Smart energy challenges will be the focus as some 8,000 utility industry experts gather in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for European Utility Week opening tomorrow and continuing through October 17.

At this year’s event whole new areas of content, including smart cities, renewable integration and energy storage solutions will be covered, whilst extended coverage is also devoted to the key emerging topics of ICT and data management, and grid security. Smart metering, transmission and distribution, and end-user engagement, meanwhile, remain core focus areas.

The event includes 200 industry expert speakers and an international exhibition with more than 350 solution providers. Among the delegates will be representatives from more than 300 leading utilities around the world.

For the first time the event has an overarching theme, ‘Pulling in one direction,’ that provides a central rationale to the presentations and offers added value in helping to shape the smart energy debate.

Challenges to the utility industry
“The challenges to the electricity market are well known,” says Jon Stretch, executive vice president of Landis+Gyr EMEA. “How to transform a system that was built on one-way flows of power from large, centralized power plants to a multi-directional, dynamic electricity supply system where much of the development is going to take place in the distribution network … is going to be very complicated, and the transformation will be neither easy nor quick, but it will come.”

Landis+Gyr and Toshiba are joint platinum sponsors at European Utility Week.

Discussing the pace of developments in Europe, Stretch says he is surprised by the lack of activity over recent years. “We have been waiting for the smart metering ‘wave’ to roll over Europe for the last five years, but it has been excruciatingly slow. There is legislation at the European level in place and the technology is mature and ready to be put in the field, yet the deployments are not taking place. Some of the larger countries are beginning to move, but those deployments have not started. If experience is any guide, there will be more bumps on the road along the way.”

A more ambitious goal – a smarter community
On the other hand, Katsutoshi Toda, chief technology executive of Toshiba Corporation, is pleased with the rapid pace with which smart grid industries and technologies are moving and evolving. He is also pleasantly surprised with the “strong interest and support coming from different industry sectors. The way they express their cooperation and desire for a more efficient energy system is just overwhelming.

“Everyone should be well aware that smart grids will not only contribute to a smarter energy system, they shall also serve as an essential foundations for realizing other goals like smarter transportation, medical and security systems. All these will come together and help us in our far more ambitious goal – a smarter community.”

Network changes needed to meet European targets
As utilities scramble to meet European energy benchmarks in the next several years, they will have to make significant and expensive changes to their networks, particularly as they look to accommodate the rollout of smart grids and renewable energy sources, says Linda Jackman, group vice president industry strategy at Oracle Utilities, gold sponsor at this year's event.

She continues: “The struggle to make the necessary modifications in a cost effective manner is a very present challenge affecting utility providers. In fact, although the scope of these changes has been known for a few years now, there remains a sizeable gap in industry knowledge and IT skills that continues to hinder modernization efforts for the majority of utilities.”

Investment required for grid modernization
According to Mark de Vere White, president electricity at Itron, another gold sponsor at the event, “a key challenge for Europe is to accelerate the investment requirements for grid infrastructure modernization and to enable the transition of markets to support the EU roadmap for creating a sustainable, low carbon energy market.

“According to a recent EU report, investment in the general energy sector is at a historic low. On the upside, resolving this macro challenge will facilitate new markets in energy services and broad demand response solutions, as well as consumer and grid management solutions.”

For more event information, visit european-utility-week.com