The energy transition cannot be mastered with the power grid in its current form

Dr. Joachim Kabs, Chief Technology Officer at Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG
Dr. Malte Posewang, ENSURE Project Lead at Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG

Presently, the energy transition cannot be mastered with the power grid in its current form. That’s because the network is no longer used only to transport electricity in one direction, from the power plants to the consumers. Because of the increasing number of prosumers who are now producing their own electricity, for example through photovoltaic systems, the grids must be able to transport electricity in both directions. On top of this, photovoltaic and wind power plants do not produce electricity continuously; they fluctuate and production becomes increasingly decentralised.

To meet these challenges, Germany´s distribution systems operators (DSOs) are constantly optimising existing power supply components while guaranteeing reliability. They do this by adjusting the components of the existing electricity grid, adapting them for renewable energy generation.

ENSURE – Developing the power grid of the future

One initiative that is having a tremendous influence on such efforts are Copernicus projects, a series of incentives run by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). As one of Germany’s largest research initiatives in the field of the energy transition, the scheme comprises several projects that work towards the key ambitions: to cause a paradigm shift and prompt a transformation of our entire society as well as bring about a world of decentralized, low-carbon energy systems.

Because society and the state of art in science are constantly changing, the Copernicus projects are designed to flexibly adapt to changes. For example, if there is a shift in current scientific knowledge, the focus of the Copernicus projects may also change. Clear milestones specify the goals that each project aims to achieve and against which their success can be measured.

One of the most promising Copernicus Projects is ENSURE, which – since 2016 – has focused on developing the power grid of the future. Consisting of currently 21 partners, including  industrial companies, science and civil society organisations such as E.ON, RWTH Aachen, Hitachi-ABB, Siemens, KIT and TenneT among others, who are working to develop solutions for a new energy network.

ENSURE focuses on an overall systemic concept for a successful energy transition taking all options into account: topology, assets and operational management concepts. Preferred solutions shall be demonstrated in the real system – both by a physical demonstration and by a virtual 1:1-image of this real grid demonstrator. In addition, a visualisation of this digital twin will enable the energy transition to be experienced virtually.

E.ON subsidiary, Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG (part of the HanseWerk group), works on this project as a network distribution operator. As an E.ON representative, the subsidiary explores the technical and societal challenges taking place within a grid in order to provide solutions for a continuous and successful energy transition.

The ENSURE project is located in Schleswig-Holstein, a region in the north of Germany with a huge amount of renewable energy production. It was chosen not only due to its developed infrastructure of electricity, gas, traffic and heating grids, but also because there new technologies can be tested in both rural and urban areas. Further, the ENSURE region also comprises industrial areas with grid connections at different voltage levels. Once ENSURE has proven to have a positive impact on the energy transition in this smaller region, it can be more easily extended to other regions in Germany.

ENSURE can make an important contribution to climate protection

The first pilot systems of the ENSURE project are planned to be installed in 2021 and are expected to begin operation in 2022. But how will the project pioneer a new energy network? One way is by enabling sector coupling - the connection between electricity, traffic, heat, and gas. Additionally, the project partners want to use digitalisation and automation to increase the flexibility of the network.

Dr. Joachim Kabs, Chief Technology Officer at Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG, emphasizes the importance of ENSURE project for the success of the energy transition. “We keep an eye on the overall system to integrate more green power into our grids.” ENSURE can thus make an important contribution to climate protection. “By doing this, we aim for an even more efficient network operation and a reduction of network losses as well,” says Dr. Joachim Kabs.

Essentially, the project puts energy producers and consumers in the centre of the future energy system. Yet, it runs a completely different, more complex and technical approach, using new technologies that allow managing a decentralised and digitised system with thousands of energy producers. This shall result in providing a much more efficient, secure and flexible network and enables grid operators to reduce the network expansion and to save costs.

ENSURE Project Lead at Schleswig-Holstein Netz AG, Dr. Malte Posewang says: “It’s the first time we explore many different new approaches and how they work together. We want to demonstrate the innovations physically in our network. At the same time, we establish a digital twin of the modern network so that everybody can experience the energy transition online.”

Nicolaus Copernicus' accomplishments were the result of his openness, curiosity and diverse skillset, as well as the understanding that taking a holistic view of different scenarios and contexts takes us to the best solution. This approach will also make its contribution to achieving the current goal of making the energy system carbon-neutral by 2050.

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