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Smart Energy / 29. February

Smart Grid Development

Electric grids used around the world today are being pushed to their limits to keep up with increasing demand. Ageing energy infrastructures must be upgraded or replaced to ensure safe, reliable and efficient energy. The so-called smart grid is now being developed to better control the production and distribution of electricity as we move into the next century.

Traditional generation and delivery of electricity
Characterized by large, centralized fossil and nuclear-fired power stations generating electricity, the classic energy supply system channels energy through extra-high voltage grids and transmission networks to distribution networks. Electricity is then delivered to consumers via high, medium and low voltage levels. High-voltage grids distribute electricity within larger regions on medium- voltage networks, while smaller consumers, such as private households, receive electricity from local low-voltage networks. Within the traditional setup, electricity can be transported in one direction only, from high- to low-voltage levels.

Balancing production and consumption is key
The key requirement for a stable energy supply system is the constant balance between generation and consumption. Because electric power cannot be saved in the network, the traditional system relies on load-controlled electricity generation to increase or decrease electricity production according to the consumption flow. In cases of smaller deviations, facilities such as pumped-storage plants can store excess power in moments of less demand and feed it back into the networks as demand increases. In events of greater variation, production and consumption are balanced by quickly firing up or shutting down power plants such as gas-turbine plants.

Challenges  for the classical electricity supply system
The increasing demand for renewable energy has put the decades-proven structure and operation of the energy supply system under considerable pressure. While a power plant running on coal can produce certain quantities at certain times, renewable energies such as wind and solar power are fluctuating sources dependent on uncontrollable factors such as wind speed or cloudiness. Contrary to the principle of load-commutated power generation, the increasing share of renewable energy makes it more difficult to adjust the supply of electrical energy to the consumption profile.

The trend toward renewable energy leads to a decentralization of power production adding yet another dimension to the change in the conventional energy system. As the proportion of comparatively few fossil-nuclear power plants decreases, small plants, which are operated by a variety of actors, play an increasingly important role.

With the liberalization of the electricity sector, the number of actors in the industry has increased considerably. In addition to established companies, new electricity suppliers and electricity traders have entered the market. This expansion of the industry requires the development and installation of new interfaces and communication channels within the system network to cope with increased data exchange and the differentiation of the service spectrum.

Smart Grid as one solution
Together with the progressive implementation of energy transition and the increase in the intensity of competition, challenges to the electrical grid are becoming more urgent. At this time, there are two distinguishable approaches for meeting the requirements of the future.

The first approach sets out to expand the network, build new power plants and continue to run older plants. This strategy grows the current system without making any fundamental systematic changes.

Another, not yet realized approach emphasizes the development of a smart grid. Many of the necessary technologies for such a grid are still only rudimentary, demanding more research and development. In addition, many traditional structures need to be transformed and new players need to actively change the market in order to support the smart grid approach.

The comprehensive implementation of data- and communication-related systems and components as well as the integration of all stakeholders, systems and functions into the system comprise the core intentions of developing the power system to a smart grid. At the present time, the smart grid is more an idea than reality. Experts estimate smart grids will be further developed in Germany between 2020 and 2030.

Although both approaches offer applications and economic business models many questions are still unanswered.

But nevertheless, TÜV Rheinland already tries to be involved in this development, to provide its clients the well-known expertise.

If you want to learn more about smart grids, please contact our experts.

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