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Europe needs smart electricity transmission systems

  • 18 Jul 2010
  • 16
A new Joint Research Centre lead-authored report on transmission network planning highlights that a radical change in coordinated network planning and operation is needed to accommodate market liberalisation and the increasing integration of renewable power sources. The key issues to obtain a reliable and effective European grid are integrated strategic planning and cross-border coordination as underlined by the European Union's Strategic Energy Technology Plan Information System (SETIS) led by the (JRC).

Right courtesy: Climate change drivers for a single and smart EU grid. Keith Bell, University of Strathclyde, Scotlandpresentation.

The recent JRC review of existing methods for transmission planning and for grid connection of wind power plants presents the state of the art in this field and points the way for future developments. The report's findings and recommendations include:

• Transmission planning must change drastically to accommodate market liberalisation and increased integration of wind and other sources of renewable power.


• Grid expansion should focus on achieving better coordination between Transmission System Operators (TSOs) through integrated strategic planning and cross-border cooperation.


• Transmission planners should take a smarter approach to integrating ‘variable' power sources such as wind, solar, hydro and wave, which do not generate consistent levels of power (e.g. by balancing the variable power with storage technologies).


• TSOs should prioritise the emerging challenge of integrating the future transmission system (hosting large-sized generation, both conventional and renewable) with smart distribution grids (embedding dispersed small sized energy sources and storage).


• A more harmonised and market-based framework is required to overcome planning and regulatory differences at national level, and to realise the potential synergies between offshore energy projects and cross-border trade in electricity.

The importance of electricity transmission grids - the backbone of the EU economy - is higher than ever. These networks are getting older, confronted with complex market liberalisation processes and have to host increasing amounts of renewable energy sources.

Furthermore, in order to address the challenges of energy security and climate change, transmission grids need to become more interconnected and ‘smarter' by seamlessly integrating a wide range of users (generators, consumers and/or other grids).

In the EU, electricity grids are among low carbon energy technologies assessed as part of the strategy to achieve energy and climate change policy targets (which include a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions and a 20% share of renewables in overall EU energy consumption by 2020; this translates to 30-35% of electricity consumption covered by renewable energy sources).

According to SETIS, if the maximum potential is realised, the electricity grids could avoid up to 30Mt/year CO2 by 2020 and 60Mt/year CO2 by 2030 in the EU. The corresponding maximum cumulative CO2 emissions avoided for the period 2010 to 2030 would be up to 600 MtCO2.

The importance of better planning
Existing transmission planning methods commonly make use of a worst-case scenario approach: power flow analysis is performed for a small number of cases selected by experienced network planners.

With the increased uncertainty and the many assumptions necessary for the analysis, the need to include more combinations of load, (renewable) generation and international exchange is becoming essential and a probabilistic approach to deal with such uncertainties is needed.


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