The term ‘smart grid’ describes the use of information technology to improve the electricity transmission system—in particular by making it more efficient. Today, many utilities rely on power stations with over-sized generating capacity to handle peak loads. Smart grids exploit new hard- and software to better match electricity supply with fluctuating electricity demand.
But what really gets some proponents of the smart grid so electrified is its potential to support renewable energy sources, which are often decentralised and have irregular output. Tying them into the grid without jeopardising secure electricity supply will require an amount of flexibility that only smart technology can offer.
No country would benefit more from such a system than Greece, whose many isolated islands make penetration of RES difficult.
For the past few years, the Network of Sustainable Aegean Islands (DAFNI) and the Aegean Energy Agency has been part of a project for smart grids in five Aegean islands: Lesbos, Limnos, Santorini, Milos and Kythnos. The project, financed by the European Commission via the European Investment Bank (ELENA facility), will be implemented by the Hellenic Public Power Corporation. Thousands of smart metering systems will be installed along with energy control centers and other technologies.
According to Ilias Efthymiopoulos, DAFNI’s coordinator, the goal is to provide these islands with reliable and advanced technological tools in order to maximise their indigenous renewable energy potential: ‘managing the demand and adapting consumer behaviour towards the availability of clean local energy resources is equivalent to a new civil revolution. Local authorities from European cities and islands could be the pioneers.’
As electric vehicles proliferate, new demands will be placed on the grid. But this will also open up new storage capacity to the network from which a more dispersed model for distributed generation will emerge.
Many stand to benefit from a smarter electrical grid, according to Efthymiopoulos. This includes the following stakeholders:
In coming years, users’ expectations will broaden. They will expect connections for in-house generation, the ability to sell surplus generation back to the grid, real time tariffs and the freedom to choose their suppliers.
As the energy system becomes decentralized, the role of local and regional authorities will become increasingly important. Local energy companies, public-private partnerships and renewable energy cooperatives will be among the first beneficiaries of this new power generation.
Energy service companies
Cost efficiencies and savings will need to be made visible in monetary terms. In general, a trend will be observed from the present ‘infrastructure-driven’ model to a progressive ‘service-driven’ model in the European electricity supply industry.
Significant technology and business changes lie ahead and equipment manufacturers will be important players in developing innovative solutions for grid companies. A shared vision—between grid companies and technology providers—will be critical to ensure sound strategic developments that provide open access, long-term value and integration with existing infrastructure.
The research community has a critical role to play: without research there is no innovation and without innovation there is no development. Cooperation among universities and research centres, utilities, manufacturers, regulators and legislators must be fostered, not only for the successful development of new technologies but also to overcome non-technical barriers.