interoperabilitySmart Gridsflexibilityclean energy

Knock knock! It’s your electricity distributor. Would you like to decarbonize the economy together?

Distribution system operators are increasingly improving their smart toolbox to further enable the energy transition, but their success and the energy transition as a whole depend not least on the active participation of consumers.

Kirsten Glennung
June 17, 2020

It was not long ago that the name of the electricity system operator was unknown to the average consumer. Traditionally, the power has flown from large centralized generation plants through transmission lines and encounter the last-mile distribution system operators (DSOs), who would deliver electricity into the socket of regular consumers. The average consumer would only know the name of the distributor, should the electricity suddenly not flow and resembling the failing capacity of the incumbent company to meet its responsibility of secure and stable energy supply. The breakthrough in renewable energy, the development of electrical mobility and the roll out of smart meters, however, calls for the DSOs and consumers to get to know each other better. These recent developments in the energy sector underline the indisputable truth: we are all interconnected, and the energy transition is our common mission.

This truth is as well reflected in the Clean Energy for all Europeans Package (CEP) which was adopted in 2019. The CEP equips the DSOs that connect over 90% of the renewables in Europe and therefore plays an indispensable role for the energy transition, to ensure a closer and preeminent interaction with consumers, as well as, with the market parties that exchange energy and energy services[1]. The exchange among these market parties will pave the way for a more optimal use of the energy system and its connected resources in support of the clean energy transition.

 

A means to optimize the utilization of the electricity system is to make use of flexibility, which allows to make use of local or centralized clean energy from variable resources, when available, and shifting the consumption accordingly. The use of flexibility is widely encouraged by the CEP and will support the further integration of renewables while putting extra tools at the disposal of the DSOs to secure a stable energy supply in their networks. However, the active participation of the consumers is key for enabling the full potential of flexibility solutions.

 

In line with this, the CEP allows consumers to sell electricity services. This could be in the form of generation for solar panels installed on their roof, or a variable consumption from the charging station to their electric car or other smart appliances which can respond to signals reflecting the needs of the DSOs. Such signals could be provided by dynamic pricing, which the CEP also foresees. Modern network tariff structures allow the DSOs to give incentives to the consumers via cost signals to make the most efficient use of the network and thereby helping to avoid peaks. To ensure this, it is important that consumers are provided with adequate information to make a free, unbiased, and informed choice, be it regarding their energy supply or the appliances which make use of the energy.

 

From a technical point of view the use of flexibility solutions and of dynamic pricing depend on the installation of smart meters, which E.DSO members are currently rolling out across Europe. The smart meters provide the DSOs with enhanced visibility of the production and consumption in their network, which is needed to send adequate signals to consumers to encourage a certain consumption pattern.

 

Nevertheless, smart meters alone will not enable flexibility. To this end, also buildings and homes must be smart and able to interact with one another. It is therefore desired to overcome technical barriers which may prevent the consumer to switch supplier or appliances according to their needs. To this end, the operability between different smart devices is key. Interoperability will allow for a wider consumer participation in the energy transition but will also require for several actors to come together representing consumers as well as DSOs and other market players. This opportunity to collaboratively innovate is what makes the InterConnect a key project for the energy transition at European level.

 

[1] E.DSO (2020): Addressing customer needs in a changing energy world: A DSO guide.

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