“20 years ago, a handful of large, centralised power plants generated almost all of the electricity that was fed into our grid. There are now over 300,000 power plants that generate electricity, and they provide output levels that sometimes fluctuate wildly. How can we keep the grid stable? This is one of the most exciting questions relating to the energy transition!”
Eva Wagner heads our Designetz project
innogy develops smart power grids not only to ensure energy security but also to lay the foundation for better climate protection.
The share of the world’s energy that comes from renewable energy sources is rapidly growing. This has the potential to revolutionise the German power grid. innogy already relies on feed-ins from over 300,000 power plants that use renewable energy sources for its distribution grid in Germany. This decentralised mode of power generation poses a challenge for the grid, since the wind doesn’t always blow when power is needed, for example. This is why it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the balance between power generation and consumption.
Distribution grids need to undergo changes in order to keep up with the energy transition. We have been working to ensure that the grid is ready to meet the new challenges ever since the energy transition started its course. The majority of renewable energy is generated in rural areas by a large margin. This is because there is significantly more room in rural areas than in cities for renewable power plants. Around 80 per cent of the green electricity in Germany is produced in rural regions. This is why energy storage and consumption management – that is, the process of aligning consumption to the available power supply – will become increasingly important.
The smart grid forms the basis for meeting these new requirements. It makes it possible to connect and manage all the components we need for the challenges of the future. The smart grid makes the large amount of energy produced on sunny or windy days available for direct consumption or transfers it to storage systems for later use. It connects new devices that consume power – such as electric cars – to the system and uses them as potential energy storage systems. The smart grid also reacts to changes in a flexible manner.
This is because it knows what requirements it needs to meet at all times. Sensors at crucial junctions and interfaces are constantly calculating how much the power in-feed can be increased or decreased at individual places. The grid can interact with modern communication equipment and automatic control stations to adapt to the current requirements at all times. This flexibility also helps detect or prevent errors.
We at innogy aim to make the grid capable of performing all of these roles in parallel. Our grid will not only be prepared to meet the challenges of the future; it will also enable the development of future technologies.
“Everything will be networked in the grid of the future. For example, even a battery storage system in a family home in Swabia will know whether there is a storm raging in the North Sea. SmartPool allows us to achieve a healthy balance between power generation, consumption and the grid in an intelligent manner. ”
Martin Kramer is our expert for virtual power plants
Designetz. How can we network the large number of decentralised power generators in rural areas with energy consumers in cities and industrial centres in an intelligent manner? The Designetz project aims to answer this question. The aim of the research consortium, led by innogy, is to develop and extensively test sample solutions that enable a more reliable, profitable and environmentally friendly energy supply. These solutions should integrate a large share of energy sources that generate fluctuating output levels, such as wind and solar power. The Designetz project is being carried out in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy recognises the importance of the project and has provided tens of millions in funding for it.
SmartPool. We are implementing the SmartPool project, which involves testing a particularly smart way of managing grids that integrate a large number of generators. The concept revolves around further developing the virtual power plant, which bundles a large number of decentralised power plants in order to fully exploit their capacities. However, the SmartPool energy management system goes a step further. It manages not only the energy generated by decentralised power plants – from wind farms through to private photovoltaic systems; it also manages the energy provided by networked consumers and storage systems. The aim is to account for the requirements of the grid as well as the market.
AmpaCity. innogy is implementing the AmpaCity project in Essen, doing something that has never been done before: It has connected two electrical substations with a superconducting cable system in the city centre. The underground cable transfers electricity across a distance of one kilometre with virtually no loss of energy. This is possible by lowering the temperature significantly below freezing point. The inside of the high-temperature superconducting (HTS) cable is cooled to a temperature of around -200°C. The ceramic cable has virtually zero electrical resistance at such low temperatures, which means the electricity can flow without any power dissipation. Such HTS cables are cutting-edge devices that provide a space-saving and energy-efficient way of transporting electricity.
Superconductivity is a phenomenon that was discovered 100 years ago. However, extremely low temperatures are needed to achieve this effect, which is why applying superconductivity in practice is very difficult and involves a great deal of research. This is why innogy is collaborating with Nexans Deutschland, one of the leading European cable manufacturers, as well as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The AmpaCity research project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
It is clear how using HTS cables in cities is beneficial: A single line of superconducting cable can replace up to five conventional 10,000-Volt cables. Furthermore, superconductors can also transmit larger volumes of electricity at lower voltages, which means electrical substations are no longer required. This frees up the precious amount of space available in cities for other purposes.
The superconducting cable has many different layers. Liquid nitrogen cools down the inside of the cable (light-blue layers) to a temperature of around -200°C.