Critical infrastructures such as power grids or traffic routes are increasingly characterized by digitalization. This enables systems to be controlled flexibly and efficiently in real time. However, it also makes them more vulnerable to disruptions and attacks, such as cyberattacks.
Whether in the supply of electricity, water or food, in transportation or in healthcare: The functionality of critical infrastructures determines the availability of goods and services that are as everyday as they are vital. Innovative technological developments, such as increasing digitization, enable flexible and decentralized control of supply systems and open up new opportunities, especially for the energy and mobility transition. However, they also increase the vulnerability to disruptions and attacks from outside.
For example, the risk of cyberattacks, in which not only data can be misused but entire systems can be paralyzed, has been increasing for several years. In a decentralized energy system that primarily uses renewable sources, the failure of individual components and fluctuations in electricity feed-in due to time and weather conditions can also jeopardize supply security.
How energy systems and other critical infrastructures can be designed to be sustainable and at the same time resilient is being researched by the working group »Resilient and Smart Infrastructure Systems – RESIS« headed by Dr. Sadeeb Simon Ottenburger and Wolfgang Raskob at the KIT Institute for Thermal Energy Technology and Safety. In addition, RESIS is a member of the CEDIM – Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology of KIT. At Hannover Messe 2022 from May 30 to June 2, the team will be present at the KIT booth in the »Future Hub« (Hall 2, Booth B40). In terms of technical systems, resilience refers to the property of not failing completely even under high loads or despite disruptions, but of maintaining essential functions and soon being fully operational again.
»The planning of future critical infrastructures that is already taking place must systematically take into account new systemic risks and major uncertainties and, in particular, understand negative impacts of single or multiple events on society,« says Ottenburger. In terms of energy supply, for example, this means that with the energy and mobility transition, the power grid will become increasingly important. This in turn depends on information and communication networks. However, it is difficult to predict how the risks arising from new network structures and boundary conditions, such as the consequences of global warming, the population structure or the demand for electricity, heat and transport, will develop in the future. The researchers led by Ottenburger and Raskob are looking into how robust solutions can be found in the face of great uncertainty, with the help of simulation models, artificial intelligence (AI), mathematics and insights from the social and economic sciences.
The RESIS working group develops concepts and methods for the design and operation of smart and adaptive critical infrastructures, especially energy and water supply networks and transport structures. Central to this is a platform that simulates load scenarios under different boundary conditions and thus allows the analysis of interactions between different subsystems and thus systemic risks.
To increase the resilience of the energy supply, for example, microgrids can be integrated, i.e., many small intelligent energy cells that not only fulfill a grid-stabilizing function but also temporarily function autonomously. In this way, critical infrastructures such as hospitals, pharmacies and fire departments can be distributed among various microgrids. Locations and design of storage and distribution infrastructures are among the key factors in ensuring autonomous supply during critical periods. »These preventive design strategies already take effect in the event of a brownout, i.e. a voltage drop, for example due to a lack of power at the transmission grid level, in order to prevent a blackout,« explains Sadeeb Simon Ottenburger.
In addition to technical factors, Ottenburger and Raskob's researchers are increasingly incorporating social aspects into their resilience research. Critical infrastructures depend on the trust of the population; preventive strategies require social acceptance. When resources become scarce, flexibility is required from consumers, for example during a prolonged European blackout, when less electricity can be provided from renewable sources, energy storage facilities become empty, or resources are no longer available due to cyberattacks.