Image: Copernicus projects

These five technologies are designed to make the power grid fit for the energy transition

The Kopernikus project ENSURE is researching technologies to equip the power grid for the energy transition. Now the project has announced the first technologies it will test for the first time in the coming years.

One thing is certain: the energy transition cannot succeed with the energy grid in its current form: As the share of renewable energies increases, the power fluctuations in the grid will also increase significantly. In addition, many small electricity suppliers are replacing a few large ones. And: Networks must be able to transport electricity in two directions at the same time. In order to meet these requirements, the Kopernikus project ENSURE, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is developing technologies for the energy grid of the future. To this end, ENSURE has analysed by 2019 which requirements electricity grids will have to meet by 2050. Since then, it has been developing solutions to meet these requirements. Now the project has announced the first five technologies it will test in real-world or digitally simulated settings. The technologies at a glance:

1. the ENSURE adaptive protection
To protect the power grid, protection devices permanently measure currents and voltages in the grid. If faults occur, they shut down the affected areas. The problem: Until now, protection devices have been programmed once – and then always work according to the same rules. This prevents them from reacting to changes in the network. ENSURE adaptive protection is designed to change that: It networks several protection instruments, allows their data streams to converge centrally and continuously calculates setting parameters that match the current network situation. This means that the protection system is constantly learning and can react flexibly to the feed-in of renewable energies.

2. the ENSURE solid state transformer
The power grid works with alternating current, e-cars need direct current. So far, e-car charging stations can only be connected to the power grid via several conversion steps. The ENSURE solid-state transformer is designed to change that. It has a so-called converter already integrated, which converts alternating current into direct current. Thanks to this smart solution for direct connection to the grid, there are significantly fewer energy losses on the path of the electricity from the grid to the car.

3. ENSURE’s MVDC close-coupling simulator
Up to now, medium-voltage grids have been divided into sub-grids. If a fault occurs, power failures can easily be limited locally. The problem is that the grids are hardly flexible as a result and cannot exchange energy with each other. For example, wind turbines may have to be switched off in one sub-grid because the grid is overloaded, while capacity is still available in the neighbouring sub-grid. ENSURE’s innovative MVDC close couplings are designed to change that. They enable the permanent exchange of energy reserves between individual subnetworks – and still ensure that faults cannot spread to neighbouring subnetworks. ENSURE first tests them through a digital simulation.

4. the ENSURE meshing concept
Up to now, Germany’s energy grid has largely been organized along radiating lines: Central power plants deliver energy to all parts of Germany. If the beams of these stars are interconnected in the future like the meshes of a network, the energy can also be delivered to its destination via many other routes – and this much more efficiently and at relatively low network expansion costs. Analyses from ENSURE show that smart meshing can help meet the changing demands of energy production and consumption. Now ENSURE wants to test its meshing concept at distribution grid level in practice.

5. ENSURE’s digital substation
In the power grid, substations are something like crossroads. Different networks with different voltages meet here. The task is to manage the electricity in such a way that the grids function stably. To make this work, it helps to know how the actual power flows within a substation. The more retrievable information there is, the better this information can be determined. ENSURE has developed a digital substation precisely for this purpose. New measuring devices and modern communication technology digitally record data from individual substation components, evaluate it, and process it quickly and efficiently – in order to be able to control power flows better than before and automatically on the basis of this data.

By 2022, ENSURE aims to test these technologies for the first time. Subsequently, these are to be expanded and supplemented by further technologies.