-face meeting are very good opportunities to discuss in a more productive way the main problems and challenges the project is facing at each moment and to get to know other aspects of your colleagues beyond the merely professional ones. If I had to choose one, the most exciting moment was when I saw that the installation phase had started, the first Household Solutions were installed in end-user homes, the first battery was connected, etc. At that moment I realised that a new phase of the project had begun and I was excited to see the results of the “analysis and design” being applied in a real environment.
Looking ahead to the next year, what are the next steps to be taken for the project’s development?
Once the installation process is finished, the next step will be the operation of the overall system. In other words, being able to gather information from the houses, buildings, smart charging stations, the H2-based system and the seawater district heating system, to provide the corresponding order using the algorithms to run the overall system in the most efficient way and reducing the impact in the environment. We also need to ensure that the TRL of the various project outputs is achieved.
What criteria would define a successful ISLANDER project from your point of view and what plans do you have to continue the achievement after the end of the project?
In my opinion, ISLANDER would be a success if we could achieve the different KPIs set in the Grant Agreement (electricity imports from the mainland, etc) contributing to the most relevant objective to achieve the full decarbonization of Borkum in 2030. Another measure of success would be that the experience gained in this project is applied in future projects and the results are replicated in the follower islands.
This project will pave the way to achieve decarbonization on small islands. Therefore, one challenging objective would be to extend the results and ideas to other projects to achieve the decarbonization of larger island and in even less time than we have needed in ISLANDER.