Europe – the smart energy transition research priorities

ETIP SNET has identified research and innovation priorities for Europe’s energy system for the years 2017-2020.

Fundamental to the future energy system is the technologies that will enable it that. And they are developing apace in the various regions.

Within Europe the European Technology and Innovation Platform for Smart Networks for the Energy Transition (ETIP SNET) has developed a ten-year research and innovation roadmap for the period to 2026.

The main feature of the roadmap is to address flexibility by considering several options, both for transmission and distribution systems, such as sector interfaces, e.g. electricity-gas and electricity-heat, flexible thermal and renewable generation and storage. Other flexibility means and enablers such as digitalisation are also covered.

R&I clusters of the ETIP SNET roadmap 2017-2026

R&D priorities for Europe

Based on comprehensive stakeholder input, four priority areas have been identified in an implementation plan for Europe’s energy system for the next three years: Governance and market design in a high renewable energy and empowered end-user energy system; digitalization of the energy sector; improved interfaces between energy system components for an integrated grid; and improved components of the energy system.

These are identified via 39 different ‘topics’.

Criteria that were used include the urgency of the renewable integration challenge, timeliness for availability and the expected impact on system planning and operation.

Governance and market design

In the context of a high share of renewables together with the internal energy market, several questions are raised around how to organise the operations of the energy system and the associated interactions between the different stakeholders and what market rules will support the development of renewables and empowering prosumers.

These will be addressed under three topic areas.


Smart networks should allow the enhanced monitoring, automation and control of the existing networks while ensuring that all involved stakeholders can interact. This will be made possible by a full digitalisation of the power system, and of the energy system as a whole.

As of today, digitalisation is under implementation in the transmission and distribution (mainly MV) networks but a lot of work remains to be done to achieve full digitalisation of the energy system.

The full digitalisation of the energy system also brings new opportunities such as the Internet of Things and challenges such as cybersecurity.

These will be addressed in six topics.

Integrated grid

The integration of the different types of energy, i.e. electricity, gas and heat networks, to form an integrated system creates specific challenges at the different interfaces, e.g. electricity-heat and electricity-gas and to some extent gas-heat.

This integration also creates specific challenges for new system components of the power system such as storage and renewable generation units.

These are investigated in 11 topics.

Improved components

The evolving energy system with renewables and new loads impacts on and calls for improved components across the transmission and distribution networks, at generation level and in energy storage.

Issues include flexibility, network management, asset management, the validation of advanced technologies and the use of digitalisation in the development of new flexible generation technologies.

19 topics have been identified in this priority area.

Commenting on the plan at its launch, Konstantin Staschus, ETIP SNET Chairman, said: “The implementation plan is a comprehensive plan which can serve as a reference for all funding organisations (EU, national, regional and even global) interested in short-term R&I priorities for all system and market aspects of the energy transition enabled by smart networks and sector coupling.”

ETIP SNET was created by the European Commission to guide research, development and innovation to support Europe's energy transition with innovation for the transmission and distribution systems.

Smart grid research in Europe

The EU is supporting current smart grid and energy storage research under the Horizon 2020 programme. In order to maintain an overview and create a common view, an additional project, BRIDGE, has been created.

According to the BRIDGE brochure, in 2017 a total of 32 projects involving 379 organisations are being funded to the tune of €337m.

Most of the projects involve demonstrations or pilots of technologies or solutions, with the greatest number of demo sites in Germany with 12, followed by Spain, Italy and UK with 10, 9 and 8 respectively.

Approximately two-thirds of the projects are dealing with technologies for consumers, i.e. smart metering, smart appliances and demand response, two-thirds with grid technologies, primarily microgrids and network management, and two-thirds with market issues (with overlaps). Generation, primarily PV and wind, is being investigated in 14 projects.

Storage is mainly addressed at small-scale level by half of the projects while four projects are addressing large scale storage technologies.

Notably the dominant category of stakeholders are research and innovation players, i.e. research centres, universities, etc., making up about 40%. These are followed at about 15% by the transmission and distribution system operators, of which about a third are TSOs and two-thirds are DSOs.