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.”