Europe smart grids
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Europe electricity sharig algorithmThe algorithm that integrates the European Union's common electricity power market could trigger blackouts, according to IEEE's power blog Spectrum.

The software update that will allow electricity to flow across European borders is believed to contain a flaw that could see blackouts in European countries like Belgium, which has struggled with nuclear reactor shutdowns, reports the blog.

Peter Fairley, writer of the IEEE Spectrum blog, said that Europe’s market integration relies on software called the Pan-European Hybrid Electricity Market Integration Algorithm, or Euphemia, which crunches every buy and sell bid submitted to participating national and regional day-ahead power markets.

Euphemia works by matching up buy and sell bids that make optimal use of available transmission capacity and meet total power demand at the lowest overall cost.

Mr Fairley said: "In theory, such so-called flow-based coupling of the markets should boost security of supply across Europe.

"However, flow-based optimization has a glitch: it occasionally leads to what economists call non-intuitive trading. For example, a state with the market’s most expensive power supplies might nevertheless be approved to export power, or vice versa."

Fairley cites an example of how in early 2014 Europe’s transmission system operators (TSO) approved a simple work-around that was to go live last November.

Euphemia’s software engineers programmed in a patch to the trades approved by its optimization and drop any that were non-intuitive.

Then Belgium saw three reactors go out of service in rapid succession, knocking out one-third of the nation’s firm domestic power capacity.

Fairley said: "The context for the automated market system changed almost overnight."

Belgium demands new algorithm

The shutdown of Belgium’s reactor left the country dependent on power imports, and "nervous" about the flow-based upgrade and its work-around.

Earlier this month, Belgium’s power regulator made it clear that they want further improvements to the software to prevent Euphemia leaving the country short of power.

Annemarie De Vreese, spokesperson for Belgium's energy regulator, the Commission de Régulation de l'Électricité et du Gaz, said: “Scenarios considered to be highly improbable when the project started 5 to 7 years ago have now become realistic. We felt that it was necessary to reevaluate the algorithm. They will have to develop a new patch.” 

European regulators fear instability

According to De Vreese, the tweaks required to make flow-based optimization safe for tight markets could be fairly straightforward. She expects a proposed fix to be available for review next month.

She says that other regulators, including those in Germany and France, recognize that their states also face a future with less firm domestic power generation with Germany phasing out nuclear reactors and France increasing its percentage of power from renewable energy sources.

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