Martin Schuster, Winterbach How to adapt energy solutions to the needs of each country The decentralisation of energy supply
The way is paved for the decentralisation of energy supply
How to adapt energy solutions to the needs of each country
Interview with Martin Schuster, Head of CrossPower, Pfisterer Holding, Winterbach
The European: Mr Schuster, let me start with a rather personal question. What motivated you, after 40 years in a classic central electricity supply in leading positions, to develop ideas for a decentralised energy supply based on alternative sources? Martin Schuster: It is true that I am particularly fascinated by the possibilities for a better life that hybrid energy systems, using alternative local energy sources, can bring to people in countries with little infrastructure. I wanted to bring my knowledge and experience to this new field.
The European: Could you please explain a little bit more the advantages of such decentralised systems for developing countries? Martin Schuster: Energy is crucial for development, but it is often complicated to establish traditional energy supply in countries that do not have the money or the necessary infrastructures to establish big centralised grids and to manage the distribution. So, when there is no centralised energy supply, how will the needs of the population be met, for light, fridges, computers, or for hospitals…?
The European: …usually they use diesel generators with high CO 2 emissions and a high cost for fuel. Today, this no longer seems sustainable with regard to the climate problem and the commercial situation. Martin Schuster: Exactly! That’s why at Pfisterer we developed an innovative system which can be transported and stationed anywhere. The idea is to have a decentralised microgrid, enabled to produce energy in a competitive way through renewables, keeping CO 2 emissions to a minimum (close to zero), thus also contributing to the climate objectives of the United Nations and the European Union.
The European: What are the typical fields of interest or projects you are working on? Martin Schuster: Let me give some examples. Typical in Africa are requests for electricity for field irrigation, small villages with schools and hospitals, or industry parks. We just received, for example, a request from Tanzania for the electrification of a complex which will include a school, a hospital and a girls’ hostel. We also receive similar requests from Central and South Asia, but in addition they also include mining and tourism. We are evaluating with the towns concerned, such as Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, how the emission of fine dust particulates could be reduced in settlements with no electricity access, where anything flammable is burnt. Furthermore, the United Nations is asking for energy in refugee camps, and disaster relief organisations for immediate energy in the event of a disaster. Last not but least, armed forces are interested in the system for deployed military camps.
The European: Could the post-war reconstruction process of towns in the Middle East be a new field of engagement where early energy could be provided? Martin Schuster: Indeed, some organisations have contacted us with regard to Irak and Syria. But this is certainly a medium-term task.
The European: Are these systems also interesting for Europe? Martin Schuster: In Europe, we will probably maintain for a long time a mix of centralised and decentralised systems, different in each country. But the way towards decentralisation has been paved. Ideas to create independent energy supplies already exist, where the consumer will be able to produce his or her own energy through wind generators or solar panels.
“The idea is to have a decentralised microgrid enabled to produce energy through renewables.”
has been Senior Advisor since 2010 and in parallel since 2014
Head of CrossPower at Pfisterer Holding AG in Winterbach. Born
in 1951, he graduated from high-school and left as an Electrical
Engineer the University of Karlsruhe in 1977. Mr Schuster start
ed his professional career in 1977 at Pfisterer’s Laboratories,
Photo: PFISTERER, Winterbach
where he became Head of several departments (High Voltage Technique, 1985; Head of Engineering and Sales, 1987; Head of
Medium & High Voltage Technology, 1995) before becoming 1999 Managing Director of Pfisterer Kontaktsysteme.
The European: Your system – called CrossPower – developed by Pfisterer under your lead, was first designed for civil use, but the first tender you won was one with military purposes. I remember visiting the first serial system in Lithuania, a few years ago, where the system was tested by the Lithuanian Army and NATO. Martin Schuster: That’s right. When I was studying reports on energy supply for civil-military forces in Afghanistan, I finally understood that energy for armed forces, including civil cooperation outside Europe, evidently represents a logistical problem. Fuel transports have to be protected when going through terrain held by unfriendly forces. I was shocked reading of the several hundreds of deceased fuel drivers the diverse NATO and other forces had to mourn.
The European: And a military or civilian camp where energy is mainly supplied by diesel generators is of course also a climate problem. Martin Schuster: Imagine these forces using thousands of fuel-driven driven generators for the functioning of their camps, often one for each tent, with high CO 2 emissions all over the world! It just made sense to me and my colleagues from the CrossPower team to propose an alternative based on local energy sources, like the sun, wind, or water, and to store the produced energy in a modern battery system.
