TU Ilmenau develops resource-efficient energy distribution network for Germany

The network control center at TU Ilmenau, where research work on innovative ener
The network control center at TU Ilmenau, where research work on innovative energy distribution networks is carried out

In the spirit of the energy transition, TU Ilmenau is developing a resource-efficient power distribution grid for Germany. Such a power grid, based on direct current technology, will be specifically tailored to the increasing use of renewable energy generated in a large number of decentralized plants and will offer significantly higher operational reliability than the current grid. The six-year "Distribution Grid DC Technology (VERNEDCT)" research project, which is being funded by the Carl Zeiss Foundation with almost five million euros as part of the "Breakthroughs" program, will start next July.

The distribution of electrical energy is a challenge of the energy transition. The energy 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 grid being developed by TU Ilmenau, electricity from hundreds of thousands of small decentralized plants flows in all directions. Since the photovoltaic or wind power plants feed the electricity into all voltage levels irregularly in terms of time and quantity, the utilization of the distribution networks fluctuates considerably. This new way of distributing energy places a heavy load on the distribution network and the infrastructure is being utilized increasingly inefficiently.

The VERNEDCT project, led by Prof. Dirk Westermann, head of the Power Systems Group at TU Ilmenau and director of the Thuringian Energy Research Institute, promises solutions. Despite the large number of small energy sources in the german energy distribution network, it ensures a constant balance between electricity feed-in and consumption - quickly, flexibly and directly on site, thus ensuring the stability of the system as a whole. Instead of using alternating current as in the past, 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 higher utilization of the grid infrastructure as a whole, for example by making greater use 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 power distribution network, a completely new architecture of the network and innovative methods for its operation must be developed. Methods for avoiding and correcting faults in ongoing network operation are already being 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 are also showing a way to implement it. This is the gateway to an efficient and fail-safe energy supply of the future."