More efficient and safer electrical power grids thanks to automation
The RedActiva project is developing technology to automate medium- and low-voltage grids
- IK4-IKERLAN is participating in this initiative alongside leading companies such as Gas Natural Fenosa, Ingeteam, Ormazabal and Viesgo
- The aim is to cut response time, which now takes several minutes, to a few seconds whenever an incident occurs in infrastructure of this type
Electricity grids still function analogically to a great extent. Digitising and automating them will allow dependence on the human hand to be reduced and the potential errors associated with this to be cut. To develop the technology that will enable these aims to be met, a project called RedActiva, in which IK4-IKERLAN is participating, has been set up. This initiative will thus contribute towards improving the efficiency, safety and response capability of these grids when facing possible incidents, bearing in mind also the new scenario that is opening up with the popularising of renewable energies.
This initiative, led by the company Unión Fenosa Distribution, has the participation of companies such as Ingeteam, Ormazabal and Viesgo. The University of Cantabria and the Centre for Research into Energy Resources and Consumption (CIRCE) are also collaborating. RedActiva has a budget of 3,808,439.57 euros, partly funded by the RETOS programme of the Spanish Ministry for the Economy and Competitiveness.
The project aims by 2018 to develop an array of sensors and actuators that will make it possible to monitor the state of medium- and low-voltage electricity grids and to automatically act on them. What advantages would this automation bring?
Advantages of automation
Should the sensors detect a problem, the actuators would be set in motion in a matter of seconds while the current response time may take several minutes. This feature would be very useful in rapidly isolating the part of the grid in which a problem may have occurred and prevent the cascading of faults which would eventually lead to a general power cut.
What is more, in a system that is seeing an increasing presence of renewables, energy production is more unpredictable because it is subject to natural elements; unlike conventional sources of energy, renewables cannot be adjusted to fit the estimated demand. So the grids are increasingly more exposed to high- and low-voltage peaks which can cause damage in transformer stations and in the equipment plugged into them. Automating the grids would allow the consumption prediction to be balanced with production and thus prevent these peaks.
Another advantage of this model has to do with the safety of the operatives in electrical power grids: should it be necessary to carry out any maintenance or repair work, the zone in question could be automatically isolated so that no current enters it.
As Juan Pedro Uribe, the IK4-IKERLAN researcher in charge of the project at the centre, explained, “to a great extent, electricity grids are still analogical: they have not been digitised or automated so there is much room for improvement in terms of their efficiency and safety”.
“Our intention in the RedActiva project is to develop technology that will allow a large network of sensors and actuators to be created over the medium- and low-voltage electricity grids in order to take advantage of the opportunities that this would offer us,” he added.
“Before renewables burst onto the scene it was fairly simple to estimate consumption and produce energy accordingly, but this is becoming increasingly more complicated and the technology needs to be modernised so that it can adapt to a changing environment,” pointed out the researcher.
Medium- and low-voltage electricity grids cover a huge area so a large number of sensors would need to be fitted to automate them. The current price of these devices is too high, so the RedActiva project is planning to cut the costs dramatically: “we aim to reduce the cost of the sensors by 90% with respect to those currently available on the market,” explained Uribe.
The grid that the promoters of the project have in mind would consist of a large number of sensors that would provide information on the state of the electrical power grid, a control centre that would process this information and would make the decisions, and actuators that would carry them out. So communication between all the parts is an essential part of the project.
This is in fact the role that IK4-IKERLAN is playing in this project as it has been commissioned to develop the technology that would allow the different parts to exchange information rapidly, accurately and safely.
IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre in technology transfer and in the contribution of competitive value to companies, thanks to its capacity to offer comprehensive solutions by combining various technological domains. This is possible due to its high degree of expertise in six major areas: embedded systems, power electronics, microtechnologies, energy efficiency and storage, structural dependability and advanced manufacturing and the fact that it has a significant network of national and international collaboration that complements its offer so that it can provide its customers with the best solution.
With about 200 highly-qualified researchers on its staff, every year year it develops over 120 R&D projects worth in excess of 10 million euros with companies in sectors such as transport, energy and capital goods.