Smart distribution grids for more flexibility

Project state
first results
Fractal process automation architecture for smart grids
Fractal process automation architecture for smart grids © Prof. Dr.-Ing. E. Ortjohann, Hochschule Südwestfalen

The overarching project outcome is a generalised description method and automation architecture for electrical energy supply grids. The special feature about it is that it meets the required flexibility, adaptability and sustainability in terms of an evolutionary development process for smart grids. To this end, the researchers want to develop a systematic grid management from the distribution grid level to the device level.

The pending overhaul of the electrical supply systems requires intelligent solutions that have a high level of adaptability, modularity, flexibility, remote maintenance and rollout capability in terms of smart grids and smart markets. In addition, the solutions should be implemented as cost-effectively as possible. A key challenge is to implement service-oriented automation within the distribution grid levels that enable the smart grid and smart market philosophy to be operated in conjunction.

It is therefore important to develop process automation structures that enable the required functionality for the process management to be depicted consistently across all voltage levels. This requires structural methods for describing the electrical supply process which meet the multiple requirements of smart grids at all grid levels. In particular, it should be possible for all stakeholders to participate equally within their technical and economic possibilities in a liberalised market.

This results in the project’s goal of an open, fractal automation architecture that can be depicted in a self-similar manner from the grid control level, via secondary substations and prosumers, as far as the individual electricity generators and storage systems. The same process or automation fractal is used at every level. In summary, the project aims to achieve the following scientific and technical objectives:

  • Verification of a far-reaching structural description of electrical supply processes by means of a generalised process fractal
  • Implementation of the fractal structure description in a fractally organised automation architecture for electrical grids
  • Verification of a dynamic process management using fractally organised automation architecture for the distribution grid level with TSO functionalities (primary, secondary and tertiary control)

At the start of the project it is intended to carry out a general system-based and structural system analysis. For this purpose, pre-selected hardware components will be investigated in terms of their available performance and communication interfaces. This will determine the requirements for technically implementing the fractal automation architecture. In a further step, the requirements for the computer platforms being used shall be specified. Towards the middle of the project period it is planned to accordingly prepare the algorithms and functions at the TSO level (primary, secondary and tertiary control) so that these can be implemented in the process fractals. By means of simulations, these fractal TSO functions will be verified within the process fractals. Finally, it is planned to combine the hardware and software components in a test application for fractal process automation. This test application will realistically depict a distribution grid including the fractal process automation.

iNET-FA² milestones

There are three milestones in the project. The first is concerned with internally reviewing the technical viability. In particular, this technical assessment is aimed at removing potential obstacles at an early stage and developing any necessary alternatives for the implementation as required. 

For the second milestone, the researchers are investigating whether the functions can be implemented using apps and whether they meet the technical requirements. 

Milestone three is the final evaluation concerned with determining the extent to which the project findings can be implemented.

Initial results of the iNET-FA² project

The attainment of milestone 1 has demonstrated that it is essentially possible to implement the project with regard to the desired fractal automation architecture. Following an initial structural analysis of distribution grids and their operating equipment, it was discovered, however, that the current distribution grid infrastructure does not meet the requirements for fractal process management. To this end, a corresponding list of requirements for the necessary operating equipment and infrastructure components has been compiled in a specifications document. Parallel to the work for the hardware platforms being used as automation units, the project partners are assembling corresponding operating equipment (low voltage distribution systems, protective devices, automatisable switching devices, sensors, etc.) for the concluding functional tests with the smart grid simulator and are upgrading them for the fractal automation architecture. In addition, corresponding grid operating scenarios (see Fig. 2) have been developed for the fractal automation architecture.

Grid operation scenarios for the fractal automation architecture © Prof. Dr.-Ing. E. Ortjohann, South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences

With the achievement of milestone 2, the hardware independence of the developed software framework was verified. In addition, TSO functions can be implemented as apps via the software framework. Through corresponding performance tests, the functionality of the apps on the different hardware platforms was also proven. Currently, further apps are being prepared for implementation in the framework and are undergoing corresponding functional tests. In the upcoming work steps, the required communication processes for exchanging information between the individual grid elements within the fractal automation architecture are being further developed and tested.

An overview of the project partners and their tasks

South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences

  • Project co-ordination

  • Development and implementation of the software architecture in consultation with the project partners

  • Further development of the software framework

  • Programming exemplary functional applications in consultation with the partners (asymmetric load flow calculation, depiction of process conditions (traffic light principle), etc.)

  • Testing and implementing the software on the respective platforms

  • Conducting a test operation

  • Validation using a "hardware-in-the-loop" simulation


Sprecher Automation GmbH

  • Development and provision of automation platforms for the local substations

  • Specification of the technical requirements for the field use

  • Specification and development of a secure communication system between the platforms and participants

  • Providing support in specifying the system-appropriate field integration

  • Validating the fractal automation architecture


devboards GmbH

  • Provision of automation platforms for the prosumer level

  • Specification of the technical interfaces for the prosumer area

  • Software application support for the app implementation via remote maintenance

  • Provision of IP cores for the Ethernet-based communications with in-house systems


Westfalen Weser Netz GmbH

  • Provision of the measuring grid for recording the grid state (power quality measurements)

  • Software-based provision of measurements and their connection to the SGCC test platforms for the local substation automation

  • Involvement in processing data for the smart grid data model

  • Involvement in specifying the visualisation requirements from a user's standpoint

  • Usability test



  • Provision of corresponding components from house junction boxes and low-voltage distribution cabinets for demonstration purposes

  • Development of an automated local substation with intelligent sensors (output measurement, short-circuit direction relay, fuse monitoring, etc.) in combination with remote-controllable, low-voltage circuit breakers with fuses

  • Design study for a future-proof local substation and house junction boxes

Project duration

10/2014 – 09/2017


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Egon Ortjohann
Joint project coordinator
Hochschule Südwestfalen
Lübecker Ring 2
59494 Soest, Germany

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