‘Smart’ in the Spanish power sector

The FutuRed platform was created to evolve the Spanish electricity transmission and distribution systems.
Published: Thu 27 Oct 2016

In Spain, the Spanish Technological Platform of Electrical Grids (FutuRed) was created for the purpose of integrating all of the agents involved in the electricity sector to define and promote strategies at the national level to allow the consolidation of a much more advanced network capable of responding to the challenges of the future. FutuRed brings utilities, industries, manufacturers, public administration and academia to work together and increase sector competitiveness.

The smart meter rollout in Spain is undoubtedly the first milestone set for smart grid development. Approximately 75% of the smart metering infrastructure will be deployed by the end of this year and will be completed successfully by 2018. This work, which started in 2010, has been taken as an opportunity for the DSOs to accelerate the smart grid’s deployment. And that is because the smart meter itself is just a necessary part of a wide range of technological deployments, the smart meter being one of the main, but not the only, element of the smart grid.

First of all, the smart meter as a device develops a series of capabilities unimaginable when compared with traditional meters. The ability to collect remotely, and in real time, information about consumption, remotely identify location and scope of outages and the possibility to cut off and restore the power supply to every single client connected to the network. Those functionalities, already working, do so due to the extra equipment and infrastructure installed. The smart meters require a strong and well defined communication infrastructure, which is also being deployed. The modernization of the grid, the new information that we are able to compile, manage and analyse, allows new elements in the grid that provide new capabilities; enhanced grid automation, fault location and others that positively impact on grid operation parameters and efficiency.

But yet we have, as a sector, also realized that the scenario is bigger and that the information might be valuable for new purposes, and here is where I want to highlight the strong effort that the Spanish entities are undertaking in research, development and demonstration projects in smart grids. Spain is, as a matter of fact, in a high position in Europe in terms of R&D, counting multiple projects enabled by the pioneering deployment of renewables and smart meters in the country. I would like to emphasize the relevance of FutuRed, as the Spanish smart grids platform; as a space of common interaction between utilities, industry and academia, fostering the development of R&D collaborative projects.

Smart grid and climate change

Spain has, as have most of the countries in the European Union, adopted the European energy and climate goals. The strategic goals set for 2020, which is really close, and the ones defined for 2030 and 2050, mean a real challenge for our society. Many of the climate targets are related to energy, and thus, to the energy infrastructure. We claim that the energy infrastructure par excellence is the smart grid. It is and will be the necessary link between energy generation and demand. Being in such situation, it is our obligation to assume the goals and contribute to them in such a manner that we facilitate the integration of renewables in the system, enabling a transition to a more sustainable energy mix that will impact on environmental sustainability. On top of that, we should also focus on increased efficiency to contribute to that goal too. [Engerati-Power in Europe 2016]

The smart grids sector is a reference sector in Spain, which has successfully achieved a transition towards a more effective and efficient system, with high penetration of renewable energy sources.

I believe that we were able to foresee the challenge, take the initiative and contribute by taking advantage of the capabilities developed in our country, which is in fact the commitment taken by the sector to be aligned with the climate goals.

Future vision

As an overall trend we are going towards a more efficient and electrified energy system, where the integration of the existing and new energy sources as well as the interaction of the energy carriers will be supported in energy storage. The deployment of advanced technology is key to ensuring the transition to a more effective and efficient energy system.

The vision we have for the electricity sector in particular over the next decade is supported in a more modern grid, with more complex and functional architectures, providing larger uses and services and implementing new technologies.

Electricity consumption is increasing progressively and, admittedly, the society and the way we consume energy is more ‘electrified’ day by day. And this trend is to be maintained in the future. Therefore, the energy sector must be flexible and adaptive enough to fulfil these requirements. First, new uses and services will be developed. Demand response, more flexibility to operate variable and unpredictable generation properly; advanced technologies to operate a more complex and crowded grid; integration of the energy storage as a key asset and the electric vehicles as a non-negligible load in the grid.

Second, advanced grid architectures that provide the system robustness, capacity, flexibility, increased observability, more reliable and bi-directional flows. The grid should adapt to big macro-systems to transport huge amounts of energy long distances, the proliferation of micro-systems or microgrids connected to the main network – all this managed with increased levels of reliability and security of supply.

And finally, new technologies to be incorporated. Some of them are already mentioned, such as energy storage, where different technologies are expected to be combined to offer optimal performance; power electronics as a necessary element to connect all new devices and provide a new range of functionalities still to be explored; information and communication technologies as the driver to handle operations and the massive information generated; and, of course, new materials and sensors that optimize the previously mentioned elements.

It is difficult to draft a very specific and detailed scenario for a decade from now, but for sure all these elements, and maybe new ones, will be included. The more immediate steps are, nevertheless, more efficiency in the integration of energy sources, especially in those that provide climate sustainability and customeroriented features. Energy is a critical issue in countries and therefore a regulated field. It is necessary to build consensus and be challenging but cautious and reasonable to define long term policies to build the best energy sector possible to satisfy the future energy needs.

Socio-economic impact of smart grid and digitisation of city infrastructure

The digitalization of city infrastructure is already a fact, and is opening a world of opportunities in which all the stakeholders are called to be positioned and create value from that. In fact, the smart metering implementation is a clear example of service and infrastructure digitalization. The smart grid is meant to be the energy backbone, bringing a wide range of benefits and opportunities for the complete chain and agents interacting in this field. Catching these opportunities with new approaches in the energy business will bring new agents and new value generation, directly impacting economic growth. Investing in smart grids will unquestionably bring social and economic benefits, as we aim for more sustainable operations, efficiency and progress.

For instance, the development of new applications and improved power efficiency will imply benefits on the smart grids by means of grid automation, which leads to operation efficiency, proper integration of distributed renewable energy resources and increased customer participation, or even empowerment, with the system. These new applications are quantified between €1,100 million and €1,800 million per year in benefits to Spain, according to the impact analysis performed by FutuRed in 2013.

But given that example, the number of socio-economic benefits that the smart grid deployment will have is quite broad. Quantifiable benefits go from high-quality jobs creation, GDP growth due to the improved quality of supply and increased efficiency, positive impact in the county’s payments balance, reduction of energy dependence and GHG emissions. Being a pioneer in the field is positioning national companies as a reference and increasing the number of exports of equipment and goods, as well as knowledge and consultancy services. More efficient operations optimise the use of assets and their utilization, increasing associated life cycles.

But despite all these benefits, which are quantifiable, there are others of great importance, with more subjective values. Among them we could quote the final user’s empowerment and capability to interact with the energy system; the opportunity to use the sustainability of the energy system as a new culture in our childhood, thus creating energy-friendlier cultures and the innovation and creativity necessary to optimise the previously mentioned opportunities.

The vision should be positive and open minded, and with that in our horizon, I am sure that we will be able to impact positively socially and economically, even more than expected.

This article appeared in Metering & Smart Energy International Issue 4 2016.

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