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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 1, 2014
AGH University of Science and Technology
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Energy Security is Key
August 1, 2014   
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Professor Zbigniew Hanzelka, head of the Department of Power Electronics and Automated Energy Conversion Systems at the AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, talks to Teresa Bętkowska.

Your work involves smart energy. What does this mean in practice?

Smart energy is the result of combining power engineering and information technology. But I prefer to speak about a technology platform for power engineering because such a platform is created when you combine power engineering and information technology.

When did the process of combining the two fields begin?

More than a decade ago. It was initiated by the Americans. European research centres followed suit and started to develop smart electricity supply systems called smart grids. The simplest meaning of the term is supplying electricity to consumers, but in a broader sense it also involves providing services that make it possible to reduce costs, raise efficiency and integrate distributed energy sources.

Does this mean science and industry are in for a major challenge?

The challenge is to ensure energy security by removing breaks in providing electricity services to consumers and to increase the efficiency of electricity transmission from the power generation source to the end consumer. We will achieve this by using better and smarter diagnostics and control systems. These will enable better management of electricity flows, network security systems and so on. It is also important to ensure reliable data transmission, which is necessary for quick, automated self-repair procedures, and control coordination at various levels of the system – from the local level to the global tier.

Electricity is very expensive for consumers. Is anything being done to make it cheaper?

The present payment model is dying out and a new one is being developed. Now, the cost depends on the price per unit and on the amount of electricity used. In the future, there will also be a third factor – the quality of electricity supply. It is an issue of the utmost importance now. Can an improvement in the quality of supplies lead to a drop in electricity bills? I think it can. New technologies are focused on raising the efficiency of electricity transmission and on integrating the distributed sources of energy, including renewable energy. Additionally, speaking about the potential to cut costs, we should also remember about smart meters, which are already becoming popular. They may help consumers manage their electricity consumption in a sensible way by monitoring the supply. And they may contribute to a situation in which more detailed contracts will be signed with suppliers. The introduction of innovative metering and billing – two-way meters taking into account the variability of electricity prices over time – coupled with the new technologies that streamline electricity transmission will allow consumers to become market players – not only by monitoring electricity consumption but also by generating electricity as well as, in the near future, by storing it.

How does the AGH University of Science and Technology contribute to energy research?

Almost all of the university’s faculties deal with energy. We have been making a major contribution to the European Union’s KIC InnoEnergy project, which is being carried out by a consortium of six European universities. Changing an energy model requires interdisciplinary research. The research team from Spain is focusing on renewable energy sources, and the French team is dealing with nuclear energy. Collaboration as part of the project creates an opportunity for all the participants to contribute to the development of an innovative power industry.

Your university has started research into the quality of electricity supply. What’s the objective?

Together with our partners in other research institutions in Poland we have been examining the quality of electricity supply in the country and conducting research into ways of streamlining the operation of the power supply network with the use of new technologies. We have also focused on connecting additional energy sources to the grid – for example electricity generated by the increasingly popular photovoltaic panels and wind turbines – without causing any disruptions that could be quite significant in such cases.

We want to take part in drafting new regulations in this area. There are six electricity network operators in Poland and each sees the need to build a new model for the system.
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