Emulating A Power Grid

The electric power grid, as it exists today, was designed about a century ago to accommodate large, dispersed power plants owned and controlled by the utilities themselves. At the time this seemed like a great idea, but as technology and society have progressed the power grid remains stubbornly rooted in this past. Efforts to modify it to accommodate solar and wind farms, electric cars, and other modern technology need to take great effort to work with the ancient grid setup, often requiring intricate modeling like this visual power grid emulator.

The model is known as LEGOS, the Lite Emulator of Grid Operations, and comes from researchers at RWTH Aachen University. Its goal is to simulate a modern power grid with various generation sources and loads such as homes, offices, or hospitals. It uses a DC circuit to simulate power flow, which is visualized with LEDs. The entire model is modular, so components can be added or subtracted easily to quickly show how the power flow changes as a result of modifications to the grid. There is also a robust automation layer to the entire project, allowing real-time data acquisition of the model to be gathered and analyzed using an open source cloud service called FIWARE.

In order to modernize the grid, simulations like these are needed to make sure there are no knock-on effects of adding or changing such a complex system in ways it was never intended to be changed. Researchers in Europe like the ones developing LEGOS are ahead of the curve, as smart grid technology continues to filter in to all areas of the modern electrical infrastructure. It could also find uses for modeling power grids in areas where changes to the grid can happen rapidly as a result of natural disasters.

23 thoughts on “Emulating A Power Grid

    1. Create generalized incentives to move energy usage off peak and then let the market figure out how to most economically do so. Most likely thermal storage HVAC would become one of the biggest technologies in use, second only to rescheduling of loads that can be easily rescheduled.

      1. I wonder what the numbers look like for thermal storage HVAC. How many stored BTU’s for 12 hours of cooling in hot humid summers, how many square feet of floor space, how much cost compared to a standard heat pump, etc. It’s not something that I know anything about.

        1. Not hard to guesstimate it yourself. A 2-ton residential unit is equivalent to two tons of ice per day, so 1 ton of ice will provide your 12 hours of full-time use.

          Now, ice is difficult to pump, so if you want to use liquid water instead and assume a 15 F delta-T in the storage, you’ll need ten times as much: ten tons, ten cubic meters, ten thousand litres. Or 2641 of those funny stunted US-size gallons. (not that I’m sad to see the standard 10-pound gallon gone — good riddance)

          1. Maybe sensible, but only if the extra heat exchanger and the energy cost of pulling down that extra 10-20 degrees to make ice instead of just chilling water is worth the savings in space.

    2. To be fair, the Texas thing wasn’t a smart girl feature that lead to adjusting the thermostat. It does appear that they were raised in an attempt to protect the grid. However, the thermostat’s themselves were enrolled in some program allowing the utility to change it, presumably via the internet. If they’d have read the EULA and opted out it wouldn’t have been an issue.

      1. The ability for a utility to adjust your thermostat to cope with power shortages is not new. Arizona Public Service (APS) has what their “Cool Rewards” program where they pay you $25 per year for the right to remotely adjust your thermostat up to 2F up to 20 times a year. They send you an email every time they do this and you can override it if you want to. It is above-board, transparent, and completely voluntary, unlike what is being depicted in the media.

      2. Wow. I’m just imagining such a program if it wasn’t voluntary.

        Conversation today:

        Me) You know honey, it would be kind of nice to have our own solar panels
        Wife) No! You will not risk the warranty on the roof!

        Conversation after the power company turns up the temperature for the first time:

        Me) You know honey, it would be kind of…
        Wife) Ssshhh! I’m on the phone scheduling our solar panel installation.

    3. “‘Woke up sweating’: Some Texans shocked to find their smart thermostats were raised remotely
      Some said they didn’t know their thermostats were being accessed from afar until it was almost 80 degrees inside their homes.”

      almost 80 degrees? Seriously? I honestly had to check to see if I was reading a The Onion article.

    4. If electricity is expensive during the hottest part of the afternoon when solar output is low, why doesn’t the Socialist government increase the price of a
      KW then? Not much, may be just double the price during those hours. The law of supply and demand works in a capitalist economy too.

