Smart Grid 2.0: Building the Internet of Energy Supply

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The electricity industry is spending billions on building new, transnational power lines to harness electricity from renewable energy sources. The intelligent grid is designed to make distribution more reliable and efficient, but are consumers playing along?

In Brauweiler, on the outskirts of Cologne, two engineers are making sure that 27 million German citizens are able to make coffee or start up their computers at any time -- without any power cuts whatsoever. From where they are sitting in the control room of Amprion, a subsidiary of energy utility RWE, the two engineers manage a power grid that is 11,000 kilometers (6,875 miles) long.

It is shortly after 1 p.m., time for a shift change in the control room. The new team sits down in front of the "world view," their name for the giant screen that opens up in front of them. At a width of 16 meters (52 feet) and a height of 4 meters, the screen depicts an oversized grid of red and blue dotted lines, which represent power lines between the Ruhr region in western Germany and the Alps in the south. Based on the data on the screen, the engineers can determine that the power plants, which they can activate with a click of the mouse, generate precisely the amount of electricity customers need at any given moment.

This is something of a sacred formula for electric utilities. Only when consumption and generation are perfectly balanced does the grid remain stable.

More recently, the engineers have had to add a new variable to their equations. And this new variable throws their entire calculation into disarray. "Everything can be planned, except the wind," says Amprion Managing Director Klaus Kleinekorte.

The wind fluctuates between gentle breezes and powerful storms, but at some point Kleinekorte and his team will have to come to terms with its incalculable power. Every week, new wind turbines are built in Germany and more solar panels appear on roofs.

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SueN
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