Digital energy transition being tested

by Dirk Baranek | 23.12.2019

The energy market is facing major changes, the beginnings of which are already becoming apparent today. This change, often referred to as the energy transition, is necessitated by the demands placed on the energy industry by climate protection.

Ways to the Energy Turnaround

One is to generate electricity in a climate-neutral way in the future. The keyword is decarbonization of electricity production. This means completely doing without coal, oil, or gas in power generation. Large power plants that generate electricity centrally from fossil fuels will then no longer exist. Instead, renewable energy will be used across the board: photovoltaic systems, wind turbines, hydropower, or biogas plants. The energy world of the future will therefore be much more small-scale and decentralized. Instead of a few thousand large power plants, millions of different sized plants will generate the necessary energy. This will have to be organized and controlled in such a way that it results in a reliable energy network. Digital technologies will play a key role in bringing the generation, use and storage of energy into harmony. The digitization of the energy industry is a key element in the success of the energy transition.

On the other hand, the energy industry faces the task of supplying areas of energy consumption in the future with which it has had little to do in the past. This is because heat generation and mobility also face the challenge of completely reducing CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. In the case of mobility, the focus is on electromobility. Here, technologies such as hydrogen drives must be further researched and developed in parallel. The situation is similar for the supply of heat; heat pumps and technologies such as hydrogen-powered fuel cells are already being used here. Ultimately, all these technologies have one thing in common - they use electrical energy. The future is electrified.

SINTEG - Intelligent Energy Showcase

The tasks and challenges facing the energy market of the future are therefore enormous. The change is far-reaching and represents a historical break on a previously unknown scale. This gives rise to many practical questions. Although these are answered by science, there is always a certain gap between theory and practice. In order to test theoretical concepts in practice, the German government has launched a funding program under the auspices of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy: SINTEG - Schaufenster intelligente Energie. As part of this program, digital technologies are to be used in five model regions in order to answer their specific energy industry problems. The aim is to develop, implement and test "model solutions for future energy supply". It is worth taking a closer look at the individual projects. They exemplify where the challenges of the energy transition lie and how they can be mastered digitally.

C/sells - Decentralized Energy Generation, Control, and Organization

Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse generate half of Germany's solar power. In the southern states, the sun shines longer and more strongly than in the north. That's why photovoltaics makes so much sense here. This power generation has its own challenges. It is distributed over a large area, decentralized, and highly dependent on the time of day and the weather. The project attempts to coordinate these characteristics in a cell-like organizational structure. C/sells aims to optimally balance generation and consumption of energy already at the local and regional level and thus stabilize the grid. After all, the closer generation and consumption are to each other locally, the better for the power grid. This saves costly grid expansion, for example, and reduces energy losses that occur during transport. The goal is for each cell, which can be regions, cities, but also industrial areas or airports, to become autonomous. In other words, the bottom line is that they generate enough electricity themselves.

Smart Grids - Digital Control Technologies

To make this vision a reality, digital control technologies are needed in addition to decentralized renewable generators. These enable the transformation of existing energy grids into so-called smart grids, i.e. intelligent networks. These cells will also be networked with each other in order to direct electricity to where it is currently lacking. Within the cells, electricity producers then have a platform with which they can participate directly in the energy market.

In the regions mentioned above alone, 760,000 people are already producing electricity today. They are currently still selling their electricity to the local energy supplier as part of the feed-in tariff. Still, because after the subsidized, 20-year guaranteed sales prices end, these producers will have to look for other marketing opportunities. In the infrastructure provided by C/sells, producers and consumers will meet as if in a market. But a smart grid means much more. What happens when not enough electricity is generated? Here, as an alternative to networking, C/sells is researching the positive influence of variable load management, in which it is currently coupling around 2,000 consumption facilities to a highly variable pricing system.

