Author: Karla Götz
News no.: 2017040

How Can Electricity Blackouts Be Avoided?

Recent hacker attacks have focused public attention on the significance of such a move.

How can our power supply be made safe against hacker attacks and extreme weather events and still be relatively stable? How can technicians cope with the threat of power cuts and create robust learning systems?

These are questions occupying members of the recently founded Institute for Advanced Energy Systems at the University of Bremen. Professors Stefan G. Reisemann and Arnim von Gleich, the institute’s co-founders, have been working on a high-profile project which just published its results.

Research topic for three large academies

Three large science academies – acatech, the German Academiy of Science and Engineering, the German National Academy of Sciences – Leopoldina, and die Union of German Academies of Sciences – are all working on “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS). This is a large scale project involving leading German and international scientists. Stefan G. Reisemann and Arnim von Gleich from the Faculty of Production Engineering are part of the team. They are researching in the project group called “Risk and Resilience”, which produced a study and recommendations for policy makers.

Development of long-term strategies

The ultimate goal is to implement a secure and sustainable system of power supply. Recent hacker attacks have focused public attention on the significance of such a move – but one shouldn’t forget that severe blizzards, floods and adverse weather conditions caused by climate warming also pose a constant threat. And today, among other things, the digital networking of formerly separate energy systems and other infrastructures have given rise to new targets for hackers. Governments, public agencies and enterprises must face up to the challenge to develop long-term coping strategies featuring robustness and adaptive capacity.

Recommendations for policy makers

For example, it facilitates coping with power cuts when there are different technologies available for generating electricity and system control. Wind turbines, for instance, are not affected by heat waves; and gas-fired power plants still provide electricity at times of year when there is less sunlight or low winds. Moreover, controlling energy grids by means of diverse software systems would make it more difficult for manipulations to spread through the system. One of the recommendations in the study produced by the working group, therefore, is to increase the diversity of software solutions. Another suggestion focuses on the power distribution system. At present, it is only possible to cut off whole districts or street blocks from the electricity supply: It would be advisable to be more selective based on consumer-point relevance: For instance, power could be cut off from illuminated advertising signs and street lamps in favor of hospitals, police and fire-fighting facilities.

University of Bremen well-positioned

The University of Bremen is well-positioned in the area of “resilient energy systems” and much in demand for its technical expertise. Stefan G. Reisemann has the only chair for resilient energy systems in the whole of Germany. Other members of the highly interdisciplinary Institute for Advanced Energy Systems come from the fields of mechanical engineering, process engineering, biology, physics and the social sciences.