Good use of energy not only means utilizing it more efficiently, but also sensibly combining renewable energy production and the right energy storage in an integrated energy system. Hybrid grids play an important role here.
The energy supply of the future faces huge challenges: More and more people and more and more electric devices and machines are requiring more and more power. How do we ensure a secure supply and a stable grid? That is the most urgent question before energy suppliers, as well as consumers. Because efficient use of the resource is as important as its production and storage.
Smart power grids and storage, known as smart grids, and technologies for load management, should form the foundation for an efficient and secure energy system of the future. The strong expansion of renewable energies is also having a major impact on the energy system as a whole: Frequent overproduction of solar and wind power requires a rethinking of how we generate and above all store energy. Energy production is increasingly dependent on weather conditions, and reliant on local production units.
Upgrading the conventional power grid
Already today, many smaller production facilities are connected to the grid, such as photovoltaic systems on rooftops, biogas plants and business-owned CHP plants. These feed power locally into the distribution grid. Smart grids ensure the efficient coordination of production, storage, grid management and consumption so that suppliers maintain a smooth system. New measurement, control and regulation technologies need to be integrated into the conventional grid to make this possible. And smart grids are not limited to electricity: Natural gas and distance heating networks can also be connected to the infrastructure, and even be used as additional energy storage. These various networks and systems are merging together to become hybrid grids.
An integrated energy system should be more than just energy systems and networks, however: Water and wastewater infrastructures, traffic systems, even street lighting and traffic lights can be included in this complex construct – always with the goal of ensuring more efficient use of the energy supply.
From consumer unit to self-sufficient supplier
The biggest task when it comes to connecting integrated energy systems may well be the remediation of the existing energy infrastructure. This is also the source of the biggest potential: Instead of looking at a building in isolation and optimizing it to its own energy needs, a comprehensive approach would achieve much more by viewing it as a part of the integrated energy system.
Houses, factories and administrative buildings then become decentralized energy suppliers, storage units and distributors. In other words: local energy hubs. For example, power might be generated by photovoltaic systems or biogas plants, with excess energy transformed into hydrogen, stored and turned back into energy and heat when needed with the help of a fuel cell. In the best cases, this results in a self-sufficient unit that fully supplies its own needs and does not even have a grid connection any more. But there is a long way to go before that point.
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