The future is IT

The energy system of the future will consist of numerous plants for energy production and consumption, as well as for storage. Production will increasingly take place locally. Intelligent distribution networks and facilities will govern the transportation of energy. Here, technicians in telecommunication and automation will be increasingly involved. IT will play a central role, because in the energy system of the future energy pathways and solutions will be virtually and digitally networked to an even greater extent. Be it cloud-based services, big data, smart grids, smart metering or e-mobility – the development can be seen in numerous mega-trends. One thing is clear: digital networking and information processing permit entirely new solution approaches from the production, procurement, trade and distribution of energy, to complex energy management for industry and commerce, through to a control app for private customers.

Coordination of energy flows

The changes to business processes associated with liberalisation, which came about through precise regulations on standardised processes and entirely transparent and discrimination-free conduct, have led to huge changes in the IT system landscapes of long-distance transmission network operators over the last few years. Where the energy sector is concerned, business processes are extremely complex and critical. There is not only administrative IT, but also industrial IT, in which guidance systems for electricity or gas networks are anchored, for example. It is primarily these that must meet challenging requirements: the system must be 100-percent fail-proof. Any outage of the guidance system for a gas network of just a few minutes can result in damages amounting to several million euros – for example if large industrial consumers cannot be supplied with gas for a short time.

Big data

Transmission system operators need to process huge quantities of data every day in order to manage their transmission networks, to book transportation capacities on the marketing platforms, to control the flow of gas and to settle accounts for the natural gas that has been transported. To do so, they need huge computing centres. “Big data” will become ever more important in the energy future. It is not for nothing that Open Grid Europe is setting up a new computing centre in Essen, which is scheduled to for commissioning at the end of 2015. Alongside the construction of a new computing centre, a new backup dispatching centre is also being set up, which will immediately become available to take over control tasks for the transmission network if the main dispatching centre breaks down.

Intelligent use of the gas network as a “smart grid”

Alongside this, the efficient use of the existing network is a further key on the road to the energy future. Efficient solutions are needed, with which the transmission network could be used more effectively, and could become a “smart grid”. The basic idea is “Be smart, build smart”. After all, unnecessary network expansion is neither economically sensible nor environmentally friendly. It sends costs spiralling: the expansion costs money, which leads to higher network fees and thus to higher prices. As a result, large-scale social projects like the “Energiewende” increasingly fail to gain acceptance among citizens and in business. For this reason, it makes sense to utilise the capacity of the existing natural gas network more efficiently, and at the same time to boost security of supply.

Efficient IT solutions permit better use of the existing network, optimised in each case for power plants and storage operations. They thus ensure optimised, targeted and generally more modest expansion of the natural gas network. The reduced need for investment means the competitiveness of natural gas in the heating market is further boosted.

[August 2015]