By Tahir Kapetanovic and Maher Chebbo

SmartGrids is a European initiative initiated by the European Commission (EC) as a European Technology Platform (ETP) in May 2005 involving 26 Executive Advisory Council members, a European Member States Mirror Group and 4 working groups of more than 200 experts from leading electricity utilities, industry, regulators and academia.

The role of the ETP SmartGrids is to advise the EC on the solution required to achieve European energy policy goals by 2020 and beyond (i.e. 20% less energy consumption, 20% less CO2 emission and 20% renewable energy share by 2020 compared to 1990). To date a vision document and strategic research agenda (SRA) have been delivered, two general assemblies held and more than 15 working group workshops conducted. Putting all the inputs together and looking towards the execution side, the Strategic Deployment Document (SDD) is the next priority deliverable that will be delivered by October 2008.

Strategic Deployment Document
The SDD delivers a clear timeline of actions, recommendations and conclusions to move the SmartGrids vision to reality. The SDD is also both consistent with and reliant upon the recommendations from the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) plan for Europe.

The SmartGrids SDD is intended for a wide audience. It is especially useful for those with a core interest in investing in research, development and deployment of SmartGrids technologies and solutions. The SmartGrids Advisory Council and Mirror Group are convinced that without completion of the activities specified in the SDD, European initiatives in relation to renewables, carbon reduction and efficiency will not yield results.

In order to reach the defined targets, urgent action is required in terms of short term technology deployment and in terms of the medium to long-term research and development. The following 10 key issues identify what this means in reality:

  • NIMBY – or why we need but do not want to see electricity grids: Expansion of grid infrastructure by building new lines is delayed and/or obstructed by different reasons, the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude being the most common one. Solutions for replacement, enforcement and maximisation of the utilisation of the existing infrastructure must therefore be exploited as much as possible, with technologies and methods for that already available and at hand.
  • New planning for new decentralised architectures: “Democratisation” of the electricity networks of the future is best observed in the decentralised, new architectures – to accommodate them, new design and planning tools are needed, relying on heuristics, probabilistic approaches, scenario analyses, etc. Technical solutions are in advanced stages of R&D, with possibly some application research to be completed.
  • Strengthening grid integration for disturbances prevention: Growing physical power flows across borders, intensified trading activities and massive intermittent generation (notably wind) require advanced integration of European transmission grids. To avoid disturbances and large scale supply interruptions, wide area monitoring and control (WAM, WAC) solutions in combination with power electronics to manage the flows should be deployed on a wide scale.
  • Moving offshore when onshore grids become crowded: Large offshore wind farms, and in the future wave and tidal technology-based generation, require coordinated offshore networks to maximise opportunities for interconnection and utilisation of generated electric power.
  • Active users need active grids: User-centric distribution grids of the future will require new active network technology to enable massive deployment and control of industrial and residential generation in combination with demand side participation. Economic solutions for the communication infrastructures envisaged to support these active networks are expected to be major areas of investigation. Further R&D will be required as initial deployment identifies further challenges.
  • Adequate communication for new services and players: New market players will emerge, such as virtual power plant operators, energy management service providers, etc. These new players in turn require major communication infrastructure improvements for data exchanges and technical support services in order to foster accessibility, security and controllability. Further R&D will be required as initial deployment identifies further challenges.
  • Enhanced intelligence for enhanced efficiency: Active demand participation in homes and small businesses will contribute to the efficiency of electricity usage but only if there is coordinated activity between the network, the intelligent gateway (automatic meter infrastructure, AMI), the user and the manufacturers of home appliances and electronic devices. Revenue streams relying on new business, paradigms and opportunities will be required to be in place for such developments to take place, not to mention the technology to achieve it. In this area technology and product R&D is required on a longer term basis.
  • For dispersed generation, dispersed storage is indispensable: The intelligent electricity networks of the future will have a greater share of dispersed and intermittent generation capacity. Existing storage technologies will need to be complemented with new innovative research to find economic and environmentally acceptable solutions.
  • Mobility in the grid for mobility of society: Transport is likely to have a major impact on the SmartGrids, especially at the residential and industrial level. In order to enable the plug-in and hybrid electric cars of the future, network design will need to allow for large, mobile generation and storage possibilities. R&D is required.
  • The long term SmartGrids future starts today: A number of further R&D activities need to be initiated now. To move towards an increasing low carbon economy, European networks will need to evolve to provide support for possible future energy vectors such as hydrogen, carbon credits, taxes and trading, generating buildings integrated with energy distribution, offshore supergrids, massive combination of solar/hydro/wind/wave/tidal generation from Europe and outside. This R&D needs to commence now and in parallel with the deployment of the short term SmartGrids solutions for 2020 in order to reach the 2050 goals.

