Skip to Content
Whenever a fault occurs in a state-of-the-art power grid, the system’s automatic defenses need to go into action literally faster than lightning. Safety devices shut down defective grid segments within 20 milliseconds in order to prevent damage to the network and its transformers. Dr. Götz Neumann has invented a technique that enables the modules of a cutoff device to engage in well under a millisecond.
Whenever a fault occurs in a state-of-the-art power grid, the system’s automatic defenses need to go into action literally faster than lightning: Today’s safety devices shut down defective grid segments within 20 milliseconds in order to prevent damage to the network and its transformers. Dr. Götz Neumann (56) has invented a technique that enables the various modules of a cut-off device to engage completely time-synchronously in well under a millisecond.
Recent power outages that temporarily shut down economic activity in entire regions illustrate just how important it is to have stable power grids. Electricity consumption has been rising for years and grid operators have their hands full adjusting infrastructure to meet the new requirements. Coordination within a grid has become a much more complex matter now that an increasing amount of energy is being channeled in from distributed sources, especially wind farms and solar facilities. Fluctuating loads need to be managed and voltage must be held constant in the distribution network in order to ensure grid stability. Grid operators are therefore using automation technology to gradually transform outdated power networks into smart grids.
These efforts require state-of-the-art grid protection and control technologies, whose development and production have been part of Siemens’ core business from the very beginning. Neumann was trained as an electrician in the former East Germany, where he also studied electrical engineering at Leipzig University of Applied Sciences. After obtaining a doctorate, he began his career in 1984 at the VEB Starkstromanlagenbau company in Leipzig. This state-run firm had been a part of Siemens before the Second World War and was reacquired by the company following German reunification. Neumann gained initial experience with the free-market economy at a small company, before joining the staff at Siemens’ meter production facility in Berlin in 1991 as a developer and programmer for station and control technology. “Using software to bring technology to life has always fascinated me,” Neumann explains.
There was never a lack of new challenges for him at Siemens, either. At the beginning of 2000, for example, the new IEC 61850 international standard for energy distribution devices went into effect, and Neumann played a major role in its development as a Siemens representative on the standardization committee. He enjoys looking back on this period: “It was very interesting to work with people from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the standard has been a complete success since it was introduced.” The devices built on the basis of the standard are now compatible with one another in every country, regardless of the manufacturer. Neumann’s job at Siemens was to develop communication modules that work with the new standard. “That was a huge technological challenge,” he recalls.
After the first successful prototypes were completed, Neumann turned his attention in 2005 to the communication and safety technology in the devices, serving as a system architect. More than anything else, it is essential that the automation technology operates more rapidly than previously in order to meet the stringent requirements of smart grids. The algorithms responsible for continually measuring current and voltage at specific points in the grid need to be able to identify any errors in the values within a few milliseconds. Once a deviation has been detected, a command to shut down must be sent out just as fast in order to prevent damage to the infrastructure. This only works if the various processes embedded in a protection or control device operate in a completely time-synchronized manner. Neumann developed a method for switching modules inside a protection device synchronously, and his technique is faster and more reliable than conventional processes. It also offers the benefit of ensuring that a device is time-synchronized and therefore operable very quickly after being started up. “In this business, quick means less than ten milliseconds,” Neumann explains. To date, his work has resulted in 33 inventions and 17 approved patents in 18 trademark groups.
Neumann also likes to spend his free time creating new things and developing solutions. Building a house and completely fitting it with an electrical system is no problem for him, for example. He also enjoys reading history books, especially those about industrial history, and on the weekends he tends his vegetable garden at his parents’ house near Leipzig.