Germany consumes approximately 600 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, but an astounding 25% of that energy is lost in transmission and transformation. Statistics like that from the German Federal Environment Agency highlight the urgent necessity to transform the power grids of today into the smart grids of tomorrow.
The problem, though, is that we needed these improved grids yesterday. In a positive move to drastically cut grid system power losses, six German organisations will collaborate to develop new technologies for distributing power to end users.
The three-year Energy to Smart Grid (E2SG) project aims to reduce power distribution losses by 20%. There’s no shortage of funding, with a total budget of €34 million. Infineon Technologies is coordinating the project, which pulls together 31 partners in business and research from nine different countries.
The German research partners—the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Devices (IISB), Infineon Technologies, Insta Elektro GmbH, NXP Semiconductors Germany GmbH, RWTH Aachen University, and Telefunken Semiconductors GmbH—will concentrate on voltage converters and communication technologies that connect households within a smart power grid.
E2SG will focus on developing components for the secure, cost-efficient, and energy-efficient networking of electricity meters that use specially encrypted communication technologies for transmitting information about energy use from individual households to electrical power suppliers. The project also will develop intelligent power supply units for home appliances, lighting, and energy storage.
To ensure the secure and confidential metering and controlling of energy, the new components will integrate the latest energy-efficient technologies with grid information and sensor data for precise analysis of power usage trends.
The project also will determine ways to assemble, monitor, and control smart grids. For example, interconnected nodes can generate, exchange, and consume energy in the most efficient and reliable way by exploiting distributed information that is sensed, transmitted, and processed by related nodes and links.
Consumers will become part of the smart grid. The industry will have to comply as well. That’s why the project will develop node-grid interfaces, power grid sensing and metering, grid topology and control, and energy-efficient routing systems, which is particularly important if the project wants to reduce transmission losses.
Smart grids might succeed by taking their inspiration from the Internet. Power networks would communicate information between users and producers. Distribution nodes would create the building blocks of the network. Such a network would encourage greater implementation of decentralised generation, which in turn would result in more stable supplies and less energy lost over long-distance power transmission.
Energy demand management systems that are more sophisticated would have to be employed to encourage both domestic and industrial users to consume less energy during peak hours and to schedule energy use to off-peak times when demand is reduced.
Information communication systems will be crucial, particularly telecommunications. However, the Internet’s real-time performance can be extremely variable. Smart grids will require rapid, reliable, and secure communication.
In addition, smart grids will need a much greater level of control than current distribution systems. Smart grids will require power flow assessment, voltage control and protection, and communication systems with more sophisticated and numerous system sensors and actuators than conventional distribution systems.
Eastern Power Promise
Japan also is actively progressing the implementation of smart grid technology in an interesting two-year experiment that is about to conclude. Japanese Wind Development (JWD), Toyota, Panasonic Electric Works, and Hitachi created a small community of six smart houses with an isolated electrical grid system independent of the country’s main grid.
This experimental grid does not emit carbon dioxide because it employs wind power stations, which can provide a stable supply of power thanks to large-capacity storage batteries. More importantly, the supply-side renewable electricity generation adapts to the fluctuations in customer demand.
The project’s overall objective is to investigate energy-efficient scenarios and to examine them in isolation from the main grid system. These scenarios will include Europe, resource-rich countries, and emerging nations. Project officials with an eye on future power generation and revenue generation cite the international commercial opportunities for proven examples of smart grid and energy conservation technology.