By Mariusz Swora

The Republic of Poland, as a European Union member state, is obliged to follow EU legal standards, which – among other things – impose certain responsibilities with regard to smart grid and smart metering development. 

To be able to describe the Polish approach to smart grid implementation, including smart metering infrastructure, it is necessary first to briefly outline the characteristics of the country’s electricity market, as this is particularly important regarding the technical and financial assessment of smart grid project feasibility. There are two unbundled transmission system operators (TSOs) for electricity and natural gas (PSE Operator SA and Gaz System SA), side by side with 14 electricity distribution system operators (DSOs) and six gas DSOs. The DSOs are legally unbundled, but they operate within the frame of greater, consolidated energy companies. Such a fragmented structure is not conducive to the adoption of uniform practices and it does not lend itself to simple application of successful European smart metering projects, especially with regard to benefit and cost structure (e.g. that of ENEL in Italy).

The attractiveness of the Polish market in the context of smart metering is defined in terms of the number of end users, most of whom still use passive induction meters (13.5 million households, 2.5 million industrial customers). Yet, Poland’s ambitious goal is to assume the role of a local leader and stimulate efforts towards the development of smart grids in other Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, including those that are not EU members.

Dynamic promotion of the concept of smart grid implementation in Poland was initiated with the presentation of an initial smart metering feasibility study prepared for the energy regulator and announced in December 2008, i.e. prior to the adoption of the EU 3rd Package. The cost of AMM metering equipment replacement was defined in the study with regard to users from groups C1 and G (small businesses and households) and amounted to €1.9 billion.

Another milestone in the promotion of the concept was the declaration concerning the introduction of smart metering into the Polish power system, adopted in June 2009 by the regulator and consumer organisations. The declaration called for a smart metering implementation, underlining the potential advantages for end users, the overall market and the regulator. It is important to highlight this consumer connection with the smart metering initiative, given its focus on end users’ welfare. Several dozen public and private organisations have supported the declaration, including the EU Energy Commissioner, ministers, scientific institutes, think tanks, etc.

The regulator, who assumed the responsibility for smart grid promotion, arranged a conference in the Polish Sejm, in cooperation with members of parliament, during which it was declared that a legal framework for smart grid should be promptly adopted, and a national smart grid platform should be set up. The TSO, PSE Operator SA, participated in the conference and committed to a smart grid deadline of 2015. Currently, PSE Operator SA is involved in smart grid research and development, in cooperation with partners from the industrial and scientific communities, including Vatenfall, Wroclaw University of Technology and the Polish Chamber of Commerce for High Technology.

One of the reasons driving the Polish TSO decision to get involved in smart metering and smart grid issues is the potential offered by this technology in the area of power system management, including – through demand side management and demand response tools – optimisation of development and current operation, as well as blackout prevention. One interesting theme in the work of PSE Operator is the “smart region” concept, which goes beyond the “smart city” approach.

The status of pilot projects initiated at DSO level, in both gas and electricity, is varied. For example, one of the major DSOs, Energa – Operator SA, has launched a pilot project in several locations with 3,000 meters as at the end of 2009 and the ultimate target of 13,000 individual user meters. Energa is also conducting a project on joint meter readings with a gas DSO. Other DSOs have declared involvement in smaller scale pilots.

It is a responsibility of the government to create favourable conditions for the development of a smart grid in Poland. At present, the key challenges that need to be addressed are the adoption of a detailed timeline for universal rollout, and standardisation. With regard to vulnerable consumer protection, according to existing legislative proposals such consumers should be equipped with prepaid meters on a compulsory basis. The smart grid will also be regulated by other legal provisions, to be adopted by the parliament this year. Furthermore, under the auspices of public administration and the TSOs, the concept of a smart grid national platform and a website dedicated to smart grid information exchange is being developed.

In summary, Poland is taking dynamic steps towards smart grid introduction and universal rollout. The regulatory and consumer-based background to the initiative, which reflects hopes related to the implementation, seems to be an important feature of the project. Taking into consideration a relatively early stage of development, side by side with geographical and technical fragmentation of ongoing projects, year 2015 appears to be an ambitious, yet attainable, goal for the smart grid.

Assuming the role of regional leader with regard to smart grid development is certainly much more challenging. Nevertheless, we are determined to face this challenge and adopt the role of an attractive place to start for all those who want to launch their smart grid businesses in other countries in the CEE region.