Making European power networks more resilient
For professional engineers in the power industry, keeping distribution networks running smoothly is almost a point of honour. Electrical blackouts caused by system overload not only cause disruption to large numbers of people and businesses, they also bring political consequences and loss of trust in the industry. Maintaining power networks therefore involves 24-hour monitoring to ensure that supplies meet demand.
Very shortly, power engineers will have a new tool to help with these tasks. Researchers in the EU-funded project iTesla are developing a new software toolbox that will allow power engineers to perform simulations on the whole network, whether that infrastructure is national, regional or pan-European in its spread.
The iTesla team's objective is to develop a decision-support system that will underpin optimal and safe calculations about the operating margin needed for a power-transmission network. While applicable to national and regional power infrastructures, the ultimate goal is to support decisions for pan-European energy networks.
Why “optimal and safe”? “Because we are going to see significant changes in the operation of future power networks,” says Gabriel Bareux of RTE, the French transmission-system operator (TSO) that is coordinating the iTesla project. “Existing coal, oil and nuclear power stations have controllable and predictable power outputs. But those of newer generating sources such as windfarms and PV (solar panel) installations are much more unpredictable,” adds Bareux.
“As engineers, we have to plan the power flows on our networks and the safety margin. Make that safety margin too slim and you risk system overload and the blackouts we have seen in the US. Make it too generous, and you have power that is unnecessarily expensive. The trick is to find the optimum margin that balances safety against cost,” explains Bareux.
Which is where the iTesla IT platform should prove so useful. It will be the first system able to take into account the operating uncertainties for a complete electricity transmission network, whether that network is national, regional or pan-European in its scope.
iTesla will offer two fundamental benefits. First, it will enable power engineers to carry out dynamic simulations of power-network operations using real-life data, based on the information supplied by the seven European TSOs involved in the project. These simulations will underpin much more accurate calculations of network operating-safety margins.
Second, the simulations can be for time periods from real-time to two days ahead, thus helping network operators plan for worst-case but still likely scenarios. They will also help operators improve the network's resilience in the event of such a scenario taking place.
A key added value of the platform is the way it will foster coordination among different operators across Europe. As the European energy market has developed, so has a multiplicity of power-generating companies and transmission system operators begun working together to share power resources, especially at times of peak load. Witness for example the long-established undersea power cables between France and the UK.
As power-network operation increasingly takes into account such cross-border links, so does the need for common methods of working, especially important for links between large and highly complex national infrastructures. Here iTesla's value as an EU-wide system for operating power networks with common standards, interoperable modules and standard interfaces will facilitate the coordinated operation of a pan-European electricity grid.
National network operators will be able to check that their operations are in line with those of their neighbours, that all the components needed for safe yet optimal operation of the grid are available, and that the timing to bring them on-stream is predicted well in advance of consumer need. For example, if tomorrow's weather in Germany will be windy while France is expected to be cold, network engineers can safely predict high energy flows from German electricity grids to those in France. iTesla enables them to make sure that the various grids involved (in Germany, Belgium, Holland and France) are able to accommodate these flows.
The platform will also benefit European consumers. A stable and reliable electricity supply is essential to every aspect of modern life, and iTesla will help maintain the continuity and security of the European power grid.