FOCUS: Smart Grid 2015
• Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany New York
• Transatlantic Climate Bridge
• German American Chambers of Commerce, Inc. (GACC)
On November 12, 2015, the German Center for Research and Innovation co-hosted a discussion on smart grid technologies with German partner organizations and experts in the field. Changing the current power infrastructure to a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable energy system is one of the most prevailing challenges in today’s society. Reforming the energy picture for the future is a key priority for global policymakers as the consequences of climate change affect everyone from major corporations to the average citizen. James Gallagher, Executive Director of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium, provided an American perspective on the issue and was joined by two experts with knowledge of the energy landscape in Germany: Erwin Rezelman, President and CEO of Urban Integrated, a software and consulting company for smarter city solutions, and Dr. Ingo Stadler, Professor of Renewable Energies and Energy Economics at TH Köln – the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne. Dr. Kurt Becker, Vice Dean for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship and Professor in the Department of Applied Physics and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, moderated the discussion.
Dr. Annegret Groebel from the German Federal Network for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post, and Railway was unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. Dr. Becker presented the main takeaways from her talk on her behalf. According to Dr. Groebel’s presentation, the German “Energiewende” or energy transition initiated by the German government “is not going to be reversed and is here to stay.” It has reached the point of no return and cannot be turned back. According to her presentation, the German energy mix already reached a 26 percent share of renewables in 2014, which is ahead of schedule. Her slides also stressed that communities will need to speed up grid expansion and synchronize it with the generation of renewables in order to better integrate them into the grid. Ultimately, to ensure the success of this energy transition, societies will need to create smarter markets, according to Dr. Groebel.
Mr. Gallagher spoke about how his organization is working to modernize New York’s energy infrastructure. According to Mr. Gallagher, there has not been any major change at the distribution level from what existed 100 years ago. His team is currently looking at taking some of the principles of the wholesale market that have led to energy efficiency and bringing them down to the distribution level. This involves better alignment with customers’ needs, engaging them in the process, and moving clients to the center of utility-making and planning efforts. Mr. Gallagher said that politics should provide incentives to better distribute resources. He also stressed the need for doing a better job with cost-benefit analysis.
He described how expert groups of the New York State Smart Grid Consortium are seeking answers to questions relating to functions and capabilities of smart grids, adequate technologies, interactions with other systems, training, monitoring solutions, communication approaches, and cyber security issues. Mr. Gallagher cited a report that identified a true need for efficient data analysis. Therefore, smart meters – a very expensive technology – must be introduced to New York communities in a more transparent way. Mr. Gallagher noted that we have been at this point before because efficiency approaches and renewables have already restructured the market. The differences today are the technologies currently available and customer expectations. Nowadays, people’s lives are completely different in the way that they purchase products and interact with other individuals and organizations. Mr. Gallagher described California as the most advanced state in the U.S. with regards to having the best grid and best level of awareness, whereas the New York model currently consists primarily of a platform with pilot models. The biggest challenge that Mr. Gallagher sees looking ahead is making sure not to solely micromanage the energy supply system, but rather to ensure that actions are aligned between organizations, utilities, and state agencies.
Dr. Stadler pointed out the main differences between Germany and the U.S. with regards to why we use smart grids. The main motivating factors in the U.S. to establish smart grids revolve around resilience towards natural disasters and terrorist attacks whereas the primary motivation in Germany is to transition from a fossil and nuclear-based energy system to a more sustainable infrastructure. Dr. Stadler defined a smart grid as the combination of an information grid, an electricity grid, and energy meters. For widespread implementation of such grids, new and innovative technologies will need to be discovered. According to Dr. Stadler, there is also a strong need to establish norms and standards as the industry still lacks adequate regulation. Without such regulations, many grid operators will not feel enough pressure to apply or invest in smart grid technologies.
Mr. Rezelman discussed his support for municipalities establishing smarter urban infrastructures. He advocated for better data analysis and the creation of links between different technologies. Applying this idea of integrating different elements to smart energy supply, Mr. Rezelman views the biggest challenges to be the way different parts of the current energy system communicate with each other in addition to the predictability of energy usage. Getting different systems to communicate with each other requires some manner of translation between the various systems as well as effective data analysis. Mr. Rezelman’s company is currently conducting a project in the German city of Saarlouis that seeks to replace its nuclear power supply by integrating renewables into its energy mix. The project group created an independent holon grid completely powered by renewables. In other words, energy is consumed directly where it is produced. They also created a system in which Saarlouis citizens can sell their surplus energy to their neighbors through a virtual marketplace. Mr. Rezelman noted that with its smart meters the city would be able to predict its energy use within a 98.9 percent level of accuracy. Another positive result is that Saarlouis did not have to build a new gas turbine to deal with peak time requirements because it can predict peak time usage of electricity and harmonize this with the pre-existing system. Taking a look at the U.S., Mr. Rezelman sees a regulatory issue that energy cannot be shared locally where it is produced. In general, in the U.S., mayors are focusing on education and public safety as a high priority whereas in Germany, sustainability and environmental protection is far more dominant in the political decision-making at the municipal level. Mr. Rezelman concluded his talk by stating that the ideal situation is to create smarter cities in general by combining elements such as energy, safety, and transportation.
Questions during the Q&A that followed concerned the feasibility and realization of smart grid solutions, such as decentralized energy storage and the establishment of a local energy marketplace like the one portrayed in Saarlouis. Members of the audience also asked questions related to energy efficiency and micro grids as well as whether projects conducted in Germany could be transferred to other parts of the world. Another inquiry concerned the technological backend of communication systems as an integral element of smart grid systems. A reception in the German House restaurant then followed, enabling audience members and speakers to continue exchanging views on how energy supply systems might look in the future.