Germany’s Energy »Moon Landing«

Over 70 partners in northeastern Germany have teamed up on WindNODE, a game-changing project to develop a smart model for steering the generation, use and storage of large amounts of fluctuating renewable energy that can be adapted for wider use.

December, 2017

Energy storage house in the village of Feldheim, 60 km outside berlin – a model of energy-efficiency. The giant battery stores up to 10 megawatts of electricity, generated from more than 40 wind turbines.

© Paul Langrock/Zenit/laif

When Markus Graebig was an engineering student, his professors told him that it was physically impossible to run a stable electricity grid operation with more than 25 per cent of the mix coming from renewables. “And here we are at one-third for Germany and 50 per cent for our region,” says Graebig, director of WindNODE.

Today, thanks to Germany’s Energiewende, generating electricity from renewables is not a huge challenge anymore: between 2010 and 2016, the share of renewables in its gross electricity production skyrocketed from 17 to 32 per cent. Experts say this trend will continue for years to come, as the country has entered phase two of the energy transition. Now the big question is, as the share of electricity generated by wind and PV installations rises, how can intermittent renewables be integrated into the overall system while keeping the grid stable and ensuring security of supply?

In 2016, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) chose five regional “showcases” to tackle this challenge from multiple angles as part of its €230m SINTEG funding program. For northeastern Germany, WindNODE was chosen to find a way to make the demand side more responsible for the system stability where its electri¬city is mainly derived from renewables. If the model shows that the Energiewende can work in a single region, it can be adapted for the national level and beyond.

Energiewende Goals

Phase out nuclear by 2022

Boost share or renewables: 40-45% by 2025, 80% by 2050

Reduce greenhouse gases: 40% by 2020, 80-95% by 2050

Improve electricity effiecency: +50% by 2050

Extend grid to connect renewale systems with industry in southern Germany

Flexibility, integration, dissemination

The consortium of 70, which is supported by six federal states, aims to model an “Internet of Energy” in which all system players – power generators, grid operators, ICT specialists, aggregators and prosumers – communicate with each other in almost real-time to efficiently generate, use and store renewable energy.

The key goals are to identify and activate opportunities for flexible demand to allow plants and small producers to swiftly react to fluctuations in generation while developing the business models and control methods to exploit them, to establish intelligent networking on three levels (smart grids, ICT structures, markets/regulations) to allow as many players as possible to constantly exchange information and to encourage the flexible use and storage of energy when it is more plentiful and therefore cheaper using sector-coupling techniques (e.g. power-to-heat, power-to-cold and electromobility).

Various partners are working on different aspects of the project, making the region a “real-world laboratory for intelligent energy,” says Graebig. For example, the retail giants Lidl and Kaufland are testing whether their cooling systems can generate reserves when power is plentiful in pilot stores.

50Hertz, the transmission system operator coordinating the project, and distribution system operators are identifying flexibility options at the local level (e.g. supermarkets, industrial plants) to avoid bottlenecks on certain power lines. Meanwhile, Siemens is shifting production times at its massive operations in Berlin to when solar and wind energy is plentiful. And in early June, the Swedish power giant Vattenfall announced it will invest almost €100m to build Germany’s largest power-to-heat plant in Berlin as part of its efforts to phase out coal there by 2030.

The projects will be organized into nine “demonstrators,” where innovative, tangible solutions at all stages of the interconnected energy system will be presented to interested parties and potential investors and combined to form one joint model. In addition, there will be 20 to 30 locations where experts and the public will be able to view the concrete results. Although these will only become available in late 2017, early cross-sector groups have already borne fruit, claims Graebig, while the technical potential for flexibility in industry has proven “even bigger than we had estimated.”