We are part of a larger collective of energy research taking place at the University of Twente. For more information on what other groups are doing please click here.
The world of energy is changing rapidly and will continue to do so in the future. This change is fuelled by political and environmental reasons to move away from the use of high carbon emitting fossil fuels to renewable energy sources (RES) such as wind, solar and hydro. The conventional system of electricity being produced in bulk by large facilities is changing to system where electricity is produced in a more distributed matter in smaller amounts, closer to where it is consumed. Examples of this are photovoltaic (PV) panels placed on rooftops and small scale wind farms placed near cities. This results in the power flow changing from being unidirectional from power plants to consumers to being bidirectional, with a flow ‘upstream’ during periods of high RES feed-in in certain area’s.
Furthermore society is seeing an ever increasing use of electrical appliances replacing others running on fossil fuels such as electric heating systems and electric cars. This electrification of society together with the change to distributed generation (DG) poses major challenges within the construction, maintenance and reinforcement of the electricity grid which was built around the traditional philosophy. Many of these challenges call for innovative solutions found by multidisciplinary research.
To tackle these challenges the usual vision is to move to a smart grid; an energy grid that allows for more efficient use of all forms of energy through the use of “smart” solutions. These solutions come in the form of information and communication technologies on all levels in the grid, from a “smart” device in households to improved forecasting and modelling on national or even international levels of the grid. To tackle many interesting questions in the research area of smart grids the Computer Architecture for Embedded Systems (CAES) and Discrete Mathematics and Mathematical Programming (DMMP) groups of the department of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Applied Mathematics have combined their strength in our energy research group Energy in Twente.
Our approach to a smart grid consists of several focus area’s for research. The main tool in all area’s is an internal simulator called TRIANA which we use to gain insights in many interesting topics concerning energy. These topics include, but are not limited to, demand side management (DMS), micro-grids, building and climate control, power quality and electrical energy storage.
The integration of uncontrollable renewable energy sources (RES) such as wind and PV can cause major problems for the stability of the power grid, as the grid needs to be in constant balance. While generation of conventional power plants can be scaled up and down as required to match supply and demand, most RES sources obviously cannot. This asks for a more sophisticated approach to matching supply and demand if a high level of RES integration is desired. One side that can be considered is finding and exploiting flexibility on the consumer side. Examples of this flexibility include the charging of electric vehicles or even the load cycles of a fridge or freezer.
Micro-grids are small sections of the electricity grid, usually consisting of a small neighbourhood or even a single (large) building. They only contain part of the low-voltage (LV) distribution network and possibly a small part of the medium-voltage (MV) network. Research into micro-grids is focused into finding their possibilities and limitations with respect to integrating (renewable) distributed generation of electricity, options for CO2 neutral operation or the potential of operating disconnected from the main grid.
A large amount of energy consumed in large buildings, such as office buildings, is used for climate control. These systems attempt to keep the climate parameters within certain boundaries uniformly across the whole building. While the demands of the individuals inside can vary. Research in this area is conducted to develop a system capable of creating climate bubbles around individuals suiting their demands. The upside is that these bubbles can create flexibilities for the climate control system to better use locally generating sources and save energy overall.
The quality of the power supply is subject to very strict rules and regulations in most countries. With the integration distributed generation mostly in the form of renewable energy sources the power quality becomes harder to manage and guarantee while this remains required. The conventional solution of upgrading the existing system with newer, thicker cables and transformers is very expensive and calls for research in the potential of other solutions that can guarantee the required quality of our power supply.
With the development of new batteries and other techniques the possibilities of storing (large amounts of) electricity are opening up in the future. Integration of systems exploiting these techniques can aid in the requirement of constant balance in the power grid as well as assist with power quality issues. Nevertheless the available systems remain very expensive. This calls for thorough research in the possibilities of energy storage systems as an economically feasible alternative to conventional solutions.