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SG HP image2Smart Grid deployment can help achieving EU climate goals, while pushing economic growth and increasing security of energy supply for the years to come. EU policies are going toward this direction, shaping the evolution of the energy system; new possibilities and challenges are rising, stakeholders report says.

A brief look to smart grids and the EU power network

According to an EU definition, the smart grid[1] is an energy network that can automatically monitor energy flows and adjust to changes in energy supply and demand accordingly.It consists of controls, computers, automation, and new technologies and equipment working together.In other words, having to cope with an increasing amount of loads and with the growing complexity of generation, the power network needs a new ICT layer that should simplify and automate most of the actions, while still ensuring high security standards.When coupled with smart metering systems, smart grid reaches consumers, suppliers and those that do both – the so-called prosumers – by providing information on real-time consumption.

The transmission system is already quite “Smart”; it is experiencing high degrees of automation and control, being more system critical due to the much bigger scale of its fail-related outages, comparing to distribution network. MV and (much more) LV networks are far less automated and controlled; moreover, they are being put under pressure by the growing number of small and medium-sized generation units connected to them, such as solar rooftop PV (mostly for LV network) and wind farms (mostly for MV network), threatening the stability of the entire grid.


EU policies and grid evolution: a “push” toward a greener future?

The most probable evolutions of the energy and power systems for the next decade will be the result of a “policy push” related to the impacts of the EU Climate and Energy Union policy framework.Three main drivers are behind the energy policies of the EU: long-term climate goals, security of supply and economic growth.There are inherent conflicts between the goals of this “policy triangle”, but they may be mitigated by means of technological progress as well as smart design of policies and regulatory frameworks.

Recently (January 2017) Grid+Storage[2], a consortium of relevant consultancy firms and stakeholders of the energy sector, delivered a report – “ETIP SNET Research and Innovation Roadmap 2017-2025 (RIR)” – to the ECand the ETIP SNET. It specifically addresses the impacts of the EU policies on the future energy system, in terms of network evolution challenges, research and innovation efforts and expected outcomes.

According to it, all the relevant stakeholders of the electricity value chain are supposed to receive a share of the benefits related to the smart grid deployment: from the end customers, which will have the best compromise between tariffs and quality of service, to market players which will be able to bid more easily, to Transmission and Distribution System Operators that will be able to optimize and better operate the network.

The main issue is how consumers will bear the costs for the investments to be made in the power system. The estimation of the needed resources for the implementation of R&I activities in the decade to come is about 2.6 billion Euro.

Smart Grid: a path of challenges

In order to fully achieve those benefits, there is the need to deeply renovate some of the power network functionality. The report addresses several main points that will challenge system operators in the near future:

  1. New loads resulting from the electrification of the transport sector and the energy efficiency policies in the building sector. The coming of Electric Vehicles[3] and efficient solutions in cooling and heating (e.g. heat pumps), will change the load profiles and probably increase the share of electricity in the overall consumption scheme.
  2. More intermittent generation.An increasing penetration of intermittent renewable generation is expected – mainly PV solar and wind turbines – with little control over spatial location and size. This will require new network infrastructures, such as hardware and software in order to host RES in MV and LV networks, as well as new transmission lines to connect, i.e., wind farms placed far from main consumption centres. Those needs for network reinforcements collide with the ever-reducing acceptance by the general public for overhead lines and this pushes toward partial-to-full undergrounding solutions, which still need more research efforts and raise deployment costs.

Moreover, network reinforcement is slower than the installations of new generation units and loads, forcing network operators to deploy new solutions to operate within suitable security margins. The use of thermal sensors on the transmission lines will help in moving from seasonal, more conservative, capacity ratings to real-time ones. This will push further the operational limits of the grid with less security compromises.

In order to address the challenges brought by this new types of load and generation units, a need for an increasing degree of network flexibility rises.

  1. New links and synergies in the energy system.A promising way to affect the generation curve, with the purpose to better match load requests, is to use several kinds of energy storage devices[4]. The main advantage in using energy storage is given by the possibility of decoupling power generation from usage. This can be achieved using batteries – thus directly storing electrical energy – but also coupling power network with gas and heat networks. This way electricity can be converted into thermal or chemical energy, therefore allowing storage of energy which can be later used to produce again electricity or as a fuel, either for mobility or as a source to produce heat (e.g. power-to-gas[5] schemes). The downside of this process is the round-trip efficiency of conversion, lower than the one related to battery usage.

  2. Full digitalization of transmission and distribution networks with new ICT infrastructures, with their associated software layers.Digitalization of the power network mainly concerns the physical and cyber security of the infrastructures as well as the use of data mining (big data), IoT (Internet of Things) and HPC (High Performance Computing) so as to operate the network closer to its limits. A wide use of sensors placed in grid’s critical points, together with ICT control system architecture taken from industry (i.e. SCADA systems) helps in better managing of assets (i.e. for flexible renewable generation, monitored curtailments can manage unbalances between generation and loads while minimizing energy losses) and plan the future developments.Integration of such architecture with GIS technologies can help in overlapping weather and energy generation forecasting, concerning PV and wind generation, as well as in facilitating maintenance operation and planning or in implementing Vehicle-to-Grid[6] infrastructures.

With the roll-off of two-way communication devices such as smart meters, network operators have to prepare the shift from consumer to prosumer; at the same time, as a result of demand response policies, distributed controllable loads will be available, adding degrees of flexibility to the network. They will be relying on technologies and services for smart homes, providing smart solutions to energy consumers. As a consequence, network operators will have to manage an increasing number of interactions with market players while ensuring adequacy and security.

[1]For further reading on Smart Grid topic: IEA (International Energy Agency) (2009), “Technology Roadmap: Smart Grid”, OECD/IEA, Paris.

[3]See Grid-to-Vehicle and Vehicle-to-Grid, later in this article

[4]Marc Beaudin, HamidrezaZareipour, Anthony Schellenberg,William Rosehart, Energy Storage for Mitigating the Variability of Renewable Electricity Sources, in: Energy storage for smart grids : planning and operation for renewable and variable energy resources (VERs), 2015, Elsevier Inc.

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