The SDD provides a number of generic business cases to assist relevant stakeholders in the deployment of SmartGrids. The practical implementation of these business cases will vary dependent on the stakeholder position within the supply chain and on the status of the relevant national and regional contexts. The rewards and benefits will be different for different stakeholders and will need to be assessed on an individual basis.

The six SmartGrids business cases identified for the short term, highest priority deployment by 2020 are:
Business Case #1: Optimising grid operation and usage
Business Case #2: Optimizing grid infrastructure
Business Case #3: Integrating large scale intermittent generation
Business Case #4: Information and communication technology (ICT)
Business Case #5: Active distribution networks
Business Case #6: New market places, users and energy efficiency.

BC#6 is about really bringing the customers in the focus and first line of interest of the SmartGrids. Components of BC#6 are:

Innovative customer interface device as a bidirectional smart communicator between the customers and the market
To enable customer choice in the energy field, it is necessary to develop solutions to increase and optimise the information related to the customer’s energy consumption, improving the interaction among different customers and market players.

This device shall be able to provide the relevant energy information stored in digital or electronic meters to stimulate consciousness and generate a virtuous new behaviour toward energy savings, increasing end-users energy efficiency. The device can also work as “energy data provider” for all the smart appliances installed in house, in order to enable load management services.

Smart energy management for distributed generation and demand side response
Effective integration of storage and demand response capacity through distributed control compared to a voluntary customer participation management is needed in order to provide a decision model for the best investment use to modify the demand.

Verification of the potential demand profile shaping is necessary through the integration of smart and communicated controls in different loads and appliances and related to the storage capacity linked with distributed generation elements.

Intelligent smart home controller
Providing information on patterns, behaviour, comparison, etc., the controller is useful for raising awareness of energy consumption and significance and fostering efforts towards real energy conservation and savings.

The controller will represent the control point and counterpart to smart meters (distributors’ energy management control). Advanced energy information can be achieved as additional services from the distributor or energy provider through the electricity wire internet or GSM/mobile communications.

The customers’ active role will be focused on in setting the rules and priorities of energy usage in respect of availability and cost (distributed vs centralised generation, appliance activation vs real time pricing, emergency management vs lack of supply, etc.) while the daily operations (information and communication) will be managed automatically by the smart home controller.

Implementing the proposed recommendations will require a paradigm shift in the wider role and functionality of the electricity networks, and their interaction with network users, especially electricity consumers, and the expected massive new in-feeds of electricity into today’s distribution networks

Barriers are essentially not component related or technological. Rather they have their origins in the very high system complexity, the fact that the system has worked well for decades under monopolistic regimes, in traditional national and local thinking patterns and cultural differences, and in missing answers to questions such as how to establish an adequate regulatory framework that will support sustainability, ensure efficiency and foster security of supply. These issues must be addressed while searching for the most effective and advantageous deployment of the technical solutions needed.

Moving forward, it is proposed that a SmartGrids Association or Forum be formed with members representing the stakeholder community interested in ensuring the aims of the Vision, SRA and SDD are achieved. Further, the formation of a joint technology initiative will be reviewed to allow members of the association to enter into a vehicle that will allow public/private funding of particular projects.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author and not of E-Control

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