Getting smart with electricity networks
An EU-funded project has helped to drive the development and use of smart grid solutions across Europe. It has also provided external engineering teams with free access to state-of-the-art facilities to enable them to carry out their own research.
© profit_image #260010677, source:stock.adobe.com 2020
Europe is looking to increase its use of renewable energy sources as a way of reducing emissions and to tackle global warming. However, integrating the likes of solar and wind power into electricity grids remains a challenge due to fluctuations in supply and limited storage capacity. This is an issue for power system operators who need to maintain security of electricity supplies to homes and industry.
Smart grids could provide an answer. They embrace a range of technologies, applications and infrastructures that can help manage power distribution systems more effectively and intelligently. While much of the research in this area has focused on specific aspects of smart grids, the EU-funded ERIGRID project took a more holistic approach, drawing together the work of researchers from across Europe.
Our project supports the technological development and roll-out of smart grid approaches, solutions and concepts in Europe by addressing system validation for smart grids, says project coordinator Thomas Strasser from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. We are developing common methods, concepts and procedures by bringing together 18 European research centres and institutions with outstanding research infrastructures.
ERIGRIDs Trans-national Activity (TA) programme offered external teams free access to some of Europes best facilities. By project close in April 2020, around 70 teams of engineers and researchers had taken advantage of the programme. They worked on a range of subjects relating to smart grids and energy distribution networks, including ICT, automation technologies, power control hardware and production of new components. The TA-backed projects were also able to test solutions through real-time simulations.
Across six calls for proposals, the TA delivered results that will help to develop intelligent energy networks. For example, the ECOSMIC project drew up an economic assessment framework for micro-grids. The findings provided a pathway for the efficient use of decentralised power generation for urban residential electricity networks.
Meanwhile, the LCA project developed a technological solution that could reduce the power industrys reliance on an environmentally harmful synthetic gas. Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is widely used to prevent short circuits but is considered to be the most potent of all greenhouse gases. LCAs solution combined innovative sensor technologies and dry air to insulate circuits instead of using SF6.
Open access tools
To complement the TA programme, ERIGRID worked to provide researchers and engineers with new knowledge and tools in this relatively young subject area. We are supplying training and educational materials that address a whole range of issues and meet essential needs in the domain of power and energy systems, says Strasser. And we are raising awareness of the need to validate smart grids through a broad collaboration with stakeholders.
The project ran regular webinars, workshops and seasonal schools to share expertise and best practice on subjects such as power generation options for smart cities and building reliable and secure digitalised energy systems. Several open access and open source tools were also developed, which are now available through the ERIGRID website.
The provision of access to outstanding smart grid and smart energy systems research infrastructures will continue in the ERIGrid 2.0 project over the next four years.