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Rising energy demand and greater integration of renewable energy will require a full remodeling of the power infrastructure. Smart grids provide the answer to this challenge.

But our power grids, dating back to the era of centralized energy supply, pose major problems for this conversion. There are various concepts for overcoming these problems, but none can sustainably solve all of them, says Albana Ilo from the TU Wien Institute for Energy Systems and Electric Drives. "For years, people have been discussing new concepts such as virtual power plants or microgrids," says Ilo. But both of these notions are still problematic. Virtual power plants not only required a complex and costly IT infrastructure, but also pose significant data protection challenges with their mass collection of user data.

Old power grids, new challenges – and suboptimal solutions

Designing the entire power grid around microgrids, or smaller grid components in which power generation and consumption approximately balance out, is hardly possible. With large offshore wind turbines and solar power plants in the desert, power grids cannot be a purely local operation. It seems clear that these days the electricity market, grid management and the actual physical realities are not necessarily well matched.

Grids for the future with the LINK paradigm

With LINK, TU Wien under the direction of Albana Ilo presents a new smart grid paradigm that reorganizes the management of grids, power generators, power storage facilities and users. Physically, the power grids are divided into a high voltage, a medium voltage and a low voltage network. The paradigm also includes power plants, storage and consumers. These are the divisions that power grid management should align with, according to Ilo. In the LINK paradigm, the entire system is divided into units such as power plants, storage and consumers, which are called links. Each link in this chain has its own control system and the necessary interfaces with the neighboring systems. Just like actual chain links, they can be hooked together and combined at will. Each link receives input from its neighboring links and decides for itself what needs to be done.

High data security, easy grid expansion

"This is also a huge advantage when it comes to data protection," points out Ilo. "Nobody wants data to be collected about when devices in the power supplier's home are turned on and off, for example. And with our LINK paradigm that's no longer necessary." Each chain link just shares a small set of key electrical data with its neighbors. The remaining information is only used locally. This also drastically reduces cyber threats.

The self-regulating system has the further advantage of not posing any major barriers to grid expansion. LINK optimally aligns power grid operation with physical conditions, so that new units can be easily added to the energy supply chain in a modular fashion. That means LINK offers a fresh start for a clean new organization, rather than constantly increasing the complexity of our legacy energy system with ever more small adaptations and emergency solutions.

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