Energy systems of tomorrow to be developed in giant lab

DTU’s energy laboratory at Risø Campus is now being expanded, so that researchers and development departments in the energy industry can test the sustainable energy systems of the future in an even more realistic setup.

Large fields with sun-tracking solar cells. Offshore wind turbines that can produce both electricity and hydrogen. Electric cars that recharge electricity, but returns it to the power grid when needed. These are some of the building blocks for the connected energy systems of the future. Added to this is an interconnection of electricity, heating and hydrogen systems for optimal utilization of renewable energy.

Like a symphony orchestra with 10,000 members, all these small and large units must interact in the energy system of tomorrow in a near future. It requires new control methods—and lots of practice.

Researchers from Denmark and abroad and people from the energy industry can get this practice in DTU’s energy laboratory System Integration Lab (SYSLAB)—which is part of PowerLabDK—and they can also test and develop the interaction between units that use, generate, and store energy.

With a total grant of DKK 57 million from the so-called UNILAB funds, the SYSLAB facilities at Risø Campus are now being expanded to accommodate, for example, power-to-X facilities as well as hydrogen and heating systems. This makes it possible to test how best to connect the different parts of the energy system.

“The green transition requires massive research initiatives, for which we can now make laboratories available. We’re pleased to be able to collaborate even more closely with the industry to create the completely right solutions for the sustainable energy system of the future and to test them here on DTU’s campus at Risø,” says President Anders Bjarklev.

The smart, controllable, and secure energy systems of tomorrow

The grant results in 20 new test units, in addition to the recharging points for electric cars, solar cells, wind turbines, batteries, houses, and other buildings, etc. that are already part of the facilities. The extension comprises, for example, a smart office building with control centre and demonstration laboratory, heat pumps, and intelligent control.

In total, the living laboratory at Roskilde Fjord will soon boast 40 energy-consuming and energy-producing appliances, distributed over a plot of about one square kilometre. Add to this 4.8 kilometres of new district heating pipes connecting SYSLAB’s six buildings and the three soon-to-be interconnected electricity, heating, and hydrogen systems.

Henrik Bindner is Senior Researcher at DTU Electrical Engineering’s Center for Electric Power and Energy. He uses SYSLAB on a daily basis and has been part of the research side which has delivered ideas and wishes for a future-proof laboratory expansion.

“Our society is becoming increasingly electrified, and a core task for us researchers is now quickly to develop and test the digital solutions that make our energy system smart, manageable, and secure, so that we can harness the renewable energy from sun and wind, without consumers suddenly being left without electricity or heating,” he says and continues:

“There’s a challenge in combining the different electricity, heating, and hydrogen systems, so that we physically achieve the right connections between electrolysis devices, heat pumps, etc., thus enabling us to move energy from one system to another. And it’s then important to create the right control of the system and its units.”

Here, digitalization is the basis. This means being able to utilize the many measurements on different things to coordinate production and flexible consumption—for example power-to-X units—or smart office buildings that need to be controlled, explains the senior researcher.

“But the coordinated control is the most interesting aspect. We have an electricity system here at Risø, and we’re getting a heating and hydrogen system. We are thus getting another two systems that must be kept in balance, and the three systems must then be balanced so that they behave like we want them to. That’s the core issue and the difficult part, and this is where SYSLAB differs from other laboratories.”

A vibrant and flexible laboratory

It is expensive for the energy industry to test, for example, a new type of wind turbine or control method in reality, where real consumers may be inconvenienced, and legislation also often trips up the testing.

In SYSLAB, you can simulate different so-called control hierarchies, explains Henrik Bindner. This means that the laboratory’s solar cells, wind turbines, smart houses, electrolysis systems, heat pumps, etc. can be set to simulate different scenarios, for example an energy system on an island, a local energy community, or a previously unknown way of organizing the energy market.

The expansion of DTU’s energy laboratory creates an enthusiastic response in Ørsted, a major sustainable energy company with activities in offshore and onshore wind power, solar energy and bioenergy, as well as power-to-X, and energy storage.

“Denmark has a leading position in the energy systems of the future with a strong power grid and a well-developed district heating system. It is important that we as a society can test how all these green solutions best interact cost-effectively in our electricity and district heating systems, and a cohesive laboratory like SYSLAB allows us to do so,” says Sten Stoltze, Vice President of Engineering in Ørsted.

The planning and design of the smart office building is in full swing, and tenders are currently being invited in a public procurement procedure. The first stages of the laboratory are expected to be taken into use during 2022.

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