05 Feb 2021, 13:43
Benjamin Wehrmann

Digital & decentralised energy system both opportunity and risk for supply security - Researchers

Digitalisation offers an opportunity to make power grids more resilient during transition to renewable power sources but may also make the energy system more vulnerable,  researchers of the tech academy alliance ESYS say in a position paper. The researchers warned that a coherent response strategy was necessary, otherwise "the risk for blackouts is rising and could quickly turn into a stress test for society and the economy”. Smart grids and the coupling of different sectors can bring Germany closer towards reaching its climate targets, but technical defects, software bugs and cyber-attacks all pose future risks. "Conventional risk management is no longer working," the academy said, arguing that growing interaction between energy systems and information technology (IT) can "lead to malfunctioning that in the worst case affects large areas, persists for hours and causes long power cuts." IT researcher Christoph Mayer said a possible scenario could be that an attacker simultaneously switches on or off large quantities of heat pumps, e-car chargers or home storage batteries through an internet connection, destabilising the power grid.

Small and decentral operators also have a growing role to play, as they could supply hospitals and firefighters in case of a blackout," the researchers said. But they could also pose risk factors through "incidental or deliberate" perturbations. "We have to be prepared for this kind of event," Mayer warned. Both technical and regulatory adjustments would be needed in order to address this challenge, the academy advised, adding that businesses and households also have a responsibility to better understand the risks that an increasingly digitalised energy system brings with it.

While many German companies and households are increasingly using digital power system tools, a full roll-out of smart metering devices in millions of households across the country has been stalled due to security concerns. But a greater reliance on digital solutions to better manage supply and demand from renewable power sources and storage systems is seen as crucial for achieving a full transformation away from centralised fossil power sources.

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