Innovative research on energy transition gets multimillion-euro grant from Perspectief program of Dutch Research Council
The energy transition in the Netherlands is at risk of stagnation: while the demand for electricity is constantly increasing, the supply from sustainable sources is becoming increasingly erratic. Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), together with three other universities, TNO and nine industrial partners, is therefore launching a research program aimed at finding new ways of breaking this impasse. The researchers are looking for solutions not only in technology (such as artificial intelligence), but also in law and regulation. The program, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), should lead to new ways for local energy systems to manage themselves.
“In the energy transition, it is key to combine innovations in technology with innovation in legislation and regulation,” says Koen Kok of the Department of Electrical Engineering at TU/e and leader of the new research program. “If laws and regulations lag behind technological developments, they inhibit the innovation needed for sustainability, and vice versa.” he continues. “With the MegaMind program, we want to lift that mutual stranglehold.”
The edges of the power system
MegaMind focuses on the so-called edges of the electricity system: the distribution networks and the electricity producing and consuming devices connected to them. The demand for electricity is steadily increasing, partly due to the growth in heat pumps and in electric cars and buses. At the same time, the supply is becoming more unpredictable due to the growing supply of sustainable electricity from wind and solar.
Network operators and market parties are looking for ways to prevent overloading the network and to link supply and demand in a smart way. “We believe artificial intelligence can play an important role here, as long as the mechanisms for exchanging data and energy are transparent and fair to all concerned”.
“The success or failure of the energy transition stands or falls with two things: the way in which the actors in the local electricity systems jointly adopt new digital technologies, and the way in which the legislator allows them to do so.”
The research program is a collaboration with the four major grid operators for electricity in the Netherlands: Stedin, Liander, Enexis and TenneT. Kok explains: “With their networks, the distribution system operators connect the local energy systems to each other and to the transmission grid of TenneT. This is an extremely complex system, both in terms of structure and the amount of data it handles. We therefore see a great need for new solutions in the field of technology and regulation among the grid operators.”
PwC, which acts as coordinator within the consortium on behalf of the industry partners, also stresses the importance of good regulation in line with technological innovations. “The energy transition requires collaboration from parties in the public and private sectors, start-ups, scale-ups and established names,” says Jan-Willem Sanders, Partner and Consulting lead Energy, Utilities & Resources at PwC.
The program has three main themes. In the first theme, researchers are looking at how locally available data can be exchanged and used to monitor the electricity network. To this end, they are developing new distributed AI techniques that locally map and predict the state of the network (flows, voltages).
In the second theme, they investigate how local electricity supply and demand can be matched with available network capacity and the availability of (green) electricity from higher parts of the network through automated decision making and self-management.
The third theme focuses on the technical and legal aspects of data sharing. On the one hand, this is about regulation and agreements between parties on issues such as data ownership, data privacy and protection of trade secrets. On the other hand, it revolves around technical solutions for automated data sharing.
In addition to TU/e and TNO, the program involves three universities and nine industrial partners. These include Enexis Netbeheer, ENGIE Services Nederland, IBM GBS, Liander, PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory, Smart State Technology, Stedin Netbeheer, Delft University of Technology, TenneT, Tilburg University, Transdev Nederland (Connexxion Nederland), and the University of Twente.
With the investments from the sector and the NWO Perspective grant, the program has a combined budget of 3.7 million euros. This will employ ten researchers, PhD students and postdocs, at the five knowledge institutes taking part in the consortium.