Six months have passed since the Copenhagen Climate Conference ended in an agreement that was distinctly weaker than many people had hoped. However, a week or so ago the EU took a significant step towards recapturing the leadership in efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
This took place in Madrid, where the EU was united about comprehensive financial investments under what is known as the SET plan (the Strategic Energy Technology Plan).
Sweden will look after the issues concerning smart electricity grids. Vattenfall and ABB are already working with KTH (the Royal Institute of Technology) and Uppsala University under the aegis of InnoEnergy, tasked with developing and commercialising the technology.
As the representatives of two of Europe's leading companies in the energy sector, we will work jointly to implement this initiative. One of the first steps on this path is a joint investment in a large demonstration project for smart electricity grids on the Swedish island of Gotland.
With a modern electricity grid, the whole electrical system can be used more efficiently. This covers everything from feeding in small scale power generation to the electricity grid, to automatically switching electricity use to low electricity price periods, thanks to “smart” technical equipment installed in consumers’ homes. This means that the energy can be used more efficiently, emissions are reduced, capacity peaks are easier to handle, and the security of supply can be increased. This also provides far more opportunities for electricity consumers to make individual choices that are both environmentally right and beneficial as regards the cost of electricity.
Vattenfall and ABB are major players in the European energy sector. We both played an active part in the electrification of Sweden during the 1900. Thanks to the skills available in the companies, we were able to develop hydro power, nuclear power, the high-voltage network/transmission grid and other world-leading technologies.
It is therefore only natural for us to take specific steps to achieve the long-term objective of converting our existing energy system to a sustainable energy system. The launch of the SET plan by the Commission is an important step, and we have signed up for it by forming and actively developing the European Electricity Grid Initiative and by taking a leading role in smart electricity grids in InnoEnergy, the EU’s spearhead initiative.
Vattenfall and ABB are planning a unique large-scale demonstration of most of the currently known technologies in one and the same place – Gotland. Gotland has all the right conditions for Smart Grids. The island is large enough for a worthwhile investment, but is also a clearly delineated area.
Gotland could become a pilot plant, attracting interest from across the EU and demonstrating tomorrow's solutions. It would be the electricity grid's equivalents to Turning Torso (a skyscraper in Malmö), the Öresund Bridge, Hammarby Sjöstad and other revolutionary construction projects.
A Swedish investment in Smart Grids is also important in order to secure Sweden's future as a pioneering country in power technology and efficient energy use. These days, many other countries are investing in the development of Smart Grids. That is why it is important for all the players in Sweden to work together, so that we do not fall behind. If we want to count on future export earnings, keeping up with the others is not enough – we must be at the leading edge.
Particularly for households and companies who alternately consume or generate electricity, the regulatory framework must be much simpler than it is for large suppliers. This is important in order to preserve and improve the security of supply, even for the last stretch out to the customer. We also urgently need clarification about the future regulatory framework about hourly metering of electricity usage through modern electricity meters. The plans for Gotland give us a chance to test the connection between customers and balance providers. If we delay adapting the regulatory framework that covers the Swedish electricity market, we will also delay the development of Smart Grids in Sweden.
Exporting both the technology and power is a futuristic vision that may happen far earlier than we think. Sweden must invest in Smart Grids in order to benefit from the needs in the world market. This also assumes working closely with our technical universities, plus an understanding among politicians of the potential in this field. We have a clear vision, one we will launch with our joint project in Gotland. Now we will continue to build our community.
Torbjörn Wahlborg, Head of Business Group Nordic, Vattenfall
Sten Jakobsson, CEO, ABB Sweden; Head, Northern Europe