Smart Grids

Fresh light on the energy network of the future

The Dutch electricity network will undergo a major overhaul in the coming years. But until then, many dilemmas have to be confronted. The central question is: should we lay thicker energy cables or should we go for a smart network or ‘smart grid’? An issue full of high-tension involving a variety of actors. The Energy & Industry (E&I) section of the faculty of TPM sheds more light on the matter. 

Our electricity network is continuously in development. On the one hand, there is an increase in decentralised electricity generation through solar panels and wind turbines, which results in an unpredictable supply of electricity. On the other hand, the needs of consumers change as a result of new technologies such as the electric car. Moreover, consumers are increasingly becoming producers themselves. The network must therefore also be able to manage two-way traffic. Together, these developments make network management increasingly more complex. Smart grids can provide the solution.

Smart Grid

Smart grid is the umbrella term used for various technologies for enabling the optimal alignment of supply and demand of electricity. Examples of this include smart energy meters, digitised electricity networks with smart algorithms, and network sensors that monitor the levels and quality of tension. TPM has been researching smart grids for some time now. An example of such a study is ‘Electric transport and the electric infrastructure’. This PhD research is focused on the question of how electric cars can contribute to future sustainable, reliable and affordable energy systems. Meanwhile, the optimum algorithms for charging cars have been defined for all stakeholders. A significant conclusion is that electric cars can fulfil a crucial role in sustainable electricity systems, but that it needs to be considered properly how this potential can be best distributed between the various actors. This will certainly not automatically go smoothly under the present roles and rules. 

Thousands of future scenarios

Agent-based models are a typical TPM research tool also applied to the smart grids theme. By playing with behavioural rules, incentives and market models, for example, many thousands of scenarios can be analysed with this powerful modelling instrument. For smart grids, for example, various price incentives are introduced in order to predict what effect this has on the energy consumption of consumers. But also other policy measures are calculated in the simulation, such as regulatory options, consumer behaviour and electric transportation scenarios. In this way, insight can be gained into the systemeffects of small changes. This adaptive behaviour of complex infrastructure systems can also be found in other sectors, such as transport, ICT and water.


In search of integral solutions for the changing energy market, three faculties at TU Delft joined forces: TPM, EEMCS (Electrical Engineering,  Mathematics and Computer Science) and 3mE (Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering). Together, they started PowerWeb in September 2012. In this programme is research into the necessary technical and ICT aspects and market and governance models for the energy market of the future by means of an integrated approach conducted. The strength of PowerWeb lies in the combination of research in the field of technology, mathematics and economics and regulation/legislation, which results in a substantial degree of synergy. 

TPM: at home on the sociotechnical cutting edge

The electricity network of the future requires new technology and a tiered ICT approach in order to increase the robustness. It is also a socio-technical
system in which producers and consumers engage in the context of free-market processes and statutory regulations. TPM feels completely at home on this cutting edge and has already been carrying out indepth research for a number of years into the added value of flexible, configurable smart grids for the energy market.