“The Energy System must be Smart and Controllable”
Author: Jana Bronsch-Chassard
The energy crisis poses major challenges for governments and private individuals. Sustainable energy sources and their availability are a particular focus.
DEKRA solutions: Prof. Blaabjerg, the EU has set itself the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. Do you feel like the current efforts are ambitious enough or does much more need to happen to achieve this goal?
Blaabjerg: After the latest climate reports and predictions on a +2 degree global temperature increase, the climate is really becoming challenged and there is a need to move faster. The climate neutrality in Europe in 2050 is valid and ambitious goal but it has to be a global joint effort – which seems not to be easy as some countries base their energy-supply on fossil fuel. The war in Europe has forced countries to rely on old technology in order to keep energy prices low but on the other hand Europe has also clear intensified the investments in renewable energy to ensure a stronger energy independency. So, a pushback for the moment, but acceleration in the next years about the energy independency is achieved. I think we could put more research and innovation into energy efficiency. As every Watt saved we do not have to produce or to store. A lot of technology can help. This should be further developed, and new concepts innovated. Here electrification and the power electronics technology plays a key role.
Is it possible to generate more energy with wind turbines, or have the technological limits been reached?
Blaabjerg: There has been an amazing technology development in wind turbines and increasing them in size means lowering the cost of energy. Just now in Denmark a 15 MW wind turbine is erected for test by Vestas and discussions are in the industry to go further up in power. The very big ones demand most often transport by sea and that can be a limitation in some areas, but we are not seeing the limit, yet.
Silicon solar cells are considered to be as good as “optimized out”. New material combinations promise higher yields from the solar spectrum. What are the latest achievements and what potential do they hold?
Blaabjerg: In the end, cost of energy will bring the winner in technology for solar cells combined with potential re-usability of the material at the end of life. It is correct the silicon solar cells are very mature. Perovskite material seems to be promising but many other technologies are important to follow. The ability to scale solar power production to a very big scale and at the same time not using rare materials can also be a decisive factor. However – more than 20 technologies are being developed which is making it a very interesting research field to pursue.
When it comes to solar and wind energy, the question of energy transport and storage options often arises. Will there be a quantum leap in storage capacity in the near future?
Blaabjerg: The transportation sector seems to be electrical based on batteries. There are a lot of arguments for doing that. Energy efficiency is very high, and the infrastructure can be build up. New battery technology is on the way – not as a quantum leap – but might be improving. I also see a strong will to build electrical infrastructure to be able to distribute the electrical power.
The challenges exist in the energy intensive transportation sector where there is a high chance that hydrogen can be the intermediate carrier – for example on the way to ammonia or e-fuel in ships and airplanes. However, the energy system in total must be smart and controllable and utilize all aspects of energy carriers like heat, gas, electricity, including their storage potential as well as use biomass for energy storage and for producing heat and electricity when renewables are not available. It could also be interesting to see some breakthroughs in super-conduction – as this can be a game changer in electrical power transmission as well as enable key components to obtain a very high efficiency.
Let’s take a look into the future: Is space-based solar power generation actually technically feasible?
Blaabjerg: It is a very interesting idea and needs much more exploration and also significant investments to find out how to get significant power transferred to the planet. I am afraid this technology will not be able to contribute significantly to our 2050 challenge.
What research projects are you currently working on?
Blaabjerg: We work on four main activities for the moment: One is to better understand the reliability of power electronic components and systems in order to predict when they are expected to fail if they see a certain loading condition. We call it mission profile. This involves mathematical modelling, statistics and a lot of testing. A second area is to improve the new modern power system reliability, which now will get many new sources and loads – having power electronic converters as interface. It involves many aspects of power system analysis and operation as well as usage of the knowledge of the power converter behaviour.
A third new activity is to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) in power electronic systems in a smart way – as we already know a lot of the system and do not have to make everything data-driven in terms of applying AI. Finally, we are working on utilizing power electronics to control electrolyzers to make hydrogen and thereby find new efficient ways to avoid the fossil fuel. To make that highly efficient – from electrical power to, for example, gas, e-fuel or Power-2-X – there is a long way to go.
Frede Blaabjerg has been a professor of Power Electronics and Drives at Aalborg University in Denmark since 1998. He is also vice president of the Danish Academy of Technical Sciences and has received several awards for his research in electrical engineering, including for outstanding technical contributions to the design of power management systems enabling the integration of renewable power. In 2020, he received the IEEE Edison Medal – one of the oldest and most coveted awards in the field of electrical engineering.