© Fraunhofer IFF

Sus­tain­able pow­er sup­ply in rur­al areas

Accord­ing to the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment, 90 per­cent of Ger­many’s ter­ri­to­ry is rur­al. About 44 mil­lion peo­ple live in rur­al areas, which is more than half of the pop­u­la­tion. This applies to the whole of Europe: the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion does not live in urban cen­tres. Peace, nature, afford­able rents — these are the advan­tages of coun­try life. But the idyll also has its dark sides, such as the inad­e­quate ener­gy sup­ply infra­struc­ture, the expan­sion of which has been neglect­ed in recent decades. Some­times rur­al regions in Europe are only sup­plied with elec­tric­i­ty via a sin­gle line, net­works are out­dat­ed. The increase in elec­tric­i­ty con­sump­tion is com­pound­ing the prob­lem. As a result, sup­ply bot­tle­necks can occur time and again.

The part­ners in the RIGRID project, which stands for Rur­al Intel­li­gent Grid, are work­ing towards a safe, reli­able, cost-effec­tive and at the same time eco­log­i­cal pow­er sup­ply in rur­al areas. They see the future in the expan­sion of renew­able ener­gy and the devel­op­ment of decen­tral­ized, intel­li­gent sup­ply net­works — so-called smart grids — which enable the inte­gra­tion of small ener­gy pro­duc­ers into the sup­ply net­work and greater inde­pen­dence from cen­tral­ized ener­gy sup­ply struc­tures. In the RIGRD project, such a region­al, intel­li­gent ener­gy sup­ply net­work and man­age­ment sys­tem was devel­oped and exem­plar­i­ly test­ed in the Pol­ish city of Puńsk and in the munic­i­pal­i­ty of Dard­esheim in the Harz region in Sax­ony-Anhalt. With this new tool, new ener­gy infra­struc­tures and sup­ply sys­tems in rur­al areas can be opti­mal­ly planned, estab­lished and oper­at­ed. In addi­tion to the Fraun­hofer IFF, part­ners in the com­plet­ed project were Harz-Regen­er­a­tiv-Druiberg e.V. and Regen­er­a­tivKraftwerke Harz RKWH GmbH.

Secu­ri­ty of sup­ply in rur­al regions

“Among oth­er things, smart grids help coor­di­nate the fluc­tu­at­ing sup­ply of elec­tric­i­ty from renew­able sources,” says Prof. Prze­mys­law Komar­nic­ki, researcher at the Fraun­hofer IFF and head of the Depart­ment of Elec­tri­cal Ener­gy Sys­tems and Infra­struc­tures ESI. Togeth­er with his team, he devel­oped the vir­tu­al-inter­ac­tive ener­gy infra­struc­ture design tool as project coor­di­na­tor. For the pilot micro­grid in Puńsk, the researchers have set up a small demon­stra­tion grid on site, com­pris­ing the local waste­water treat­ment plant, a pho­to­volta­ic sys­tem and a bat­tery stor­age sys­tem. With it, they were able to test live how their sys­tem works and whether or how it is accept­ed by the population.

The user-friend­ly plan­ning tool takes the 3D spa­tial data of the affect­ed areas includ­ing build­ings and trans­fers them into a vir­tu­al sce­nario. It is intend­ed to enable local oper­a­tors and res­i­dents to inter­ac­tive­ly and indi­vid­u­al­ly plan their ener­gy sup­ply sys­tem and the infra­struc­ture required for it. “Specif­i­cal­ly, users could cal­cu­late and view the costs,car­bon foot­print, and depen­dence on the pub­lic util­i­ty grid if, for exam­ple, a PV sys­tem were installed on every rooftop in the city of Puńsk. Of course, any oth­er mod­el cal­cu­la­tions are also con­ceiv­able,” says the engi­neer, explain­ing one appli­ca­tion sce­nario. How would addi­tion­al wind tur­bines affect the sup­ply sit­u­a­tion, what con­se­quences would the expan­sion of elec­tro­mo­bil­i­ty have for pub­lic trans­port? All these aspects can be tak­en into account. The soft­ware takes into account not only tech­ni­cal and eco­nom­ic fac­tors, but also socio-eco­nom­ic fac­tors as well as envi­ron­men­tal and urban plan­ning aspects. “How many jobs can be cre­at­ed by sus­tain­able ener­gy sup­ply sys­tems in a small com­mu­ni­ty? How does our town/community look after­wards, or do we accept the struc­tur­al changes, for exam­ple through new wind tur­bines? Our plan­ning tool also answers such ques­tions,” says Komar­nic­ki, explain­ing the plat­for­m’s unique sell­ing point. It is impor­tant that the region­al tech­ni­cal, eco­nom­ic and social con­di­tions on site are includ­ed in the plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion. Only in this way can the ener­gy trans­for­ma­tion process suc­ceed. In Puńsk, this process was suc­cess­ful: not only was ener­gy effi­cien­cy increased andCO2 emis­sions reduced. After ini­tial scep­ti­cism, the sys­tem has also con­vinced the residents.

Free­dom of deci­sion lies with the municipalities

The inter­ac­tive plan­ning tool com­pris­es three mod­ules: With the vir­tu­al 3D visu­al­iza­tion mod­ule, new invest­ments can be checked with regard to the avail­abil­i­ty of renew­able ener­gy sources. The eco­nom­ic mod­ule makes it pos­si­ble to eval­u­ate the prof­itabil­i­ty of invest­ments, tak­ing into account poten­tial tech­nolo­gies, local envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors, and con­sump­tion and geo­graph­ic data. The tech­ni­cal mod­ule com­pletes the soft­ware. This can be used to cre­ate con­cepts for low-volt­age and medi­um-volt­age micro­grids and their components.

The plan­ning sys­tem leaves it up to com­mu­ni­ties to decide what they val­ue in their ener­gy sup­ply and how self-suf­fi­cient they want to be from exter­nal pow­er. Depend­ing on whether they want as much of their own solar pow­er as pos­si­ble or an alter­na­tive ener­gy mix with exter­nal sup­pli­ers, the sys­tem sug­gests the opti­mal strat­e­gy to ensure a sta­ble ener­gy supply.

The tool enables small com­mu­ni­ties to con­tribute to the ener­gy tran­si­tion. “A lot has already hap­pened in mod­el regions like Sax­ony-Anhalt. Renew­able ener­gy is already being used inten­sive­ly here. But oth­er regions are only slow­ly approach­ing the aspect of sus­tain­able ener­gy sup­ply. Our inter­ac­tive plan­ning plat­form helps them become self-suf­fi­cient in green pow­er,” says the researcher.