DESIGNETZ - The Power Grid of the Future

This project brings together three German states - North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland - whose energy industry structures reflect the challenges of the energy transition as a whole. While in NRW far more electricity is consumed than generated, in Rhineland-Palatinate it is exactly the opposite. DESIGNNETZ is now attempting to make these imbalances manageable through a variety of solution approaches and their digital networking. DESIGNNETZ links individual solutions with each other and that across grid levels and regions to form a resilient overall system. Photovoltaics, wind energy, combined heat and power, storage technologies, controllable energy consumers and, above all, interconnection through intelligent distribution grids are important elements. Feed-in and consumption are to be optimized through the use of flexibility. In this way, the energy system is to remain stable as the feed-in of green electricity grows.

ENERA - Where to put the Surplus Wind Power?

The regions included in this showcase are located in the north of Lower Saxony. There, the share of electricity from renewable sources was already 235% in 2016. This means that far more green electricity is produced than is consumed locally. Wind turbines in particular produce this electricity. The project will develop methods to organize the transformation of the energy system from a static and centralized to a dynamic and decentralized one. The end-to-end digitalization and technical flexibilization of the energy system will be tested on site. For example, power grids will be made smarter by collecting much more data on the current status of generation and consumption than before. This will enable different amounts of electricity from renewable generation, adaptive loads and storage to be tapped, networked and made ready for participation in a regional flexibility market.

In concrete terms, this means, for example, the deployment of 200 intelligent transformer stations that automatically compensate for fluctuations in the local grid, which are often caused by solar installations. In addition, electricity storage facilities with a total capacity of seven megawatts will be built. Companies will be able to align their production capacities with the amount of electricity available. Here, too, many adjusting screws have to be turned, all of which have to be digitally networked in order to realize the possible benefits.


NEW 4.0 - Wind Power for Hamburg

NEW 4.0 in this case stands for North German Energy Turnaround and refers to the energy conditions in Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. The Hanseatic city is characterized by strong economic power in trade, commerce and industry and therefore requires a lot of energy. Schleswig-Holstein, which is dominated by agriculture, is one of the central regions in Germany for electricity generation from wind power. We are therefore dealing here with a large demand and a large supply, which however, cannot be brought to coincide so easily. This is because there are definitely timing differences that have to be compensated for technologically.

This is where NEW 4.0 comes into play. It involves developing and testing an intelligent energy network that intelligently links all the players and components involved in generation, storage, transport, and consumption. The project is intended to test a new approach: in the future, consumption is to adapt dynamically to the supply of electricity. This means two things in particular: first, the possibilities must be improved for exporting the electricity generated to other regions where it can be consumed or stored. Secondly, industrial companies integrated into the project are to be enabled to make their production more flexible so that they can align it with the current energy supply. The project will also test how to usefully store electricity that cannot be transported away due to grid bottlenecks or convert it into other forms of energy such as heat or hydrogen. Information:

WindNODE - Intelligent Energy Networks; Flexible Consumers

The five eastern German states and Berlin are participating in this showcase. There, 50% of electricity is already covered by renewable generation, mainly by wind power plants. Problems arise when there is no wind. Then conventional power plants have to step into the breach. Or the opposite scenario occurs, where the wind blows very strongly and there is no infrastructure to use the surplus electricity where it is currently lacking. The project is now attempting to test solutions for stabilizing the power grid through various measures.

First, the line networks are being expanded to better connect with other regions - in both directions. Then, generation and consumption will be increasingly enabled to adapt to the current energy situation. Finally, storage technologies are being tested. Here, we are also breaking new ground on a large scale. For example, the food industry (breweries, dairies, meat industry) uses a lot of electricity to cool its production and products. If there is a lot of electricity in the grid, it could be stored using vacuum liquid ice technology. Electricity is stored as ice so that normal cooling units can be shut down when generation is scarce. Information:

Conclusion - The Challenge of the Energy Transition

All showcases are testing solutions to meet the challenges of the energy transition. It is already foreseeable that there will not be the one big technological solution for this task. Rather, it is a complex interplay of very different activities. Digital technologies are needed to coordinate these activities sensibly and efficiently in a single system and to harmonize their services and requirements. Without digitization of the energy market, the task we face in the face of climate change cannot be solved. Only with consistent digitization of the energy network and the energy market can business models be established that create appropriate incentive systems for the stakeholders and their interests. In this way, the transformation and the energy transition can succeed and everyone can derive added value from it - especially our environment and the generations that will follow us.

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