Researchers from the University of Twente have been working on the development of intelligent energy networks, so-called smart grids, for quite some time now. This is a very important part of the energy transition process, both in the Netherlands and Europe. The importance of this was recently highlighted - six major research projects were awarded involving the smart grid research group. The projects have a cumulative budget of around 3.4 million euros.
Fossil fuels are being replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and water. As a result, the generation of energy is no longer centrally regulated in a power plant, but it is decentralised, where the consumer also becomes the producer of energy. This is precisely where the challenge lies.
If more energy is needed, more fuel, such as coal and gas, is added to a power plant. In the old system, the generation thus followed the energy demand. In the new system, it works the other way around. The generation of electricity is difficult to control with renewable energy. Therefore, the energy demand must match what is generated. This presents a challenge, and it is precisely this coordination of millions of smart devices that is an essential step towards a completely sustainable society.
Dr. Johann Hurink, Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Twente, gives an example of the problem: “If charging stations are always occupied at some points in a neighbourhood, a new charging station will have to be installed. However, the cables that are already in the ground may not be able to handle this additional load. The same applies to a PV system on the roof of a house. When the neighbours already have solar panels on their roof, the peak load when the sun is shining is very high. This may imply that the grid capacity is no longer sufficient, or that, at some times, the panels generate less or no sustainable energy. In such cases, the grid operator does not issue a permit for the installation of an additional PV system”.
According to Hurink, this problem can be easily solved. “By intelligently coordinating the different energy flows from generation and consumption, it is possible to create space in the energy network. Smart grids ensure that local coordination of energy can take place - called energy management - so that, on the one hand, too much generation by PV panels and, on the other hand, a shortage of charging points converge and are brought into balance.”
With the upcoming projects, the department wants to take a step towards practice. “In previous research, we focused on the technical aspects. The faculty of BMS is also involved in future research because behaviour and interaction are necessary in the energy domain", according to dr.ir. Gerwin Hoogsteen, researcher within the energy management department. Hoogsteen: “To optimally control the energy flows, a lot of input from the user is required. Think of information such as: When will the car be plugged in? When does the person in question have to leave by car again? How much energy does the car need? What price does the user want to pay? Currently, it is not yet possible to log all this data from the car and some data is also privacy-sensitive. Within the projects, experiments will be performed to see what solutions are possible to provide user insights, with a correct balance between technical and privacy aspects, without requiring extra effort from the user.”
However, the smart grid means that the stability of our energy system depends on ICT systems and communication. This creates a huge Achilles heel, as it leaves the system susceptible to cyberattacks. That is why the Gridshield project focuses on improving the safety and security of the smart grids. “It is very important that the ICT system that manages the smart grid is able to withstand cyberattacks. If an attacker manages to penetrate the system, it must have minimal impact”, says Hurink. “Therefore, within the Gridshield project, methods will be explored to create an immune system for the electricity grid, so that the energy management system can function sufficiently during cyberattacks or when subsystems or communication channels fail.”
It was recently announced that the MEGAMIND consortium, in which Johann Hurink is involved, has received a subsidy of millions within the Perspective programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Read the article about the Perspective research programmes here.
The energy management research group is an interdisciplinary research team, consisting of researchers from different chairs within the University of Twente. The research group conducts research into smart energy management in sustainable energy systems. They focus on developing management systems and algorithms to coordinate the different energy flows in the best way possible. The starting point for this is that energy remains as local as possible in order to minimise the load on the network and the energy losses.
More information about the energy management research group and their research projects can be found here.