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Electric Power Grids and Open Source Technology

An open source platform, accessible by everyone, has been developed by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) to help people know the answers to questions such as; how much electricity goes through the grid; what and where are bottlenecks; what occurs when solar cells and wind turbines contribute to the energy grid. The answers to these questions will not only provide the general public with a better understanding of energy, but may also assist with a turnaround of global energy.

The populace is not only interested in the answers to the energy questions, they have even taken it a step further by being proactive enough to use their smart phones and an app to track energy through grids, and review the infrastructure of the energy program itself. Watching energy travel through high and low voltage lines, transformer substations, wind turbines and solar operated power plants has become a passionate interest for many.

This energy turn around information allows users to share photos and locations with the Department of Computer Science’s  (TU Munich) server. Upon receipt, the information is evaluated and analyzed with ultimate inclusion into the open source OpenStreetMap system.

Energy Changes and Looking Forward

The overall goal of the program is the production of a map of the worldwide electrical power grid. Professor Hans-Arno Jacobsen, director of the Department of Energy Informatics and Middleware at TUM indicates that “This is a prerequisite for the energy turnaround – no only here in Germany, but in all countries around the world. You can only plan the restructuring of the energy supply if you know exactly where power lines are located and at which locations power from high-voltage lines is transformed and fed into the low-voltage networks”.

Using this as a base, it would be possible to have a simulation as to how renewable energy feeding into the system will affect the grid, and where blockages or extra energy capacity will be produced. This could pinpoint the location where storage facilities may be needed.

This non-existent pool of data is necessary. Without it would be comparable to building a transportation system through an area with no known populace. The data needed for this effort would be cost prohibitive when compiled by a company or business; therefore the individual contribution seems as the most cost-effective method of data gathering.

The Crowd is Gathering

With a community of volunteers to lead the charge of an effort they have been involved in for over 10 years, the participation of others in this massive undertaking has been viewed as the most cost effective means to compile the information. These volunteers have been assisting the Wiki global OpenStreetMap for many years.

The app used for this purpose was published as the OpenGridMap on the Google Play Store, and volunteers are been sought to map wind turbines, solar power plants, transformer sub-stations and corresponding power lines. This can be done using the app on mobile phones.

Information gathered is verified for correctness and then uploaded into the open source map. The information on this network of verified grids is becoming denser. Red lines run through the map like veins.

The subsequent density of points that have been mapped will provide additional information. In those areas with numerous volunteers, the information is growing substantially. An algorithm has even been developed to map subterranean power lines that lead to homes and businesses.

Information Gathering

The underlying goal of this project will be to provide data to engineers and scientists located worldwide. Professor Jacobsen has said “There are many potential applications for the OpenGridMap. You could investigate the feasibility of making a state like Bavaria energy autonomous.” This project could easily provide someone with access information on the distance to power for a town.

This project has generated much excitement and interest. Siemens has volunteered as a project mentor and funding has been provided by the World Bank. Additional funding is provided by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), and also the Alexander Humboldt Foundation.

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