Commission ideas on smart grids draw mixed reactions
By Dafydd ab Iago | Tuesday 12 April 2011
The European Commission presented, on 12 April, its ideas on how to push smart grids forward. The communication focuses on developing common EU-level technical standards so as to provide interoperability of different systems. Officials hope that a first set of smart grid standards could be in place by the end of 2012. The Commission also talks of ensuring the highest level of data protection for consumers and grid operators. Data protection safeguards must be defined before systems are developed, says the communication. Additionally, the Commission requests that members states produce action plans with targets for smart grid implementation. Other points on the executive’s programme include guaranteeing transparency and competitiveness of the retail market. There should be minimum requirements on information provision for customers in a revised Energy Services Directive, due this summer. The Commission further boasts of promoting technological innovation. Over the last decade, the EU has spent about €300 million out of over €5.5 billion invested in some 300 smart grid projects. Still in 2011, the Commission will propose new large-scale smart grid demonstration initiatives on research and development projects for modern electricity networks. The Commission will also launch, in the “coming months,” an industrial initiative on smart cities and communities.
Whilst welcoming the measures laid out in the communication, John Harris, vice-president at Landis+Gyr, a leading smart metering company, said it is time for action. “Smart metering is the essential first step toward the development of the smart grid,” he said. Despite smart metering requirements in the third energy liberalisation package, Harris does not currently see the necessary level of investment in Europe. “It is good that the Commission has identified some of the problems and will, hopefully, begin to tackle them in a robust manner,” said Harris. He would like to see, in addition to the implementation plans for smart metering, more work on regulatory incentives and national action plans for smart grid deployment with concrete, ambitious and obligatory targets.
Another company that stands to gain is Schneider Electric. “We hope the European Commission will focus its effort on the development of demand response schemes across Europe as it is a practical and efficient way to implement smart grids and smart metering,” said Schneider Electric’s Guy Dufraisse. “It is a practical and efficient way to implement smart grids.” Demand response would, in theory, allow rewards for consumers that offer megawatts to the grid at peak time instead of using more power plants that have a negative carbon impact.
“It is indispensable that smart meters are user-friendly and that consumers receive clear explanations on how to make full use of this tool,” said Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, the European consumers’ organisation. “Smart meters will also supply energy suppliers with a truckload of personal data. It is therefore essential that consumers’ data are protected and that privacy and security measures are in place,” she added. BEUC also wants to avoid that customers are alone bearing the costs of rolling out smart meters in Europe.
Smart grids employ intelligent monitoring, control, communication and ‘self-healing’ technologies so as to better facilitate connection and operation of generators of all sizes and technologies. Via smart meters, they also allow consumers to play a part in optimising system operations. Consumers receive greater information and options on how they use their supply. All this should, says the Commission, significantly reduce the environmental impact of the electricity supply system. Other benefits listed in the Commission’s staff document include maintaining or even improving system reliability, quality as well as security of supply. Smart grids would also foster market integration at European level, itself seen as essential in integrating renewables.