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Knowing which Way the Wind Blows

April 3, 2016 was supposed to be a calm and sunny day. Tennet, the electricity grid operator, had planned on this. But then the Saharan dust arrived from Africa and covered hundreds of thousands of solar panels in southern Germany.

A great team: Axel Heinrich (Head of Group Research), Urban Keußen (Deputy Chairman of the Tennet Executive Board) and Volkswagen Project Leader Julia Kwasny (from left to right).

It is only feasible to maintain stability of the power supply on this particular April day thanks to a complex fall-back system. This incident also shows how important exact weather forecasts are for an efficient and economical supply of electricity.

Such an exceptional meteorological situation was the starting point for the idea of one of the world’s first joint projects undertaken by an electricity grid operator and an automobile manufacturer. Tennet and Volkswagen are collaborating on the research project “Vision.” This is a pioneering approach – especially in times of digital transformation, in which the automobile industry now finds itself. 

  1. fleet data

    In this context, it is important to realize that about a gigabyte of data is generated while driving a car for an hour. This includes weather information on brightness, temperature, humidity, air pressure and rain. This is precisely the area Tennet and Volkswagen want to focus on. The fleet data is to be analyzed and integrated into feed-in projections.

  2. new business areas

    Both parties will benefit from this: Tennet could use the data to respond better to changing weather conditions, while the project is also to be worthwhile for Volkswagen. “It is no secret that we are able to develop new areas of business with this initiative,” explains Julia Kwasny from Group Research, who is leading the project on behalf of Volkswagen. According to Kwasny, this cooperation could also contribute to being able to better ensure the energy supply of electric vehicles.

  3. efficiency

    What is important is that ultimately the Volkswagen Group’s customers should benefit from this cooperation. “The vehicle user also has an interest in the efficient use of energy,” says Kwasny. Taking a longer term view, as forecasts are improved, this would also have a positive impact on energy prices. “We are now on the way to moving the project from the research stage to the production stage,” says Kwasny. An internal group of experts has been set up to work on this issue. The project leader is optimistic. “This project is only useful when in the end the product is actually on the road.”

The round, red object above the camera shows the rain-light-sun sensor that measures the sun’s intensity.

There are currently no vehicles with the required technology on the market – but it won’t take much longer until there are. When the project actually goes into production, data protection will also play an important role. The information is to be forwarded to Tennet exclusively on an anonymous basis so that the possibility of tracing the information back to the individual vehicle or even the customer is prevented. “We ensure that data protection is strictly observed,” explains the project leader at Volkswagen.

During the latest test in March, nine test vehicles were used: five Volkswagen Golfs, three Audi A3 and a Volkswagen Passat. A new sun sensor was tested, which is located at the base of the rear view mirror behind the windshield. “We then looked at how much Tennet can actually save with our data.” The result was a significant increase compared to a previous test in August 2016.

The sensor is located at the base of the rear view mirror on the windshield.

Kwasny, the project leader, sees Tennet as the ideal partner. As one of four transmission system operators in Germany, Tennet ensures a reliable supply of electricity. This requires that at all times, just as much electricity has to be in the grid as is consumed. To do this, Tennet must rely on feed-in forecasts.

For if electricity traders have procured too little or too much electricity to cover the consumption in their supply area, then consumption and generation are not in balance, which leads to fluctuations in frequency. Tennet compensates for these fluctuations with procured control energy. Therefore, it is important to have the most accurate possible forecasts for solar and wind energy generation. These forecasts are made by using weather data. However, this also means that imprecise weather forecasts can become very expensive. For this very reason, Tennet incurs costs in the double-digit million range for balancing energy every year.

This is why Julia Kwasny is convinced that this cooperation is beneficial for both parties. She is particularly pleased that the various specialist fields are increasingly working together. According to Kwasny, “It will be a significant achievement once the project goes into production.”