Power Grids Research Network
The Power Grids research network functions as an interface between politics, science, and real-world use. The network’s members develop proposals for how to strategically allocate funding for research into power grids, and how calls for funding and proposals as well as competitions concerning this topic can be set up.
Power grids represent a special interface in the energy system. The expansion and conversion of our power grids are faced with the challenge of guaranteeing a continued high quality and security of supply alongside the integration of renewable energy sources and decentralized power plants. Digitization and the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) creates additional opportunities and challenges. Research and development are essential to satisfying the growing requirements in this field.
As an important tool of energy research policy, the Power Grids research network facilitates networking between scientists in this field, which promotes transparency and participation. The open and self-organized expert network, established in 2015, acts independently and with a bottom-up approach. Its members work at universities, research institutions, and companies all over Germany, from Hamburg to Freiburg and from Bochum to Magdeburg.
These scientists’ activities include engaging in strategy processes by proposing what topics should be researched in future and what funding priorities and formats there should be. For example, the members were involved in the consultation process organized by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK), during which they provided direct expert recommendations for the Federal Government’s 7th Energy Research Programme, which was published in autumn 2018.
Collaboration in the Power Grids research network
Due to the complexity of the research field, the network covers a wide range of topics. Collaboration is organized into five working groups. Each working group develops concrete research objectives for current and future requirements for power grids. The topics allocated to individual working groups have been selected according to the topics prioritized by the members and serve as a guide for the network. These priorities are dynamic and can change during the course of the network’s activities, and thus can be flexibly adapted to current processes.
The office of the network is operated by Projektträger Jülich as a partner of the BMWK for the research management of the funded projects. The project management organisation is available for technical and organisational questions. In addition to the active members, interested stakeholders can get in touch at any time, as the working groups are open to anyone who would like to contribute in terms of content.
The energy transition poses new challenges for grid management, planning, and protection as a result of the decentralized supply structures that will be seen in future, and for this reason it demands new strategies and components. The working group therefore devotes itself to grid management, grid stability, system structure for stable power grids, modelling, and systems analysis. Spurred on by the conversion of the energy system, new solutions are being sought for flexible, secure, and efficient grid management and system stability, so that the necessary digitization and decentralization of the power grids will be successful. Strategies for emergencies and system failures must also be developed. Moreover, the energy transition demands that the structure of the supply system, and thus the grid infrastructure, be adapted to the changed framework conditions. With respect to modelling and systems analysis, scientists discuss methods to evaluate system stability and thus to test, maintain, and optimize the energy system’s security of supply.
This working group concentrates on four topics relating to plant and converter technology. For the power grid of the future, innovations in grid operating systems and plant technology need to be researched and developed. Along with technology development itself, this concerns new approaches to the further development of design tools, modelling, simulation, measurement and testing technology, experimental validation, and long-term demonstrations. The degree by which converters interact with the energy supply grid is also continuing to increase. Converters transform DC voltage to AC voltage so that electricity can be transported across different voltage levels. Their role in the various forms of grids is growing in importance as the proportion of renewables continues to rise. Changing the energy supply from a centralized to a decentralized supply system with many small producers and consumers at virtually all voltage levels poses new challenges for grid protection and control technology. As a result, this technology is another important field of research for decentralized energy systems. Grid operation is subject to continuously changing requirements. These are the result of the constantly changing feed-in ratio between energy produced from conventional and renewable sources.
High-voltage direct-current transmission (HVDC) and the integration of alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC) are priorities in the research into the power grids of the future. Scientists are therefore developing new grid calculation methods for AC/DC integration by determining how coupled AC and DC grids can be further developed using power electronic converters. In relation to grid operation and control, researchers advise how methods and functions for operating and controlling AC/DC grids can be further developed in such a way that the energy system continues to be efficient and safe. Another focus for the working group is the grid components. Using DC technology in transmission and distribution grids requires new and adapted grid operating systems because of the different operational demands compared to those of grid components in pure AC grids. In order for the grid to be protected in the event of faults in the AC or DC technology, new concepts and solutions for operation, and for the necessary control technology for different kinds of emergencies, are needed in the area of grid protection and control technology in AC/DC grids. In relation to grid planning and design, scientists determine planning criteria for both hybrid AC/DC grids and pure DC grids, as well as for a potential transition from AC to AC/DC grids. Methods for determining the optimal topologies and layouts for AC/DC grids are also developed.
Sector coupling has considerable potential to give the energy system the flexibility that it requires. It allows excess electricity to be used and flexible options to be made available. Examples of this include generating heat with electricity, producing electricity in combined heat and power units, and producing hydrogen (power-to-gas) and fuel (power-to-liquids). Another cornerstone of a flexible energy system is energy storage. The economical integration of storage units into the grid makes it possible to cache excess energy and retrieve it later. At the same time, demand-side management aims to allow factories and private households to only consume electricity when there is a sufficient amount in the grid. Thus, load management strategies are creating more opportunities to stabilize the power grid. Changes to regulatory framework conditions are also necessary to ensure that the energy system is flexible. For example, dynamic grid charges have to be established, and interface and security standards have to be adapted, in order for the new flexibility technologies to be successful. With respect to the overall structure, analysis of the energy system must always be conditional on the temporal and spatial aspects under consideration, and must relate to the system’s overall technical and economic efficiency.
Digitization and the associated use of information and communications technologies (ICT) are playing a more and more important role at all levels of the power grid. With respect to automation and energy management, ICT controls and regulates elements such as energy supply plants without any human intervention. In addition, more and more data are being generated in the energy system – in a range of different formats and time intervals. Experts are therefore refining procedures for analysing data and on this basis generating information for other processes. Another effect of the energy system’s conversion is that potential for new services is emerging. These will be offered on virtual platforms that have to be developed from scratch. At the same time, new digital business models are needed to market these services in future. Digitization of power grids is giving special importance to the security and resilience of ICT-based energy systems. The areas of ICT security and cybersecurity cover measures that protect the energy system. Cyber resilience, meanwhile, refers to the use of ICT to quickly return the energy system to normal operation after a major fault occurs, such as a hacker attack.
Prof. Peter Bretschneider
Website: Advanced System Technology branch AST of Fraunhofer IOSB