The European: These are your personnel and private lessons learned. Are there any commercial ones? Martin Schuster: This is my next point. Industries that are not looking forward lose drive in research, development and production and eventually they lose the market. Pfisterer, as a leading company in the electricity world in several fields over the years and still now world champion, had no research and development (R&D) for hybrid energy in its portfolio until 2014, like many others. We started on our own by developing CrossPower led by our ambition and the unanimous support of the owner and the boards of the company.
The European: Is Pfisterer manufacturing all necessary components for this system? Martin Schuster: The most important part of our decentralised energy supply system is the management system. That’s why we decided to develop it at Pfisterer because of our experience and insight. The management system is the brain of CrossPower since it recognises which energies are available on the ground (sun, wind) and then automatically takes over
PFISTERERs hybrid energy system CrossPower is adaptable to all existing energy sources
the control of all functions. Thus, it permanently establishes the balance between generation and consumption. For the other main components our aim is to have at least two or three regular suppliers. This enables us to be flexible and to create systems that are totally in line with the different uses of our customers.
The European: This means that you are a system integrator? Martin Schuster: Correct. After only two years and starting from scratch, we have been since 2016 the system integrator for CrossPower, adapting each system to the needs of the customer, continuously researching and developing improvements, and testing each system in our premises in Winterbach.
The European: I understand that the design of the systems you are offering can be different, but is the core always the same? Martin Schuster: Your perception of CrossPower is correct. To sum it up: we are building a hybrid energy system forming a microgrid for 24/7 electricity using almost no fossil sources and generally generating no CO 2 , and usable all over the world, steered by an automatic energy management system.
The European: This is a clear vote in favour of a decentralised energy supply with a rather low spectrum of power. Martin Schuster: The initial idea was to develop a modular and mobile system which could be transported rapidly by land, air and sea to any place where it is needed – after an earthquake for instance. The spectrum we had in mind at that time was from 25 kW to 1 MW, now we are planning with up to 10 MW in mind. You are right; it is a relatively low spectrum of energy.
The European: But what happens in event of “dark-doldrums”, when input from renewables is not available? Martin Schuster: First of all, we carry out the engineering in line with the requirements of the customer, depending on what the system is planned for. Secondly, by using batteries and the priorisation of loads, we can overcome a certain period, since the customer can decide which element has to be supplied permanently (for example, a field hospital) and where the supply can be suspended in the case of insufficient energy generation (for example the heating or the lights in the tents). Finally, when the customer needs uninterrupted power supply, we can integrate a backup diesel generator.
The European: Would there have been other technical solutions for you to reach your objectives? Martin Schuster: For sure, there would have been other technical solutions but with a totally different design and purpose. There are wind farms, photovoltaic plants, ‘Power to Gas’ constructions, etc., which are already used in developing countries. However, they mostly distribute energy in a centralised form, often not reaching remote regions. The real difference is that we are able to combine different renewables and to store the generated energy in the battery system, with the whole process controlled by the management system. Technical Manager Thomas Krämer (left) with Nannette Cazaubon and Martin Schuster in the CrossPower production hall at the Pfisterer Headquarter in Winterbach, 04.06.2018 Photo: © ESDU 2018
The European: To summarise, CrossPower was from the start intended to be small and transportable, allowing for totally decentralised energy production and supply automatic microgrids. Martin Schuster: Yes, and that means that thanks to its modularity, CrossPower can use energy sources in any available place. (See graphic p. 40)
The European: What interest is there for your strategy in modern industry nations and in developing countries in Africa and Asia? Are you prepared to leave a share of the work in the country, meaning technology transfer? Martin Schuster: We have requests from all over the world for civil and military use and we are working on them. There is interest for systems from 30 kW up to 10 MW. Military leaders speak of a force multiplier, the civil side mostly of capability provider. For sure, we plan to implant in each country a local company to be our partner, carrying out training, maintenance and logistics.
The European: What is your wish and expectation for the future of decentralised energy systems like CrossPower? Martin Schuster: It is always a steep and stony path to establish a new technology in markets, but we realise that there is a change towards this so-called decentralised energy supply. CrossPower is and will be a trendsetter in this direction.
The European: Mr Schuster, many thanks for this conversation and good luck.
The interview was conducted by Nannette Cazaubon at Pfisterer Headquarters in Winterbach > web: www.pfisterer.com/crosspower