The Smart Operator provides a complete picture of the low-voltage grid at all times. It registers all the power feeds from wind and photovoltaics as well as the power consumption and storage options within the grid. In addition, it coordinates flexible consumption points like washing machines and dishwashers and such things as hot water storage cylinders with current feeds, evaluates all the data and uses the results to manage the network efficiently and autonomously.
Distribution systems that can cope with the new requirements are crucial to the success of the transformation of the energy sector.
“I am a prosumer”, says Stefan Willing. That sounds like real commitment, for this engineer lives and breathes the day-to-day tasks in his role at innogy. In his private life, he is one of many decentralised energy generators in his local community, and in his work life he heads the Smart Operator project. As part of this project, he is testing the smart operator, a device that manages the flow of electricity within a local grid. “The results of my work convinced me to become part of the energy transition myself”, says the 42-year-old proudly. He started in Grid Planning in 1999 and from that time onwards he integrated many photovoltaic and wind power plants into the grid. “In the process, I was able to track the technology developments of the various plant manufacturers before making my decision to invest in a photovoltaic plant.”
Demands on the local grid are changing
Not so long ago, the only pathway for energy was from the power plant to the consumer. Now the distribution systems are picking up more and more electricity from many small renewable energy plants and distributing it to consumers as well. “This means the demands on grids are also changing”, says Stefan Willing. In order for everything to function well, many components have to work together. It is this interplay that Willing finds particularly fascinating. He has had a photovoltaic plant on his own roof now for five years and stores any energy he does not need himself within the grid of his municipal utility. When the sun doesn’t shine, he then draws the power down from the grid. “An in-home storage device would be very helpful”, says Willing in his capacity as a private citizen. As an energy expert, however, he is also aware of the importance of looking beyond his own nose, for his own power supply is not the only consideration. When decentralised generating plants, electric mobility, battery storage and the changing lifestyles of people all have to be taken into account in the energy supply system, the grids in rural areas in particular have to be adjusted accordingly. “We need intelligent coordination of all networked generators, consumers and storage facilities within the local electricity grid. And for precisely that reason, we are now testing decentralised solutions like the Smart Operator”, explains Willing. His role is to coordinate the grids and the many different people involved in the process.
Smart Operator improves grid ratios
The Smart Operator is designed for a local grid servicing up to 200 households. It creates transparency at the low-voltage level. Stefan Willing and his colleagues know what the electricity flow is like at each point in the grid and what the respective voltage ratios are. The module, which is only about the size of a paperback book, balances out power generation and power load and improves the grid ratios. “It reduces load peaks on the local grid transformer by leveraging the full flexibility of the grid”, explains Willing. This means that when there is an excess of electricity, the energy is sent to where it is required and when more power is required, the Smart Operator looks for available sources or taps into some of the stored power. It is important to have access to the data of everyone involved, which is evaluated at regular intervals. The grid participants themselves can decide what is actually analysed and processed.
Stefan Willing knows he is not alone, as the high participation rate of the Smart Operator project has shown him how many kindred spirits are out there. Like him, many of the people in the trial households have done their homework on the transformation of the energy industry and want to play an active part in the process themselves.
The results of my work convinced me to become part of the energy transition myself.
Here’s how the Smart Operator works
What the device can do
How households and Smart Operators are linked
Metering points such as intelligent household power meters are the prerequisite for a functioning Smart Operator. They record how much power is consumed or generated by the household itself down the second. Another device, the Home Energy Controller, allows the energy consumption of a household to be optimised so that local power generated from renewables is used as much as possible on site.