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GRID4EU's smart grid lessons for the world

As utilities prepare for increasing renewable energy, GRID4EU offers valuable lessons.

As the GRID4EU project nears completion in early 2016, it is already offering valuable lessons to utilities around the world on how to prepare for a future in which renewables will play an ever-greater role.

Established in November 2011, GRID4EU is a 51-month program that aims to experiment and test smart grid technologies and approaches. Designed in response to a call for projects from the European Commission, the project lays the groundwork for the development of tomorrow's electricity grids. The project brings together six European distribution system operators (DSOs)—CEZ in the Czech Republic, ENEL in Italy, ERDF in France, Iberdrola in Spain, RWE in Germany and Vattenfall in Sweden—along with equipment manufacturers, system integrators, universities and research centers. GRID4EU has experimented with a variety of solutions to develop the smart grid of the future that will help maintain consumers’ reliable access to power, as supply from intermittent renewable energy sources increases. A particular focus for GRID4EU has been to analyse the feasibility of different smart grid solutions for replication at scale.

One example of GRID4EU’s success and promise for the future was carried out by ERDF on the French Riviera in Nice, one of the sunniest parts of the country. Like other demand-response programs, over the winter months this project seeks to curb consumer power use during peak times. However, in the summer, the amount of daily sunlight on the Riviera creates quite the opposite challenge in the low-voltage grid: how to encourage greater power consumption at times of excess production from solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The trial has successfully demonstrated that a combination of grid batteries, thermal storage, on-load tap changers at secondary substations and commitment of customers can efficiently keep the grid in balance during very sunny times.

During high PV generation time, the following three innovative summer offers were tested during the 40 sunniest days of the summer, from 2013 to 2015:

  • The solar bonus consists of proposing extra off-peak hours between noon and 4 PM to maximize the consumption during the sunniest times. When generation peaks during the day, participating consumers receive a signal by SMS or email, encouraging them to run energy-intensive appliances such as washing machines.

  • The Smart Water Tank consists of a remotely-controlled water heater switched on between noon and 4 PM to maximize the consumption during the sunniest times. Customers benefitting from this offer also benefit from extra off-peak hours and are alerted by SMS.

  • The Smart Storage equipping customers with remotely controlled residential batteries, running these batteries between noon and 4 PM to maximize the consumption during the sunniest times.

Additionally, industrial customers included in the trial also received messages at times of excess power production. For example, one local coffee-roasting company—which needs to operate energy-hungry ovens to dry coffee beans—was able to turn on its drying ovens during times of peak generation, which in turn helps manage the excess capacity, and enables the business to consumer power at a lower cost.

While the project’s final findings are still to be fully realized, as GRID4EU comes to a close in early 2016, results to date have been extremely encouraging. For example, trials like ERDF’s demand-response project in Nice have shown that the introduction of flexibilities—such as storage at different levels in the grid, OLTC, industrial and residential loads, and others—would enable the smart grid to better serve a substantial population—in this case more than 11,500 consumers. GRID4EU also intends to bring to the table innovative turnkey solutions to address increasingly more widespread grid challenges—in this case the rapid increase of distributed generation in Southern Europe.

One of the most valuable lessons from the project has been the deep understanding of designing and integrating the elements that make up smart grid technologies and solutions. This understanding could prove particularly valuable for utilities in regions preparing for their own smart grid deployments. GRID4EU highlights that to succeed, grid design must anticipate the likely significant increase in renewables that will take place over time. Designing and building a grid solely for current generation capacity could prove costly, as retrofitting renewables integration will be technically complex, time-consuming and expensive.

Meetings between GRID4EU representatives and high-level delegates from energy ministers of countries with clear potential for extensive PV installations, such as India and Mexico, have highlighted this need to approach grid design with future renewables capacity in mind, rather than focusing solely on current or short-term challenges. To help facilitate the replication of the project’s novel approaches, GRID4EU will be providing a set of scaling-up and replication rules at the end of the project. These rules could enable other countries and utilities to overcome barriers represented by the specific boundary conditions where the six GRID4EU experimentations have taken place.

The final event for GRID4EU will take in Paris on January 19, 2016. At the conclusion of this innovative project, the recurring theme remains: smart grids must be designed for tomorrow, as well as today. It is a theme that will be enhanced by the conveyance of project deliverables and will help facilitate worldwide adoption of the most promising solutions tested.