Because of the way that electricity generation and supply systems have evolved over their long history, today's power sector has inherited a legacy of highly centralised, large-scale technology.
But also decentralised power stations have been around for some time. Originally, most were industrial plants employed to exploit waste products and, in many cases, to generate electricity for own use from process heat to meet either baseload or only peakload demand.
Now, however, distributed generation is attracting strong interest as a mainstream technology, for economic and environmental reasons, and not least because of political goals. If the expected gains in terms of sustainability and independence from upstream grids are to be realised, new system and hardware concepts for future networks will need to be developed and applied.
Efficient network operation and good customer service will depend not just on fulfilling power flow requirements but also on the extent to which electricity supplies are:
Available in sufficient amounts;
Secure and of good quality;
Meeting these basic demands is the bottom line for smart grids; in addition they will be expected to provide a high level of supply security and quality efficiently, and at low cost.
Various international and Austrian organisations have attempted to define the networks of the future. A widely accepted definition comes from the SmartGrids Technology Platform:
“A smart grid is an electricity network that can intelligently integrate the actions of all users connected to it – generators, consumers and those that do both – in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure electricity supplies.”
The local Austrian SmartGrids website uses the following definition:
"Electricity grids that support energy and cost-effective system operation, ready for future challenges, through coordinated management by means of real-time, two-way communication between grid components, generators, storage facilities and consumers."
Benefits of smart grids
The combination of intelligent concepts at distribution and transmission level that is subsumed under the concept of smart grids can also be used to derive principles for future grid planning, operation and maintenance. Their ultimate goal is the delivery of the requisite services to system users. Successful roll-out of smart grids technologies would bring many benefits, including:
High level of security and quality of supply;
Efficient use of resources leading to cost savings for consumers;
Transparent and non-discriminatory grid connection and access for all system users;
Maximisation of the cross-border transmission capacity available to the European electricity market;
Coordinated planning and development of national and European network infrastructure;
Reduction of CO2 emissions and increased efficiency through optimum integration of distributed renewable generation.
E-Control’s contribution to smart grids developments
E-Control is involved in Austrian and international smart grids initiatives and contributes to discussions aimed at developing a European smart grid strategy.