  1. Yep the Tex power grid along with every place else is still a ways from being smart. Which is why I have been an advocate to upgrade the grid for about 20 years now. I got fed up with fighting NPPD way back and went off grid for many years. Then I moved. During my absence from the utility companies list of people they could screw, I never had to worry about the grid going down which it did frequently, I always had power. Maybe not as much as I truly wanted to have but at least my lights stayed on and if I did need a fair amount, I could hold on for a little while, then wait till my reserve was recharged and with both solar and wind, it never really took that long. This country has a long way to go with it infrastructure and its mentallity.

  2. What’s really off is that Texas is the largest producer of wind power in the nation. I haven’t checked out where they are as far as solar but I’m sure they’re moving along with it.

  3. In real life the matter is very complex, involving logical and objective matters in engineering, electrical laws, physics where many things are possible if it can be modelized. These are natural laws that humans cannot change. Eventually math, modelling and AI can accommodate all the technical parameters… even allowing connection and use of EV batteries to draw from, or supply to the grid which means getting very granular. The solutions are only a matter of time. But….

    Then there are the human and subjective (emotional) factors that act as impediments and challenges, ranging from “don’t adjust my thermostat” to short sighted politics that are connected to election cycles, head-in-the-sand, and suing the utility that provides the power, draining resources. These can be parasitic (cyber attacks) and self-centered attitudes (I’ll run my air conditioning whenever I want) from people that form impediments to the common goals. These are not new… people are people and have had these foibles for thousands of years. People are a bigger challenge to modelize than figuring out the technology.

    Ultimately, grid power is community power which involve some rules of engagement. Would you prefer a self adjusting thermostat, control over when you can charge your EV, a rotating blackout, or your own island of power?

    1. Climate control “as a service” ?
      I chose ‘D’, my own island of power, please. Adding centralized load control to centralized generation isn’t really an improvement.

      Seriously though, we may be getting to where option D is viable. Especially if the rumors about that graphene aluminum battery pan out. The old centralized power plant model is great for generating a few mansions and yachts, not so great for running a state full of central air during a heat wave. Granted, running your own 1-house power system might not do so great at running your own a/c when it’s 105 outside, but at least you’d know it was 89 degree in your house bc of physics, and not some junior executive sitting in a 68 degree office 100 miles away decided it.

    2. Ultimately, grid power is community power which involve some rules of engagement. Would you prefer a self adjusting thermostat, control over when you can charge your EV, a rotating blackout, or your own island of power?

      How about “None Of The Above”.

      I don’t want to maintain my own power infrastructure, nor fuel it, nor amortize it. Much as I hate how ugly and space-consuming the electric power grid is, it’s far more efficient then a bunch of penny-ante players trying to make their own power.

      I should not need to have a remote-adjustable thermostat (though I may opt to, if given sufficient incentive). I should be able to charge my EV any time I want, at the going rate (that is, if I felt owning one was remotely sensible). A properly-engineered and competently-run grid should never need to have rotating blackouts, barring some major incident. And for the record: a cold snap does not qualify as a “major incident”.

  4. One idea behind the smart grid is being designed to support a supply/demand model. Your meter will have a cost per kWh schedule that will have a forecast of the day’s supply-based pricing; i.e. from midnight-8A it’ll be $0.12, from 8A-2P it’ll be $0.30, from 2P-8P it’ll be $0.50, and from 8P-midnight it will be $0.20. Your meter would then “advertise” the current price to your appliances.

    You then configure your smart appliances with a maximum price: “don’t run the dishwasher/laundry until the price is $0.25 or less.” You could set your thermostat to run the A/C at 75 when the price is $0.50 or below, and 80 when the price is above the threshold. You could set your water heater to run to 140 when the price is below $0.20, and 110 when the price is above that, essentially using thermal storage. And your car will charge only at prices less than $0.16.

    It’s not “tricking” people into agreeing to raise their thermostats in exchange for a sweepstakes entry. There’s no “remote control” of the thermostat; all the settings are completely under your control. It’s trying to create financial incentives for people to use less electricity during peak demand hours.

  5. In the Netherlands, we have the problem that many new solar and wind generation is placed near the former arteries of the electricity network (remote areas) so overloading becomes a problem. Then there’s the legal problem that because of net neutrality, connection requests are made on a first-come first-serve basis. There have been cases where a new neigbourhood didn’t have a power connection to their planned supermarket because there was a large solar farm nearby and the “pipes weren’t phat enough”.

    1. Do what they did in California: overload the transmission lines and add the new load anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? The lines sag and start wildfires, that’s all.

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