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Environmental assessment of prosumer digitalization: The case of virtual pooling of PV battery storage systems

The emergence of decentralized renewable energies together with digitalization enable new possibilities for the provision of system services that are needed for the energy transition. In Germany and worldwide, prosumers with a photovoltaics battery storage system are on the rise. With the aid of digital information and communication technologies (ICT), energy service providers can pool individual battery storage units to form a virtual battery energy storage system (VBES). The VBES is supposed to provide flexibility services and, thereby, support the transition towards an energy system with high shares of intermittent renewables.

Although the concept is environmentally motivated, a holistic environmental assessment is missing so far. Therefore, we carry out a life-cycle analysis that considers environmental benefits, as well as burdens of VBES. For this, we compare a PV battery storage unit in a German single-family household with and without participation in a VBES for the year 2018. We assess three levels of environmental effects: direct effects due to digitalization (data transfer, ICT resources for VBES operation), indirect effects from external optimization on the household-level (changes in battery life and power supply), and enablement effects on the system level (provision of Frequency Containment Reserve, redispatch, and preventing renewables curtailment).

We find that digitalization has a comparably low direct impact but it can enable relatively high environmental benefits for climate protection, and in other impact categories. Conditions for our findings are that battery life and the household's degree of self-sufficiency with PV electricity are not significantly affected by the external control of the VBES operator. We conclude that current and future battery owners should be encouraged to allow external access for system services. Furthermore, the necessary ICT roll out should be implemented in the short- to mid-term. 

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