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envelio: Intelligent software for power grid planning

Wind turbines with abstract graphic elements
Supporting the energy transition with a software assistance system: envelio’s solution digitalizes and automates grid planning and operations management
 

In this article you will read about,

  • how envelio's software digitalizes and automates power grid planning processes
  • why envelio prefers to offer its solution as software as a service from the Open Telekom Cloud
  • how the startup uses the infrastructure of the Open Telekom Cloud for its own IT systems

 

Around 900 regional distribution network operators in Germany purchase electricity from the major transmission system operators and distribute it to end customers. The distribution network operators handle requests from project developers for renewable energy plants such as wind farms and solar plants as well as those from energy companies or private households. Then it is a matter of checking whether the grid at the point where a new installation is to be built has any capacity at all for additional energy.

Image Founder team of envelio (5 Men)

"The existing processes of distribution network operators are not designed for the integration of many new installations. These are also becoming increasingly complex and connected to the grid at high power, such as charging stations for electric vehicles or wind turbines from energy suppliers," says Dr. Philipp Erlinghagen, co-founder and Vice President Product of the Cologne-based energy software startup envelio, which was founded in April 2017 as a spin-off of RWTH Aachen University. "The necessary data is spread across many different software systems – it can take days to manually pull it out of the systems to, for example, answer a request for a new grid connection." However, the large distribution network operators in particular have to process several thousand such requests each year. This number will continue to rise in the future in order to be able to achieve the EU and federal government’s climate targets, and is currently the central bottleneck to a successful energy transition.

Automate and accelerate processes

Until now, there has been no central place where all the information about the power grid is available and accessible. This is where envelio's Intelligent Grid Platform (IGP) comes in: The IGP maps the existing power grid through a digital twin that collects and makes available the most important technical information for the grid management, including: Which cables have been laid? How many customers are already connected to the grid? Which customers operate which installations?

On the basis of this data, the IGP assistance system can derive targeted recommendations for action – such as expanding the grid or installing batteries as buffers. "You have to take into account, for example, that cables are designed for limited power capacities and grids have voltage caps. At the same time, there is a mandatory minimum standard that must reach households and other consumers, because some devices fail to work when the power quality is poor," Erlinghagen explains. With the help of the IGP tool, the network planning and operations management processes can be automated and accelerated considerably – and thus also relieving the burden on employees.

Digital electricity grids for the energy transition

The issue, however, is that not every network operator uses the same systems. So how can the many different data sources be evaluated and usable information drawn from them? "We had to build numerous interfaces to the systems used in each case and develop algorithms that identify data errors. This is because the existing data quality is often insufficient, and such large volumes of data cannot be analyzed manually," explains Erlinghagen. With the help of an algorithm, it’s possible, for example, to quickly determine which type of cable has been installed at a certain point in the network and where it is to be located geographically.

Of the approximately 900 distribution network operators in Germany, the majority are small municipal providers, but there are also about 150 companies whose size predestines them to use IGP. About one in seven of them already uses envelio's software as a distribution platform for their network. The largest domestic customers of envelio are Westnetz and E.DIS AG, both of which belong to the German energy group E.ON. In many other countries, however, only a few large distribution network operators share the market. For example, envelio's international customers include a subsidiary of the Brazilian energy provider Enel, Portugal's EDP, one of Europe's largest energy suppliers, and Sweden's largest distribution network operator Vattenfall Eldistribution. 

High scalability with cloud computing

Since 2018, envelio has been using the Open Telekom Cloud in order to make the IPG solution available to its customers as software as a service (SaaS): "We became aware of the Open Telekom Cloud’s scalable infrastructure solutions through Telekom's TechBoost startup program," says Erlinghagen. The solutions from hosting providers that it had been using up to that point had proven to be too rigid and too static for envelio. Furthermore, in contrast to the Open Telekom Cloud, they did not offer any scaling options for putting together dedicated infrastructures of their own with more CPU cores or more RAM and providing automatic scaling based on Kubernetes.

Secure cloud location

Erlinghagen also sees the fact that the Open Telekom Cloud is operated in Germany as one of its major advantages. "As a German startup, we benefit greatly from the fact that Telekom provides our platform as a SaaS solution. That's a clear selling point – not least because our German customers have to comply with the legal requirement that their data must not leave Germany." Alternatively, envelio also offers its customers an on-premise installation of the IGP. "We always recommend hosting in the Open Telekom Cloud, as it is the most secure, fastest, and cost-effective way to run the IGP," says Erlinghagen. For each SaaS customer, envelio sets up an IPG cluster in the Open Telekom Cloud and provides computing power. Right now, envelio is using Elastic Cloud Server (ECS) platforms and load balancers for the IGP, and disaster recovery will be added.

Things won’t stop there: The startup has also begun to outsource most of its own IT systems to the Open Telekom Cloud. This is already being used as a backup and is to be set up as a failover site for the hardware used at envelio with a corresponding redundancy strategy. "We can transfer the internally hosted services that are important for our company to the Open Telekom Cloud securely and in compliance with the applicable standards and regulations," says Erlinghagen.

Open cloud architecture and comprehensive support

From envelio's point of view, the Open Telekom Cloud infrastructure offers the best conditions for hosting both its own systems and customer applications: "There is no lock-in mechanism that locks users into the Open Telekom Cloud. Thanks to the high scalability and openness of the cloud architecture, we have the option of further expanding systems in the Open Telekom Cloud," explains Erlinghagen.

And it’s also important to mention Telekom's technical support. "We feel we are in much better hands with Telekom than with our previous provider," says Erlinghagen. "Although we are still a fairly small company, the maintenance is intensive and the support is excellent." As a result, envelio increasingly advises its customers to go to the Open Telekom Cloud, "because it is the most secure and efficient way to use our Intelligent Grid Platform and drive the energy transition forward."


 

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