Smart components for active distribution networks
The steady increase in the use of renewable energy is leading to fluctuating feed-in and bidirectional power flows, a development which will bring our electricity networks up against their limits in the near future. Against this backdrop, comprehensive monitoring of the electricity infrastructure is gaining importance to enable targeted grid management as well as fast fault detection and elimination. Real-time measurements of operating parameters are currently restricted to the large transmission networks because of the high costs involved, while the medium and low voltage distribution networks are monitored only to a limited extent. An Austrian consortium led by AIT Austrian Institute of Technology has initiated the iniGrid project to develop smart sensors and actuators to fill this information gap. The partners from science and industry cover the entire value chain of the development – from semiconductor and switchgear manufacturers through to automation specialists and research institutions.One focus of the project is the development of a smart breaker for the low-voltage network which combines previously separate functions in one device. “This ‘smart breaker’ will act not only as a switch and protective device but will also be able to make measurements and exchange data with other devices – this opens up completely new possibilities for grid management”, says Friederich Kupzog, who manages the iniGrid project. An additional advantage is that the breaker will be based on semiconductor technology with the result that the design can be extremely small and cost-efficient. In parallel, the consortium will also develop a highly precise, stable and low-cost voltage sensor for the medium-voltage grid to allow comprehensive grid monitoring in real time. Finally, the smart components will be integrated into a secure automation infrastructure to ensure a seamless flow of information and optimal energy distribution right through to the customer. Following extensive validation in the SmartEST Laboratory at the AIT Energy Department the components will be put through their paces in comprehensive field tests.“Both network operators and component manufacturers have already shown keen interest in these innovative cost-efficient components for active distribution grids”, says Kupzog – so chances are good that future smart grids will be “made in Austria”.