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An “Aixploratory” microgrid

At the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, the first experimental microgrid was recently installed as part of an ambitious innovation programme.

In late September, the Agence Grand Sud of Gares & Connexions (see inset) launched its Aixploration project in partnership with The Camp –  a campus for urbanism research and the digital transformation. Aixploration, the large-scale innovation programme at the Aix TGV station, has two main goals: to transform the passenger experience and to develop energy autonomy for the station. “SNCF Innovation & Research is directly involved in the second aspect as a technical consultant to the programme’s client”, says Guillaume Gazaignes, head of the Energy Group. “In that capacity, we have defined with the client the first energy demonstrator, which was commissioned on 28 September.”

A canopy, charging stations, and a robot

The demonstrator can be seen on the car park at the station. The elements of the microgrid include a photovoltaic canopy that supplies electricity to electric vehicle charging stations, coupled with a Li-ion battery to provide flexible management of the energy supply. “This installation is managed by a programmable logic controller”, adds Gazaignes. “Innovation & Research contributed by developing an algorithm to manage energy according to charging scenarios, weather conditions, and the station’s energy consumption. For example, if the PLC registers a decrease in power from the canopy, the algorithm determines when the battery or the train station’s power network takes over.”

A hand from hardware-in-the-loop

The system has been in operation for several weeks, and the signs are encouraging. Innovation & Research is very interested in the data that can be collected with the installation. Explains Gazaignes: “we will be able to use these data in the work we will be doing in 2018 to construct an optimal algorithm for sizing and managing an installation like this on a larger scale. This will involve a system called hardware-in-the-loop to maximize local consumption of photovoltaic energy and increase the number of charging stations.” Gares & Connexions will also have all the data needed if it wishes to install another canopy at the Aix TGV station, which would cover a large part of the parking area and make possible additional energy services.

In late September, the Agence Grand Sud of Gares & Connexions (see inset) launched its Aixploration project in partnership with The Camp –  acampus for urbanism research and the digital transformation.

Three questions for… Jean-Christophe Vieu, director of the Aixploration project, Agence Grand-Sud, Gares & Connexions

What are the main lines of investigation in Aixploration?

The programme is exploring three main areas. The first concerns the management of a large building. Here we have developed a tool we can use to monitor and operate various kinds of equipment in the station – automatic doors, lifts, alarms. The second area is passenger services, with innovations like robot waste collectors and autonomous air humidifiers, a speaking screen, smart and connected signage panels, and a chatbot, among others. The third focus of research is sustainability, which mainly concerns the photovoltaic canopy developed with Innovation & Research.

How has collaboration with Innovation & Research been organised?

In terms of planning and content, it was a big challenge, since at the beginning of the year, when we contacted Innovation & Research, we had no precise idea of what we wanted to do concerning energy. On the other hand, we had a September deadline. In the space of a few months, we got together and constructed the project from A to Z! Without I&R’s enthusiasm and expertise, it would have been very hard to tackle this challenge.

Have you had feedback on the canopy?

Yes, and it’s very positive. Vehicle owners quickly began using the equipment even though there are other electrical outlets in the car park. We are continuing our collaboration with Innovation & Research with the idea of doing a large-scale deployment within two years… and then possibly doing other experiments together for our station-laboratory.