Think Smartgrids: It’s all about the data

A French smartgrids association stressed the importance of data at CIRED this week.
Published: Fri 07 Jun 2019

Collecting and managing good quality data is a top priority for system operators working on smartgrid projects, some of which were presented during a side event at CIRED hosted by the Think Smartgrids Association.

“When you talk about smartgrid one word always comes up – it’s data,” said AI software company DCBrain co-founder Benjamin de Buttet.

European operators are well advanced, according to a survey of TSOs, DSOs, suppliers and others on their progress with data integration carried out by a data working group set up by Think Smartgrids. Every operator interviewed has applied proof of concept using data but only two thirds have industrialised data use, he said. A drastic change in IT architecture will be required to handle the dramatically increased volume of data and utilities are struggling to keep up with the very fast pace of digitalisation. It is difficult to transition from proof of concept (POC) to production – a recent Gartner study found that through 2022, only 20% of analytic insights will deliver business outcomes. (see: Predicts 2019: Analytics and BI Strategy)

Skills gap

And while utilities have embarked on their data revolution journeys, very few have started changing behaviour and few have a chief data officer. There is a shortage of data scientists with the right domain skills. Investment in this area will pay off by producing good quality information, de Buttet said. “The cost of maintaining good data is far less than fixing it.”

One of the pain points is the lack of a clear return on investment, as it may not always be the utility themselves who reaps the benefits of smart grid development.

Spanish utilities have a head start, as the country already has 100% smart meters installed. This will empower the consumer by making tariff calculations more efficient and allow them to compare consumption with neighbours. Many are saving up to €60/yr, said Ana Mozos Martinez, head of digital technologies at IDE, the new brand name for Iberdrola Distribucion.

Further, because utilities have better information on customer load, they are able to plan their capacity more accurately, she added. IDE has gone further than simply complying with the 100% smart meter target and has introduced power control, remote connection and automation to the low and medium voltage network as part of its €2 billion STAR Project (Remote Network Management and Automation System), where nearly 11 million digital meters have been installed and provide remote management and automation capabilities to 90,000 transformation centres.

Culture shift

This “culture of continuous innovation” means that grid problems can be identified more quickly, operational improvements have led to a 13% reduction in losses, fewer invoicing claims are made, and fraud detection has improved, Martinez said. “The main message is that the digitalisation of the distribution networks plays an essential role in the whole energy transition landscape.”

The Horizon 2020 project Merlon has come across challenges with how data is shared since it started in January, as well as interoperability and quality issues, said Luc Richaud, Business Developer at smart meter data start-up Odit-e. The €7.5 million project aims to create a sustainable ecosystem with high concentration of distributed renewable energy sources. The Merlon solutions and the integrated optimization framework will initially be tested in pilot sites in Austria and France. A key challenge is how to involve consumers, who have tended to be passive energy users but now have the opportunity to become more engaged.

Another research project presented at the event is an automated microgrid connecting 200 households on an island in Singapore with 100kW installed capacity and 10kWh of storage. A team from EDF, Enedis and the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore launched the MASERA microgrid project (Microgrid for Affordable and Sustainable Electricity in Remote Areas) with the aim of demonstrating automation, as it will be remotely controlled from France. In order to keep investment as low as possible while integrating renewables, it will use flexibility systems, smart metering, a lithium-Ion storage system and a Zinc-Air battery, vehicle-to-grid platform and Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.

Think Smartgrids will publish an R&D roadmap later this year. Its data working group report can be found here: