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Mr Jacobsen, How Can Smartphones Influence the Energy Transition

Anyone who wants to can take part in Hans-Arno Jacobsen’s research project – all you need is a smartphone. Hundreds of volunteers around the world are already busy taking photos of wind turbines, solar plants, transformer stations and power lines. The aim of this crowdsourcing project: a global map of the world’s electricity grids.

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  • Text: Kristin Hüttmann
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Professor Dr Hans-Arno Jacobsen is an Alexander von Humboldt Professor at the Technical University of Munich.


Hans-Arno Jacobsen

With their OpenGridMap app, Jacobsen and his colleague José Rivera have created a planning tool for the energy transition and want to use it to deliver previously missing data on the global electrical infrastructure. “There are hardly any open data on power networks around the world or, if there are, they are not being released,” says Jacobsen. The Munich researchers want to change all that.

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To do so, they are banking on the enthusiasm of citizen researchersworldwide who are using their smartphones with the OpenGridMap app to take photos of transformer stations and wind turbines and send them together with their exact locations to the server of the Technical University of Munich. Rivera and Jacobsen then analyse and evaluate the data and upload them onto the digital mapping system OpenStreet- Map. The computer scientists use these data to calculate models which enable them to draw inferences about power consumption, current flow, over- and undercapacity. 

“You can only plan to remodel power supply if you know precisely where the power lines are and where to find the transformers that do the job of changing high-voltage electricity into low voltage and feedingit into the grid,” says Jacobsen. “For this we need an open map of power grids, and everyone can help us make it.”

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