A System Made Up of Systems
Challenge Smart Grids
As stochastic wind and solar power production increases, the stability concept of our existing power grid is reaching its limits. Rising numbers of power plants that depend on specific weather conditions are connected to the grid—including remote industrial-scale power stations such as offshore wind farms, and small plants such as privately owned solar power systems in conurbations. This trend is in stark contrast to the existing grid architecture, which provides for central large-scale power stations in proximity to consumption. In Germany, electricity has not yet been transported over more than 50 to 70 kilometers to date.
The new smart grid infrastructure means a paradigm shift in which energy consumption is aligned to energy production. Smart grids are more decentralized and closely knit, and thus better aligned to integrating fluctuating power sources. This ranges from coping with fluctuations in power supply to direct communication with major energy consumers. In parallel to constructing new lines, we now need to establish control and data networks, which permit complex communication, because our static electricity grid must reciprocally control energy producers, distributors and consumers. This requires the integration of energy producers, grid nodes, and grid control centers, in addition to industry, buildings, households, and electric vehicles.
The EU Commission has recently launched an infrastructure package aimed at cutting planning times from 10 years to a maximum of three and supporting the expansion and upgrade of energy grids with funding of over nine million euros. However, the challenges encountered on the way to establishing a smart-grid must not be underestimated. Particular obstacles concern the complex logistics and technology of the project. Smart grids require consultation and agreement by a large number of stakeholders including energy suppliers, investors, and industry, as well as the world of politics and the general public. In many cases further information is still required to improve acceptance among industry and private households.