Intelligent energy infrastructure
In the future, power grids must not only be more resilient but also adaptable and above all secure. In the “Smart Grid LAB Hessen” project, Professor Ingo Jeromin from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at h_da and his project partners are studying how power grids will change as a result of new contributing factors and constantly growing energy demand, as well as the challenges that will accompany this. Using models, the researchers simulate under realistic conditions in the laboratory how the energy infrastructure of the future might look.
By Nadine Bert, 12.10.2022
Looking at the unassuming building in the grounds of Ingenieurbüro Pfeffer, an engineering office in Rödermark, it is hard to believe what visionary topics are being tackled there. It houses the research laboratory of the “Smart Grid LAB Hessen” project, which is funded by the EU and was presented to the public for the first time on 27 September 2022. In the laboratory, which recently started work and is headed by Professor Ingo Jeromin from Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, the project partners – Ingenieurbüro Pfeffer, Jean Müller, QGroup, House of Energy and Tractebel – are studying many different scenarios for the smart grid of the future. Their findings will later form the foundation for putting a smart grid into practice.
Sober appearance, huge ambitions: Smart Grid LAB Hessen is a physical replica of how the “street of the future” in a residential district will look. The performance data of the individual buildings are measured and evaluated in the smart grid at the real lab and used to control energy flows.
A glance inside the “real lab”, where the project partners are studying how energy flows can be actively controlled in the future according to supply and demand. “Our tests deliver answers to important questions of the future,” says Professor Ingo Jeromin. All photos: Milton Arias
From static to dynamic grids
The idea of developing smart local substations originated four years before the official project start in December 2020 and is now being further developed at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences. Professor Jeromin, who is in charge of the Department of Electrical Power Supply, Renewable Energies and Energy Efficiency at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, and Mathias Pfeffer, the managing director of Ingenieurbüro Pfeffer, used to be business partners. The question already arose back then as to whether and how “excess” electricity could be put to sustainable use. “Due to rapidly changing requirements and conditions of use, it is important now more than ever before to understand how grids react to changing circumstances,” says Jeromin.
Unlike the “Grid4Regio” project, which Jeromin is also supervising, “Smart Grid LAB Hessen” is concerned not solely with the efficient use of regional energy. Instead, the project goes a step further: the aim is to actively control energy flows according to supply and demand and to be able to adapt “smartly”. “Our tests deliver answers to important questions of the future,” says Jeromin. The Darmstadt Research Group for Sustainable Energy Systems (daFNE), led by Professor Ingo Jeromin and Professor Athanasios Krontiris, is concentrating on tests under realistic conditions, which aim to replicate active control processes and all the necessary functionalities. With the support of their colleagues Till Neukamp and Sophia Pfeffer, the research team wants to find out how the power grid can be stably controlled when, for example, a large number of electric vehicles are being charged at the same time at selected points, or how a power failure (blackout) can be prevented if a storage system or important measurement and control components malfunction.
From consumer and producer to prosumer
A replica of a “residential district of the future”, in which all energy sources and types of consumption are modelled on real conditions, serves as a testing ground. The h_da project team has developed the various scenarios under which the Smart Grid LAB operates. These show, for example, what “prosumers” mean for the power grid. What is understood by “prosumers” is customers who not only consume energy but also produce it themselves at certain times. In this case, the smart grid would measure and analyse the electricity flows and decide autonomously how the electricity fed into the grid should ideally be distributed.
It is quickly clear from this example that the project must also set high standards as far as data security is concerned: “As a result of the ever-increasing data streams generated by smart components and the high degree of complexity of the power grid, grid management is becoming more and more challenging. Ensuring the highest possible protection for all processes and sensitive data is extremely important. Data security and resilience are crucial,” says Jeromin. The consortium is supported by QGroup, a company specialised in multi-level IT-based security systems. The power grid of the future must be adaptable and able to respond dynamically to constantly changing requirements, he adds. Jeromin emphasises that achieving this makes a paradigm shift inevitable.
What happens next
It was not only the research task they had assigned themselves that posed particular challenges for the project participants in the early days. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only virtual meetings were possible at the beginning, and setting up the laboratory was delayed because of supply bottlenecks. “Our original plan was to present initial results at the public presentation of the project, but unfortunately that had to be revised,” regrets Jeromin. “In the coming weeks, we will be busy running through the individual scenarios. And our project partner QGroup is starting to analyse the safety parameters.” Jeromin expects the first results even before Christmas. These will form the basis for guidelines on how to use smart grids in energy distribution. The aim is to transfer the findings later to the national and international level.
In view of the current energy debate…
Energy crisis, renewable energies, gas levies, grid expansion – the current energy debate is more heated than ever and calls for new, sustainable solutions, not least because of the experiences from the Ukraine conflict and its impact on energy supplies. Businesses as well as private households are forced to question their energy supply, which will lead to massive changes in the coming years vis-à-vis how energy is produced and used. Jeromin’s conclusion: “What is known as the ‘all-electric world’, in which carbon-neutral electricity is the main form of energy, will come, and it will change the energy sector once again. If you want to master all this, you need precisely the adaptable and safe technology that we are developing in our project.”
Translation: Sharon Oranski