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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Interview with Kai Strunz

Kai Strunz is Vice Chairman of the IEEE Power Engineering Society's Distributed Generation and Energy Storage subcommittee and Secretary of the Research in Power and Energy Education subcommittee. He also is Professor of Electrical Engineering at Berlin University of Technology. Kai Strunz is helping Berlin University of Technology to organize the IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies (ISGT) Europe 2012 conference in October 2012.

Kai Strunz describes the many advantages of eMobility and how it will integrate with Smart Grid.

Question: How is Berlin University of Technology involved in Smart Grid?

The Smart Grid opens up opportunities for everybody involved in power and energy and that, of course, also applies to us at the University. We develop models that help to predict what the Smart Grid will mean to the power and energy industries and what its implications will be on the economy and the carbon footprint as far out as 2030. The university is also building a Smart Grid Laboratory with the collaboration and support of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. The laboratory will be used to conduct research and to test Smart Grid equipment.

We work with many partners to help develop plans for rolling out eMobility integrating it into Smart Grid. We cherish our participation in the IEEE, as well as European initiatives that involve partners ranging from Portugal’s INESC Porto to the National Technical University of Athens in Greece.

Question: What is eMobility and how does it play into Smart Grid?

Well, eMobility basically means using electricity to power our transportation. That is the basic definition. However, it does not apply only to private or individual transportation. In fact, eMobility is an intermodal approach that also covers public transportation and electric railways.

Question: Smart Grid is already opening up new opportunities for innovation in what has historically been slowly evolving industry. How important is eMobility in this respect?

eMobility will only further increase the need for having effective methods of system integration for Smart Grid. For example, when we build computers, we take parts and pieces from different manufacturers and assemble them into a computer that works very well. In data storage, we have data storage for cache memory and we have long-term storage on the hard drive. While they are two different types of storage, together they provide us with very effective storage for our data.

If we take this analogy to the energy field, we have electric vehicles that offer energy storage. While this is not comprehensive energy storage, it is a compliment to other types of energy storage such as hydro-electric power. When we connect the electric vehicle to the grid it should plug and play just like when we plug a USB stick into a computer.

Question: What is the landscape for eMobility in Germany?

Germany is quite well known for innovation and high-quality engineering. To be innovative, you have to reinvent yourself and be an agent for change. This is exactly what has happened in the field of renewable energy. Germany’s efforts have been driven by exceptionally good entrepreneurs and by governmental assistance. That has really changed the energy sector and created a lot of momentum in the field of renewable energy. This of course will now trigger a change in the area of eMobility because, in Germany, we agree that renewable energy and electric mobility must go hand-in-hand. All the stakeholders agree that eMobility only makes sense if we power it using renewable energy.

Question: How do we move forward in terms of getting consumers to believe that Smart Grid will be able to maintain and incorporate the adoption of electric vehicles on a mass scale?

When you drive a car on the Autobahn in Germany, sooner or later you will look to the left or the right and you will see wind parks popping up. So the change in renewable energy and the energy sector will be directly observed by consumers. They will see the change, but when they arrive at their homes, they will see an electrical socket on the wall that has been there for many decades. So we need to help consumers understand that Smart Grid is the link between the sockets in their homes and the wind parks. If the renewable energy that consumers experience also offers them attractive pricing and service offerings, they will become believers and adopters.

Question: How are European initiatives supporting a large-scale roll out of eMobility?

The most important initiative is called MERGE, which stands for Mobile Energy Resources in Grids of Electricity. It literally means the MERGE-ing of electric vehicles onto Smart Grid. The distinguishing characteristic of that approach is that we want the electric vehicles to be "good citizens" within Smart Grid. This is being achieved by implementing a two-stage aggregation process.

First we aggregate at the micro-grid level and then move up to large-grid level, which ensures network security at both levels. Through this aggregation there is an efficient way for consumers to participate and exploit the opportunities that the markets offer. The MERGE approach is unique because of its two-stage aggregation for security purposes and simultaneous market participation.

Question: How will consumers benefit from electric vehicles?

People who have driven electric cars very much appreciate that they are smooth, quiet, accelerate well and are very clean. So the experience is very positive from the start. In addition, eMobility will open up new opportunities for new business and associated consumer benefits. For example, new mobility services will be offered where you can, as an option to buying a car and having private ownership, subscribe to a mobility service that covers not only the usage of individual cars but also having access to public transportation. When they get to their destination, there may be another car waiting for them to use. So it is two-fold, they are attractive cars and consumers will benefit from new energy-saving services.