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Smart grids : flexibility is the name of the game

The purpose of virtual power plants and the associated intelligent distribution grids, known as smart grids, is based on a simple common denominator: to feed only as much electricity into the grid as customers need.

09 Dec. 2014

Whether the speaker is from ABB or Siemens, from an energy utility such as Trianel or Allgäuer Überlandwerk, from Thüga, the SAG Group or Aachen-based software company Kisters AG, the presentation slides are similar. They all show a distribution grid to which various electricity producers and consumers are connected: photovoltaic systems and wind farms, conventional gas and coal-fired power stations, biogas plants and battery storage systems, combined heat and power plants and emergency generators, cold storage facilities and plastics producers, electric vehicles and aluminum smelters. The terms "power-to-heat" and "power-to-gas" can be read on the slides and there is talk of the balancing energy market and load shifts. And time and again speakers mention the word "flexibility", which – with the increasing and fluctuating amount of electricity generated by renewable energies – is becoming a focal point in the virtual, decentralized energy world that leaves behind nuclear power stations, huge lignite power plants and controversial high-voltage transmission lines criss-crossing the country.

The purpose of virtual power plants and the associated intelligent distribution grids, known as smart grids, is based on a simple common denominator: to feed only as much electricity into the grid as customers need. The aim is to maintain a constant frequency of 50 Hertz – an increasingly difficult task for grid operators due to the fluctuating feed-in.

This means that in practice, however, the "simple common denominator" is actually highly complex. The HERMES AWARD, an international technology prize for outstanding innovations given by HANNOVER MESSE, was won in 2014 by SAG Group GmbH for its solution "iNES – Intelligent Distribution Grid Management", which enables a conventional low-voltage grid to be gradually converted to a smart grid. At the award ceremony, the jury praised the innovative solution: "The modular, decentralized and self-sufficient measuring and control system platform iNES consists of a decentralized function to identify the grid state through the use of decentralized intelligent software agents. The feed-in and load flow situations are monitored in real time. If necessary, critical deviations can be regulated, targeted and balanced out through the use of control devices in the grid as well as through the producers and consumers involved. This means that available grid capacities can be utilized to an optimal level, reducing conventional expansion of the grid without endangering its stability."

This sums up the important factors when distribution grids are modernized. More than 90 percent of the electricity from renewable energies is fed in, while various studies conclude that expansion of the grid at low and medium voltage level will cost at least 30 billion euros by 2030. Grid operators complain that the German Federal Network Agency is providing insufficient incentives for the expansion and intelligent upgrading of the grids, even though they form the backbone of the turnaround in energy policy.

egrid applications & consulting GmbH, a subsidiary of Allgäuer Überlandwerke (AÜW), won two prizes in 2014: the Stadtwerke Award and an Energy Award. These were in recognition of its innovative distribution grid concepts and associated business models for the energy turnaround.

"Measurement brings light into the darkness" is how Bernhard Rindt, CEO of egrid, describes the move towards the smart grid. Eighty-seven local substations have been installed in one of AÜW's grid areas that has photovoltaic installations with an output of six megawatts, two megawatts of wind and one megawatt of biogas, 15.7 MWh/a of generated work and 6.6 MWh/a of consumed work. Over the course of several years, load flows at 1,400 measurement points were registered and analyzed in order to better understand the simultaneity of feed-in and consumption and thus simplify grid planning. The result: 20 percent of the grid expansion costs were saved by optimizing the design criteria when planning the grid – amounting to a rather significant six billion euros of a total 30 billion.

What egrid did on its doorstep is now being offered as a service by other grid operators throughout Germany. "We can provide measurement devices for a certain period of time and evaluate the results, calculate and simulate grid areas, and work with the customer to develop intelligent distribution grid cells," says CEO Rindt.

This intelligent network of producers and consumers could in future be expanded to include private households. A recent study commissioned by electricity giant RWE and conducted by the Zurich think tank Future Matters revealed that by as early as 2018 more than half of all new large electrical appliances and consumer electronic devices could be interlinked. By then, according to the study, "the local generation and storage of electrical energy will for the first time be cheaper than central generation and distribution."

The Swiss futurologists view the "smartness" of energy consumers and smart grid technology as a game changer. "By 2017, energy, mobility and communication networks will be so closely interlinked that new business models and collaborations will develop," reports the study, continuing that "networks will move ever closer together and mutually enrich each other."

You can discover how intelligent grids will develop in future and what contribution they will make to the energy turnaround in the Smart Grids area of HANNOVER MESSE. Leading manufacturers will unveil the latest trends in intelligently networked electricity grids and thus in the energy supply of the future: renewable – intelligent – efficient.