Siemens looks into the future of electric power

“I would put my money in the sun and solar energy, what a source of energy! Thomas Alva Edison wrote enthusiastically in 1931. Today, 85 years later, Edison would be a wealthy man on the basis of that prediction alone. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently reported that photovoltaic installations with a total capacity of over 177 gigawatts are now operating around the world. And it is not just solar energy that is becoming increasingly important for the production of electricity. The share of energy produced from renewable sources in general is increasing. This was demonstrated more recently at the G7 summit in Germany and the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Rapid growth of renewable energy sources
In 1990, renewable energy sources only accounted for 3.4% of Germany’s gross electricity consumption, but by 2000 this figure had risen to 6.2% and by 2015 it had reached almost 33 %, according to the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. The long-term goal of the German Federal Government is to increase the share of electricity produced by wind, solar and geothermal systems to at least 80% by 2050.

This ambitious goal will fundamentally change energy systems as well as energy markets in Germany – not only because of the expansion of solar power installations, wind turbines and grid infrastructure that it will entail, but also because the increasing number of such installations will make the overall system more decentralized and complex.

Digital representations of future energy systems
No one can know what shape the energy systems of tomorrow will take or how they will function. This is why experts from Siemens Corporate Technology and scientists from RWTH Aachen University simulate the structure and behavior of future energy systems and markets, as well as the requirements they will have to meet. The specialists participating in this “Energy System Development Plan” (ESDP) research project digitize all the energy supply structures and simulate a series of scenarios. “If we are to launch the right development projects at the right time, we need to have an idea of ​​how energy systems and markets will evolve in the future in order to meet new technical and economic demands,” says Professor Armin Schnettler , research director in energy and electronics at Siemens Corporate Technology.

Millions of datasets
ESDP experts use huge amounts of data to produce their simulations. “This includes everything from data from the Federal Statistical Office on the population and population density of Germany to data on businesses and industry and their energy needs, as well as specific technical data on power plants ”, explains Simon Koopmann, ESDP project manager at RWTH. The results of an in-depth study by Prognos, a consulting firm specializing in forward-looking business and social trends, are also used for the analysis. These sources have led to the creation of a huge database with around 20 million building-related entries, some two million entries covering business operations and around 60,000 individual datasets from industrial facilities containing data. information on hourly electrical and thermal load profiles.

Scenario simulation
Project researchers Siemens and RWTH are using all of this data to simulate three different scenarios for future energy systems. The first scenario is based on the assumption that energy from renewable sources will account for 80% of German electricity production in 2050. In the second scenario, the researchers further assume that the use of battery storage systems will increase sharply in households with their own photovoltaic systems. The third scenario explores the ways in which the energy system could change by 2025 if the number of power plants using natural gas increases significantly and the number of lignite-fired plants drops to near zero. The simulations are based on complex algorithms that make it possible to identify exactly the technologies that would adapt to each of the three scenarios.

“However, the modeling environment we created can ultimately be used to simulate a large number of entirely different scenarios,” says Koopmann. The main requirement for this is the ability to do efficient calculations with the same database. To this end, the researchers combined individual power generation units into 360 virtual power plants, called energy cells. This allows the ESDP project team to represent a future energy system with such a high level of geographic granularity that individual streets can be represented.

Reduce uncertainties
As their simulations evolve, project researchers create digital representations of likely future energy supply systems. “We try to represent the future as representative as possible by creating a large number of scenarios,” explains Schnettler. The better some technologies fit into various virtual scenarios, the more likely they will be used in real solutions in the future. “We try to minimize the uncertainties associated with development decisions and focus our research activities on the right areas, says Schnettler. It is not only a question of identifying the right technologies but also of anticipating the associated business models.

Unique approach to simulation
Founded in August 2014, the ESDP project team focused on the German energy market as it is not only very transparent, but also tightly integrated into the European energy system. The project experts also know more about the German market than any other energy market. But, says Schnettler, “The German energy market can serve as a model for the rest of the world. That is why our focus on Germany makes sense, as it will allow us to apply our methods and the knowledge we acquire to global energy markets.

The ESDP scenarios are the first to take into account not only the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity, but also the changes in the design of the energy market and the likely interactions resulting from these changes. The project simulations also take into account factors such as electricity supply, heating, air conditioning and gas requirements – in short, all aspects of a multimodal system.

“Our integration of decentralized installations such as photovoltaic systems, wind turbines, heat pumps and electricity storage units from a technical and market development point of view represents a new approach,” says Schnettler. “Nowhere else in the world will you find a more complete simulation model for energy systems. This is because traditional simulations of energy systems have focused on producing detailed models of energy markets and large power plants. “The previous simulations did not take into account decentralized units and energy sources from renewable sources as active components of the energy system,” says Koopmann. And this is where the unique value of Siemens’ approach to simulation lies. After all, these elements should represent an ever increasing percentage of the total energy mix.

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