9 January 2009 - Upgrading the current European electricity grid with smarter technologies is key to overcoming the infrastructure challenges posed by the EU's energy and climate package, according to GE Energy.
The EU has been moving towards deregulation of the electricity markets for the past decade, but emphasis has been on ensuring the reliability and quality of energy supply, while renewables and transmission efficiency have been neglected, explained GE Energy's Keith Redfearn, responsible for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, in Brussels, reported EurActiv.
The EU's triple commitment to reducing CO2 emissions by 20 per cent, sourcing 20 per cent of its energy from renewables and improving energy efficiency by 20 per cent by 2020 are too demanding for today's grid, GE Energy argues.
A 'smart grid', involving a combination of software and hardware allowing for more efficient power routing and enabling consumers to manage their demand, is an important part of the solution, it says.
Presently, "it will not be possible to add all the renewables to the grid, as it wasn't built for this," Redfearn stated. Smart grids can take into account electricity flows from many different directions, which enables the integration of renewable energies, he explained.
Moreover, trials in the US have shown that smart meters in homes can reduce domestic energy consumption by 10 per cent, and as much as by 15 per cent at peak times, while initial results from the UK show 8% savings, Redfearn added.
He warned that at present, just 20 per cent of the technology to deploy a smarter grid is in use while 80-90 per cent would already be available. GE Energy has noted substantially higher interest in new technologies among new EU member states keen to bring their supply quality up to the Western standards.
The EU plans to publish new proposals to boost the use of smart technologies to combat climate change in February, while smart grid technologies are likely to prove an important contributor to CO2 reduction plans.
Many member states are facing an acute need to repair or even replace their aging power grids, with the European Commission arguing that market liberalisation provides an incentive to upgrade energy infrastructures.
GE Energy says a stable regulatory framework for the European electricity market that rewards utility efficiency is a prerequisite of investment, and recommends harmonised rules across Europe.
While the infrastructure "won't change overnight", Redfearn concluded, trials have shown that 'smart' technology can be successful, leading him to believe it is now time to move straight to implementation.
The GE Energy manager believes the current economic crisis provides extra motivation to accelerate the process, because grid infrastructure is the "backbone of the economy" and as such, one of the best places to kickstart the recovery.