Really smart internships

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Looking for an internship in the energy and engineering sectors? Especially in the ‘smart’ energy of the future? Want to really learn and challenge yourself, not just do admin? Then, let me tell you about my ‘smart’ internship experience at Lahmeyer International.

Making grids smart

Since my internship began in 2018, I’ve been working in the Energy Economics and Planning Department. Although I work on lots of different projects, I’m mostly focused on supporting Lahmeyer’s working group on smart grids. The group is currently developing a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) methodology for smart grids. It should become the foundation for all Lahmeyer’s future projects in this fast-growing area.

Cost-benefit analysis

With a cost-benefit analysis, we’re trying to determine if a project´s benefits outweigh the costs. Benefits can be short- or long-term with monetary and non-monetary benefits. Direct benefits, for example, could be achieved through electricity savings. In-direct benefits could be realised with future applications that create efficiencies, for instance, by reducing the need for expensive line expansions.

We frequently need to evaluate non-monetary benefits, turning them into monetary units with certain parameters and variables. One such parameter is the Net Present Value (NPV), which indicates if the project can have a positive monetary value.

Carbon costs are one variable that could influence this parameter. By estimating the carbon costs against the conventional energy savings from smart grids, we can get an approximate value for this specific benefit.

A tough challenge

Identifying the benefits themselves is a tough challenge. Many are not obvious due to the long value-chain, mitigation factors, long-term impacts and more.

We can compile a list of likely benefits, but the broadness of this field makes it difficult to narrow valid benefits down to a select few. This is because smart grids can mean different things in different contexts. It can involve monitoring measurement units at several points in the grid. But it can also mean remote control of different assets in the network among many other applications. Consequently, we have to investigate functionalities and their benefits in many different applications.

As an emerging technology, there are few existing reports available for us to rely on, especially at the distribution network level. This makes it even more important to compile a useful CBA methodology with a list of appropriate benefits, parameters, variables and so on for future projects.

The next step is to identify key variables with the highest impact on parameters vital to the project’s success. This ‘sensitivity analysis’ is designed to reduce risks. Since smart grids remain a relatively new technology, they have not benefited from the many sensitivity analyses completed for other technologies. This knowledge gap requires that we work extra hard to prepare for unexpected changes and work closely with energy economists in advance.

When the cost-benefit analysis methodology is complete, we gain crucial insights into the business case and overall risks for smart grid projects. Given the huge applications for smart grids and their great potential for our energy future, this information is truly vital for the technology’s success.

A thrilling opportunity

Not many interns in our industry get to work at this level and in such innovative areas. I’m thrilled to have had this opportunity.

I’m also thrilled to have worked in other exciting areas beyond smart grids. My diverse project work has helped me to develop relationships with people throughout the company and expand my knowledge of the industry.

I’m even clearer today than when I arrived at Lahmeyer that I want to be part of the smart energy revolution. I definitely plan to continue my studies in this area too.

Thanks to all my colleagues who have supported me with my bachelor thesis and mentored me along the way.

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