Michaela Imbusch, Power Product Manager at AUCOTEC, discusses current and future engineering challenges for energy grid operators and manufacturers.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges for operators of energy distribution grids today?
With the growing share of renewable energies, the demand for power grids is increasing enormously. Their expansion is urgently required, and even today the supply of electricity time and again exceeds the capacities of the distribution infrastructure. The operators are under great pressure. Pressure also comes from politics. On the one hand, the grids are to be expanded as quickly as possible, on the other, commissioning them and thus income is being delayed e.g. by laying the cables underground in southern Germany.
Decentralized energy generation from the wind farm to the private solar roof results in significantly increasing project quantities and volumes as it requires a greatly increased quantity of transformer stations and grid infrastructure.
What about the suppliers?
They are experiencing the same pressure. Operators want tailored planning and documentation in line with in-house guidelines. Data transfers and reconciliations between manufacturers and operators are often a lengthy "ping pong" with high friction losses. Suppliers can often not bill up to 20% of their order volume until the documentation has been adapted to comply with the guidelines.
The back and forth communication begins with the call for tenders. Suppliers need to understand the requirements first, and it takes the operators a lot of time to compare the tenders. The work on both sides is immense - and of course does not always pay off.
What does that mean for the engineering in this area?
It needs much faster project times with consistent quality. Additional specialists are hard to come by. In order to handle the significantly higher workload under increased time pressure with almost the same manpower, the engineering processes have to be completely redesigned.
Operators and suppliers are similarly under pressure. How does AUCOTEC support the two sides?
In over 30 years of software development, AUCOTEC has accumulated immense know-how based on experience and industry knowledge. Therefore, we know who can benefit from already working solutions and who we need to bring together to create significant synergies. We can significantly reduce the "ping pong" mentioned for both sides.
Traditionally, AUCOTEC maintains close customer contacts and for decades has regularly been inviting manufacturers, operators, EPCs and engineering firms to exchange information with the EVU working group. Here many a standard has been set and many a significant impulse given for the further development of AUCOTEC's engineering systems for the power sector.
What does an engineering system have to have to make network providers and their suppliers more efficient today and in the future?
It also has to be flexible enough to face future changes and open to new, much more collaborative workflows. Individual feature optimizations have not been sufficient for a while now. The aim is to look at the process at operators and suppliers as a whole, to highlight and minimize process and media discontinuities.
To what extent does AUCOTEC cover these requirements today and what characterizes your solution?
AUCOTEC has a highly flexible solution that is unique in this sector. The Engineering Base (EB) platform is already in use today in many companies such as RWE, SAG, TenneT, ABB or GE Grid. As a single source of truth, it enables simultaneous work in different disciplines and locations on one project - without multiple data entries, complex comparisons or agreements. EB makes completely new workflows possible, with the highest possible flow rate down to the lower branches of the engineering.
In addition to the basic database structure, we supply the power sector with all EVU-specific documents and automated follow-up reports that are required there.
In collaboration with our customers, workflows have been analyzed, described in the EVU guidelines and implemented in the software, resulting in a tailor-made solution for power distribution and transmission.
How do you see the future of energy supply engineering?
So far, power plants have been built close to consumption. With the expansion of renewable energies, electricity generation and consumption are becoming more and more geographically divergent and the feed-in power fluctuates sharply. The grid infrastructure has to absorb that.
Manufacturers and operators are increasingly using new technology that goes in the direction of "Networks 4.0". Protective devices, for example, are increasingly turning into control technology. In order to ensure grid balance, the protection and control technology must group the many decentralized generation stations into virtual power plants that regulate communication and feed-ins.
In addition to these challenges, profitability is of course existential. More efficiency, flexibility and speed with the highest level of safety and quality are not new topics, but more necessary than ever. And that must be right from the beginning of the tendering process. Only between 5 and 30 percent of tenders are actually won. Losing drastically less time here means earning money with "genuine" projects.
First startups are also trying to take market share from traditional energy suppliers by offering administrative services for virtual power plants. This way energy transition brings new opportunities and business models. But they also have to be integrated into the communication and documentation of the plants. Consistent, end-to-end cooperation and openness will be essential in the engineering future.