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Smart Grids

Smart energy distributors of the future

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In the context of the energy transition, the question arises of an entity that can bring together both the generation and consumption of energy.

Intelligent infrastructure, that can combine and efficiently distribute both the production and consumption of energy. Photo: Foto: ©iStock/Petmal

Intelligent infrastructure, that can combine and efficiently distribute both the production and consumption of energy. Photo: Foto: ©iStock/Petmal

The energy transition does not only require innovative ideas in the technical area, but also an intelligent infrastructure that is fit for the future. Inevitably, the question arises of a higher-level entity that can combine and efficiently distribute both the production and consumption of energy at all levels - the smart grid.

A smart grid is an intelligent electricity network that coordinates the production, distribution and storage of energy. In order to realize such a project, a network is required within which all participants communicate production and consumption. The associated instrument is the so-called smart meter - an intelligent and Internet-enabled electricity meter. A 2015 legislative decision began the transition to smart meters, which will be mandatory in Germany from 2032. Via these electricity meters, the user's consumption data is not only queried, but also integrated into the information pool of the smart grid. The smart grid concept of the energy supplier E.ON can be used to explain the smart complement to renewable energies. The concept defines six different actors within the smart grid.

The control center

The control center serves as the elementary coordinating instance. There, information is bundled and evaluated in order to be able to make precise forecasts based on a broad database. On this basis, the system controls the energy network and can balance out supply surpluses or high demand. Current developments in the field of artificial intelligence could drive progress in this area of the energy industry in particular and bring about a steady increase in efficiency.

Electricity storage capacity

In the course of the switch to renewable energies, the dependence of such energies on natural conditions also became increasingly clear. Against this background, the storage of electricity is of particular relevance. This dependency could be bridged with a smart grid. It would coordinate storage and make energy available on demand.

Green energy sources

In Germany, the largest share of renewable energy comes from wind and solar power, although hydropower plants, geothermal energy and biogas plants also make a relevant contribution. However, these energy suppliers do not – in contrast to a coal-fired power plant – produce and distribute electricity at a constant rate. Rather, energy production is moving toward decentralization. Many small feeds into the grid replace a power plant in their sum. A smart grid could combine several small energy sources into virtual power plants, which as such would have better calculability and lower fluctuations. This approach, in combination with electricity storage and load shifting of consumption, allows for a high degree of intra-system stability that could minimize environmental impacts.

Electricity-generating households and businesses

With the help of smart electricity meters, private photovoltaic and wind power plants should also become part of the smart grid in the future and, for the first time, be given the opportunity to actively participate in electricity trading.

Consumers

Consumers themselves would also benefit from a smart grid. Electricity consumption can be called up transparently and could be made more efficient accordingly. Much more individualized electricity tariffs would be possible, so that electricity providers could offer cheaper green electricity when there is an oversupply, for example.

Electric cars

In this context, an electric car would not only minimize CO2 emissions, but could also play an additional role in the system as an energy storage device. For example, the electricity meter could cause the electric car to start charging at night at precisely the time when there is a supply surplus in the energy network.

Smart grids throughout Europe

The further development of smart grids is not limited to national borders. The European Commission recognizes smart grids as a fundamental component of future developments with regard to the energy transition. The goal is to fundamentally optimize the trans-European energy infrastructure. The targeted focus on this forward-looking technology is also intended to facilitate the switch to renewable energies at the European level in the future and guarantee secure, affordable and sustainable energy. The European Commission launched the call for projects in the thematic area of smart grids for the fifth time in 2021. Eligible projects will be evaluated and recorded in a list of EU Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) and supported with EU funding in the form of grants for studies and work.