Bild: TU Ilmenau

TU Ilmenau develops resource-efficient energy distribution network for Germany

In the spirit of the energy transition, Ilmenau University of Technology is developing a resource-efficient energy distribution network for Germany. Such a power grid, based on direct current technology, will be specifically tailored to the increasing use of renewable energy generated by a large number of decentralized plants, and will offer much higher operational reliability than the current grid. The six-year research project “Distribution Network DC Technology (VERNEDCT)”, which is funded by the Carl Zeiss Foundation with almost five million euros as part of the “Breakthroughs” program, will start in July next year.

The distribution of electrical energy is a challenge of the energy transition. The power distribution grid, as we know it, feeds electricity in one direction from the power plant to the transmission grid and then to the consumer. In the new distribution network being developed by Ilmenau Technical University, electricity from hundreds of thousands of small decentralized plants will flow in all directions. Since the photovoltaic or wind power plants feed the electricity irregularly in terms of time and quantity into all voltage levels, the utilization of the distribution grids fluctuates considerably. This new way of distributing energy puts a heavy load on the distribution network and the infrastructure is being used increasingly inefficiently.

The VERNEDCT project, led by Prof. Dirk Westermann, head of the Electrical Power Supply Department at Ilmenau Technical University and director of the Thuringian Energy Research Institute, promises solutions. Despite the large number of small energy sources in the German power distribution network, it ensures a constant balance between power feed-in and consumption – quickly, flexibly and directly on site, thus ensuring the stability of the system as a whole. Instead of alternating current as before, the innovative concept for energy distribution networks is based on the use of direct current, because it makes it easier to control currents and voltages in the network. This allows for higher utilization of the network infrastructure as a whole, such as through higher utilization of cables and other electrical devices and equipment in the distribution network, which could save conductor materials for the distribution of electrical energy.

The VERNEDCT project of the Ilmenau researchers is ambitious: To achieve the goal of a resource-efficient energy distribution network, a completely new architecture for the network and innovative methods for its operation must be developed. Methods for avoiding and eliminating faults during network operation are already considered at the beginning of the project. Researchers from six departments at the TU Ilmenau are working together on the project in an interdisciplinary manner. The Department of Empirical Communication, for example, is investigating the acceptance of the new technology among the German population or in companies. Prof. Dirk Westermann, who heads the VERNEDCT project at TU Ilmenau, is convinced that the technology will offer maximum security: “We are not only designing a new technology platform for distribution networks, but also showing a way to implement it. This is the gateway to an efficient and fail-safe energy supply of the future.”