New software to improve reliability of Europe's electricity networks
A consortium of software firms, power network operators and universities from across Europe has developed software aimed at ensuring a steady electricity supply throughout the continent.
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Researchers and software developers from across the EU have created a system to ensure the reliability of Europe’s energy supply. Partially funded by the EU, the iTesla project has been working to improve communications between different power networks across the continent. It is also designed to better predict the volume of power available from different energy sources on any given day in order to avoid potential blackouts.
Unpredictability of renewable energy
The European Commission has committed to ensuring that, by 2020, 20% of Europe’s energy comes from renewable sources including wind, solar and tidal power. This objective may require up to 35% of electricity to be produced by renewable sources. Some countries, such as Denmark, Portugal or Germany, are already exceeding that target. However, renewable energy presents particular challenges to energy providers, because it is less predictable than traditional energy sources such as coal and nuclear power.
“Wind and solar power are impossible to control”, says iTesla project leader Nicolas Omont from RTE, the French transmission system operator. “You can stop and start nuclear power plants whenever you want and plan the amount of power you will generate in advance. But with wind power, you can’t say ‘I will have wind tomorrow between three and five’. You can make a forecast but it won’t be perfect”.
Because power cannot be stored easily, what is produced usually needs to be consumed instantly. If a wind farm makes less power than predicted one day, the shortfall will have to be covered by another source, such as a power station. Errors in planning can result in blackouts, such as in November 2006 when 15 million European households lost power on one day.
The right tools for the job
To this end, iTesla – a consortium of transmission system operators (TSOs), software companies and universities EU-wide – has developed a ‘toolbox’ that allows individual grid operators to gain an overview of the whole European network and plan for a wide range of scenarios. This open source software, available to TSOs across the continent, makes a series of complex calculations that enable engineers to quickly turn to a new source of power when, for example, there is less wind or sun than expected.
The official iTesla project ended in March 2016 while the software was still in development, but most members of the original consortium are now working together to bring it out of the lab and onto the market.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” says Omont. “At RTE, we’re doing experiments so the final operators can start using these tools in the control room. We’re testing the software and continuing to develop it.”
Next year, the group also plans to carry out a full analysis of the entire European energy grid through Coreso, a team of engineers based in Brussels that coordinates energy grids in six European countries.
The project has not yet been commercialised. However, paid-for plug-ins to the original software offering more advanced planning will enable members of the consortium to generate revenues in the future.