Distribution system operators seek the Truth About Flexibility

E.DSO gathered 150 experts in Brussels to discuss recommendations for the potential of flexibility to deliver truly smart grids.
Published: Fri 12 Apr 2019

Flexibility is crucial to decarbonise electricity systems in the most cost-effective way, but DSOs have to think carefully about how to account for and value flexible services offered by customers. This was one of the key takeaways from a meeting of 150 experts held by E.DSO in Brussels this week with prominent speakers giving examples of potential solutions and previous market failures to show the “Truth about Flexibility”.

Pooling flexibility

The European Commission is investing in smart grid projects to increase flexibility by incorporating individual sources such as electric cars, fridges, and heating units at a systemic level, said Mark van Stiphout, deputy head of unit at DG Energy. Vertical integration from end-user to system operator and even to power plant is important so the consumer feels involved, and there needs to be a baseline of behaviour to prove that flexibility was supplied beyond business-as-usual and a way to fairly compensate for it.

Several initiatives were discussed at the event. Jillis Raadschelders, vice-chair of storage association EASE, gave an overview of the current progress on storage solutions, which are a vital part of the flexibility toolbox.  Zoran Marinsek of Slovenian energy solutions provider INEA discussed the Horizon 2020 project GoFlex, a bottom-up community-based approach to pooling flexibility being tested in Germany, Switzerland and Cyprus. The approach proposes to harmonize the electricity system into vertically nested subsystems which provides for transparency, enables scalability and puts prosumers and energy storage systems in the central position.

A German project to examine different methods of planning called Grid-Control was summarised by Katharina Volk of German DSO Netze showing the different options as traffic lights. Red represents having to curtail renewables at peak production while yellow and green showed better planning that avoid grid congestion using a quota system or using market-oriented use of customer flexibility, such as offering different prices for anytime versus restricted car charging.  


DSO/TSO cooperation

Incorporating large amounts of renewable generation into the grid is possible with strong DSO/TSO cooperation, said Luis Cunha, director of European affairs for EDP “The key word is coordination,” he said. He highlighted various flexibility projects such as Integrid, Sensible, TDX Assist and Dominoes, and said a new project called Interconnect will start in a few months.

The role of DSOs and energy retailers will shift from providing a commodity to more of a service provider, and ‘behind-the-meter’ units such as heaters should be part of the smart energy solution, said Secretary General of the European Heating Industry, Federica Sabbati.

Smart networks will produce a wealth of data but this will only be useful if necessary consents are obtained and it can be standardised, said Marco Baron of Enel Global Infrastructure & Networks. He outlined the ten-country TSO/DSO/consumer project CoordiNet, which aims to provide data and allow consumers to participate in providing flexibility. Further information on this will be published at the end of this week, he said.

Innogy’s head of European regulation Torsten Knop said that consultancy E3G will publish a report on DSO/TSO coordination, active system management and demand-side flexibility next week. There needs to be a level playing field in the regulatory framework between providing flexibility and investing in the grid to ensure the most efficient outcome, he said.

The new role of the consumer

Rodolfo Martinez of Iberdrola pointed out that the value of electricity is higher than the cost, and so prices have to be very high to lead to a reduction in consumption. Spain already has dynamic market pricing and 100% smart meters, he pointed out. He also warned about system gaming unless rules are carefully defined and gave some examples from the US where consumers were fined for deliberately increasing demand at peak times so they could be compensated more for turning it down. New business models are required to manage the new market dynamics, he added.

There are many good examples of solving real-time issues in the field, said Bente Hagem, Chair of the Board of ENTSO-E, but with demand in Europe set to rise to 5,000TWh per year in future some aspects need to be resolved in advance, she warned. Dynamic pricing with the consumer at the centre and locational signals will be important. “You can’t solve flexibility without knowing where it is,” she added.

Customers will have to modify their expectations for energy access if the desired goals are to be achieved, said Stephen Woodhouse of Pöyry in a concluding presentation. “We can’t build the infrastructure to meet needs at current behaviour. If people wait until they get home to charge their cars they will exacerbate the evening peak,” he said. Remotely controlled charging systems could be one way to resolve this, he added.

“We need to bring flexibility from vision to reality,” said E.DSO secretary general Roberto Zangrandi as he closed the day’s proceedings.


Mark Van Stiphout, deputy head of unit, DG Energy, European Commission gives the opening keynote


This is an excellent project with opportunities for raising the awareness of local communities to the value of grid flexibility. I hope that the UK will revoke article 50 to continue to participate with the least friction in such projects.