Smart grids

Smart grids support the shift towards the energy landscape of the future, including consumers becoming prosumers.

Smart grids – a key enabler

Today's electric grids were built for centralised large scale electricity generation and distribution. In the meantime, people's demands and consumption have changed, and will change even more. Smart grids use IT to gather and act on information such as supply and consumption patterns, resulting in cheaper and more efficient, reliable and sustainable production and distribution of electricity. Vattenfall is involved in several smart grid initiatives.

Producer and consumer – you can be both

Decentralized production by consumers themselves enables sustainable consumption. In time, consumers will not only consume energy – they will be able to produce it as well. Wind turbines and solar panels on roofs, to generate one's own energy will become standard practice. And consumers will be able to sell the energy that they do not need.

To do this, we need modern energy grids. Electricity will have to go from power station to toaster – and back to the station. Vattenfall is developing and building smart grids, leading the way towards a new generation of electrical solutions, in order to be the most reliable and customer oriented distribution system operator.

One of the features of smart grids is that electricity consumers are expected to be more active and involved in their real-time energy consumption. In the same way that people can plan their car trips around traffic conditions, electricity consumers should be able to control their consumption to avoid congestion – and higher costs – in the grid. Smart meters will provide end users with transparency to conserve energy and the market will provide incentives to save money.

Large investments needed

A basic requirement for a common European electricity market is the construction of new transmission capacity. Market integration calls for a rapid expansion of infrastructure on all voltage levels. It also calls for effective co-operation between grid operators, clear and stable regulations and good co-ordination to increase link-up capacity. This will require substantial investments in the grids and extended transmission capacity between, for example, the Nordic region and continental Europe and within Germany from north to south.

Decentralised generation

Today's electric grids were originally planned and built primarily for centralised, large scale electricity generation and distribution. As a greater proportion of electricity comes from renewable and other small-scale energy sources, the number of electricity-producing units will grow significantly. In the new system, generation of energy will be much more decentralised, but also much more intermittent. Typically we are transforming from a system that produces as much as is consumed, into a system that consumes as much as is produced. Smart grids will allow traditional electricity consumers to transition into full or partial net producers of electricity by installing solar panels on their roofs, for instance.

Digital technology improves efficiency

The introduction of extended control systems, such as more sensors in substations, will allow a more optimal use of existing capacity. By incorporating IT-based control and communication systems into the electricity system and then linking these together, we can manage and make decisions about production and consumption based on real-time supply and demand data. This information may also be used to make forecasts and improve planning.  

Integrated European approach

The implementation of smart grids is a priority on both the European and national levels. The EU Commission has proposed activities for taking smart grids from innovative demonstration phases to commercial application. First, the Commission proposes the development of a common EU-wide technical standard to allow different systems to work with each other. Secondly, it proposes the adjustment of existing EU regulations to create incentives for grid investors and increase the pace of energy efficiency and quality improvements to their services.

Traditional grid:

  • Produce as much as we consume
  • Centralised power generation
  • One-directional power flow
  • Operation based on historical experience
  • Weak market integration

Smart grids:

  • Consumption based on price of production
  • Centralised and distributed power generation (renewable)
  • Controllable multi-directional power flow
  • Operation based on real time data
  • Integrates distributed renewable resources into energy markets and power systems
Last updated: 2016-03-29 13:41