What's the secret to healthy, resilient electrical grids? If you don't know, find out

Wed, 2016-02-03 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

With deadlines for ambitious renewable energy goals looming, European utilities know that new technologies and approaches are a necessity. But which ones? Together, they ran a massive, well-orchestrated four-year smart grid test, which is providing some of the blueprints.

The test involved six major European distribution operators — operators that supply more than half of all the electricity on the continent. Council Lead Partner Enel was one. More than two dozen other partners supplied technology, knowledge and other resources.

Some things worked well. Others didn’t. But the project shows the power of bringing partners together, running tests and finding out what works.

Projects find keys to ambitious goals
In barely a decade, Europe plans to get more than a quarter of its energy from renewable sources. It’s just over 15% now. And an interim 20% target is supposed to be achieved by 2020.

GRID4EU, funded by the European Commission, ran six large-scale smart grid demonstration projects in six different countries. The idea was to collect and share practical knowledge that could drive smart grid developments forward.

Areas of focus included renewable energy integration, electric vehicle development, medium- and low-voltage grid automation, energy storage, energy efficiency and customer-drive load reduction efforts.

Making grids smarter and more resilient
Council Associate Partner ABB was involved in half of the six tests. In the Czech Republic, it automated 10 medium- to low-voltage substations. Overall, it found that automation is technically feasible, though it’s more cost effective in medium-voltage substations than low-voltage ones.

In Germany, it developed an autonomous working automation system for medium-voltage, using real-time monitoring and automatic reconfiguration of the grid to avoid overloads and minimize grid losses. It was able to accomplish that without needing a separate Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), which is normally needed for remote monitoring and control applications.

And in Sweden, it deployed more than 100 remote terminal units to improve the monitoring and performance of low-voltage networks. The work gave operators a much more thorough look at the performance of the network resulting in fewer and shorter outages.

Getting customers involved
Council Lead Partner Itron and Associate Partner Siemens were part of the team that helped reduce energy use in Spain by getting customers more involved in conservation. The project gave consumers incentives to conserve along with tools — insight into their energy use — to help them use less.

The utility created customized plans, allowing participating customers to choose the energy usage plan — such as highest use at night or on weekends — that best met their needs. It found that consumers are willing to help. Some 37% of the customers who responded to the initial invitation and met the requirements agreed to participate in the pilot project.

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