Intelligent power grids - decentralized and yet stable

Unique research collaboration launched future-compliant electric power grids

October 01, 2014

Five leading research institutes in Germany have joined forces for research on power grids of the future. The Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization Göttingen (MPIDS), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), the Jacobs University Bremen (JUB) and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies are collaborating to push their conceptual studies on dynamic stability of the grid, their ecological and economic efficiency and their potential risks. The research collaboration on the collective nonlinear dynamics of power networks (CoNDyNet) is worldwide unique and aims to reveal reliable power supply and thus a stable distribution of electrical energy can be secured in the future. Besides the five theoretical research institutes, five partners from industry and research applications joined in. The research collaboration has been initiated by Professor Dr. Marc Timme (head of the research group Network Dynamics at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, MPIDS) and Dr. Dirk Witthaut (MPIDS, now also heading his own group at Forschungszentrum Jülich). CoNDyNet is coordinated by Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Kurths at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Over the next 3 years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funds CoNDyNet with more than 2.6 million Euros.

100 percent renewable

By the year 2050, according to the German government at least 80 percent, ideally 100 percent of gross electric energy consumption in Germany will be generated from renewable sources.Thus more and more small decentralized wind, water and solar generators will replace the old plants of few large power plants in Germany. In the past, the plants could essentially be controlled centrally. In the future, this will not be easily possible, because the many small and distributed energy sources create a much higher degree of feedback loops", explains Professor Timme, head of the research group Network Dynamics at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization.

Innovative concepts of nonlinear dynamics

The fluctuating electricity generation from renewable energy sources provides novel demands on the stability of our energy supply. The collaborative project aims to make innovative progress on concepts of nonlinear dynamics and statistical physics as an important contribution to developing intelligent and sustainable electricity networks, says Professor Jürgen Kurths of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the coordinator of the joint project CoNDyNet.

Power keeping the pace

To ensure the supply with electric power, electrical networks need to stay in pace. "Part of our work is to further develop the very concepts and methods for investigating networks with multiple feedback and to adapt them to the problems in modern power systems. As in an orchestra, the many power plants and the millions of households must be coordinated through the network," adds Marc Timme. What happens when this orchestra gets out pace? Consider the power outage on November 4, 2006, when, at around 10 pm, the lights went off. The reason: to transport a ship from its shipyard to the North Sea, two high-voltage transmission lines across the river Ems, Germany, were shut down with fatal consequences. Europe became pitch-dark. The lines were overloaded. "Electric currents seek different paths through the network. In this search, each line is an essential part of the entire grid, and may be equally important", says Dr. Witthaut who since recently heads his own research group on the stability of supply networks at the Forschungszentrum Jülich.

Important cornerstones for basic concepts

Power outages of this kind must be avoided, also in future grids with higher shares of distributed renewable sources. The five institutes of applied and basic research thus strive towards a fundamental understanding of the collective nonlinear dynamics of complex power grids. In addition, they aim to develop important cornerstones for new basic concepts of network operation and extensions of the distribution and transmission grids at the regional, the national but also at the European level. Collaborations with industry partners, including the Easy Smart Grid GmbH in Karlsruhe and Siemens Corporate Research in Munich, will help in this endeavor.

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