The decentralising energy market is demanding closer collaboration between the transmission and distribution system operators (TSOs and DSOs), since much of the new distributed generation is connected to the distribution grid.
The same market development is also opening the way for closer collaboration between the operators in the gas and electricity sectors, as these systems become more integrated.
Indeed, Eurogas’ 2016 position paper on innovation in the gas DSO sector stresses the importance of partnership. “Collaboration with other DSOs and other regulated and non-regulated gas chain businesses should be a key element of the DSOs’ approach to innovation. Greater collaboration can result in a net cost reduction, a broader implementation of the innovation and a larger group of consumers who benefit.”
Emergence of hydrogen economy
One example that will require cooperation between gas and electricity is the integration of renewables with its encouragement for the development of power-to-gas.
Related to that is the growing emergence of the hydrogen economy, with the generation of hydrogen from renewable sources and applications such as storage and microgrids.
An immediate example is for the provision of flexibility. In the Hydrogen Mobility Europe (H2ME) project, aimed at demonstrating the role of hydrogen in supporting Europe’s future transport demands, testing is being undertaken on the ability of electrolyser-hydrogen refuelling stations to help balance the electrical grid.
Currently, there are only a few tens of hydrogen refuelling stations in Europe, but the numbers are growing. By 2020, they should reach into the hundreds. For example, 2020 targets include 150 stations across Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, 65 in the UK, 50 in the Netherlands and 20 in France, while Germany aims for 400 by 2023.
Flexibility for electricity networks
Another major undertaking focussed on flexibility is the InterFlex project. The project explores new ways to use various forms of this resource in demonstrations in five countries across Europe.
The H2020-supported project is led by French DSO Enedis and includes participants in the French project Nice Smart Valley, including the gas DSO GRDF.
“We are very interested in promoting innovative gas products such as hybrid boilers and micro CHP. We want to verify in real life how these technologies can interact through aggregators with the help of the electricity network,” says Guillaume Virmaux, Head of European Affairs at GRDF.
“We talk a lot about bridges between gas and electricity networks and now it’s time to make it happen and see how it works.”
Virmaux describes GRDF as an “enabler”, installing the products and connecting them to the aggregator.
“GRDF has a public service mission to promote gas and energy efficiency. We think bridging gas and electricity will help society to have optimal use of both grids and energy.”
Economic benefits of cooperation
In addition to the innovation that closer gas-electricity collaboration offers, there are potential economic benefits. In Denmark, for example, while the development of biomass will be crucial for meeting renewables targets and become an increasingly important component of the gas system, overall the gas system is projected to decline in size as wind and solar grow in the energy matrix.
According to Anders Bavnhøj Hansen, Chief Engineer for Business Support and Development at the Danish TSO Energinet, “We’re looking at a future with less consumption of gas as baseload, so cost reduction of how we operate the gas grid is essential. There are metering issues, smart grid issues, management issues, and good cooperation could reduce the costs.”