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22 May 2018

The SmartNet project: a glimpse into the future of electricity networks

European Utility Week

We spoke to Gianluigi Migliavacca of Italian energy research body RSE about what the SmartNet Project has taught us about the future of electricity networks. Join SmartNet during the Hub Sessions programme at European Utility Week, and learn more about the project’s vision for how to drive the future evolution of Europe’s energy system.

  • What is the SmartNet project about?

SmartNet is a project aiming to quantitatively compare different coordination schemes between transmission and distribution system operators (TSOs and DSOs) to enable distributed energy sources to provide system services such as secondary and tertiary frequency regulation, congestion management and voltage regulation.

The project is financed in the framework of the Horizon2020 European research programme, with a budget of over €12.5 million and a consortium of 22 partners from nine EU countries, including two TSOs (TERNA and Energinet.dk), three DSOs (ENDESA, EDYNA and Syd Energi), two manufacturers (Siemens and SELTA) and one telecom operator (Vodafone).

To enable comparisons between different schemes, SmartEn has developed comprehensive scenarios at 2030 Italy, Denmark and Spain representing generation, loads, T&D networks (with nodal detail) and real-time markets (balancing and congestion management). A cost-benefit analysis being carried out on five TSO-DSO coordination schemes, so as to co-evaluate dispatching costs resulting from the market clearing in the real-time markets with ICT development costs to enable the coordination schemes themselves. Furthermore, the same models are further implemented in a hardware in a laboratory which allows testing of real controller devices, real information channels, etc. In addition, the project involves three physical pilots aimed at testing technological solutions for: 
    - enabling monitoring and centralized control of DER resources participating to secondary frequency regulation and voltage regulation (Italian pilot); 
    - allowing a large number of distributed thermostatically controlled loads (indoor swimming pools) to provide system services in a price-based control aggregation modality (Danish pilot)
    - allowing distributed storage units of radio-base stations devices for telecommunication to provide system services (Spanish pilot)

All project achievements are then analysed in relationship to national and European regulations in order to identify critical points, barriers and enablers.

  • You are the chair and organiser of the SmartNet session during European Utility Week. What will people learn at this session?

Since it began in 2016, the SmartNet project has been organising hub sessions at every edition of European Utility Week. SmartNet is set to conclude its activities at the end of this year, so at EUW 2018 we will be able to show and debate with the public all the final results: scenarios, simulations, cost-benefit analysis, lab tests, practical achievements of the three technological pilots.

Attendees will get a complete picture of issues and modalities for enabling ancillary services from distribution grids. This is a very hot topic nowadays and the European Commission’s “Clean energy for all Europeans” regulatory package clearly indicates it as a key project for coming years. This implies, however, a series of important changes regarding needs for TSO-DSO coordination, adaptation of the real-time markets architectures, deployment of advanced ICT for monitoring and control of distribution grids. Regulation will be profoundly modified.

On all such issues, we are going to provide the vision of SmartNet, which encompasses several layers: technical, economic, regulatory. We hope to be able to provide to the industry and decision-makers with a full vision for how to optimally drive the future system evolution in the EU countries.

  • Distribution networks will become fully monitorable, abandoning the old policy of fit and forget
    Gianluigi Migliavacca
    Project Manager, Energy Systems Development Department, RSE


  • What do you see as the main issues affecting the future of electricity networks? 

Massive deployment of variable-regime RES in the EU countries is radically changing system needs, multiplying the need for reserve. At the same time, load is becoming more “intelligent” and, consequently, flexible. This is also part of the wishes of the European Commission, which envisages putting the customer in the centre of the system by enabling them to become a provider of system services. At the same time, the generation park barycentre is moving more and more towards the distribution networks as well, as a consequence of the phase-out of nuclear in most countries, the decommissioning of coal plants and a general abandonment of the “big generation” philosophy in favour of a more complex one featuring small scattered power plants connected to distribution grids.

Those subjects will take a more active role in providing reserve to the system. However, operation and real-time-market schemes will consequently become more complex. Distribution networks will become fully monitorable, abandoning the old policy of fit and forget (difficult to maintain due to economic reasons and due to wide public opposition to new lines). ICT deployment is potentially a formidable enabler of this epochal transformation, but it is important to clarify the real needs of the system in order to avoid over-investment.

I think that the results of SmartNet have much to teach us all. On the technical and economic side, SmartNet demonstrates optimised TSO-DSO coordination schemes, proposes revised real-time market architectures (proving for the first time the feasibility of real-time market clearing models taking into account full nodal detail of both transmission and distribution networks), mechanisms of interaction between secondary and tertiary frequency regulation, technological solutions to enable monitoring and centralised control of distributed resources and full testing of ways to manage services scattered around the territory, like thermostatically controlled loads and distributed storage of radio base stations. 

Finally, SmartNet is also going to analyse key regulatory aspects, both from the technical and economic point of view. The national and European regulatory analysis carried out by SmartNet is another important aspect which will be of interest to those wanting to assess to what extent the optimal technical solutions proposed by the project are implementable.



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