Europe continues to be home to some of most innovative and ambitious smart grid pilots in the world, but the dangers of ‘pilot-itis’ are looming large. Evidence of real-world, large-scale distribution automation upgrades or other smart grid innovations are hard to find, and it’s likely we won’t see any breakthroughs until the economic recovery is assured across much of Europe. Waiting for an economic upturn is not enough if Europe is to meet its targets for 2020 and to provide a boost to its energy and engineering industries. The European Union, national governments, and regulators need to take a fresh look at progress on smart grid modernization and be more active to ensure the momentum is restored. Innovative regulatory regimes like the RIIO model in the United Kingdom are vital – but they’re just a start. Innovative projects need to evolve into concrete strategies for grid modernization.
The need to inject greater urgency into Europe’s smart grid programs was a common theme at the European Utility Week conference in Amsterdam. The annual gathering of utilities and supplies is always a good opportunity to assess the current state of Europe’s smart meter and smart grid market. Last year, in the middle of the eurozone crisis, there was a palpable sense of relief that the crisis seemed to be having a limited impact on smart meter and smart grid programs across Europe, even if there was clearly a slowing down. This year there was a more evident sense of frustration that progress had continued to slow.
The United Kingdom and Beyond
Suppliers with a foothold in the U.K. market were the most positive. The announcement of the contracts for the GB Smart Metering program has been a significant boost to the industry – and winning suppliers like CGI and Sensus could rightly celebrate their success. Meter suppliers like Landis+Gyr, with its strong relationship with British Gas, can also take encouragement from the United Kingdom’s progress, even if the end date has now been pushed back to 2020.
The French program, on the other hand, is still some way off, despite continued reassurance that it will go ahead. The suppliers I spoke to were also taking a more negative view than I did in my recent blog on the German government’s decision not to mandate a roll out of smart meters.
It would be wrong to paint too gloomy a picture. In addition to the GB program, the Nordic countries are also progressing. The roll out of smart meters is almost complete across the region, with Norway and Denmark now filling out the map. This of course makes it of less interest to smart meter vendors, but it does mean the region is becoming an important test bed for the real benefits of smart meters and for next steps in terms of grid optimization. We are starting to see interesting projects emerge for home energy management, advanced demand response, and distribution optimization.
Vienna Enters the Real World
The intersection of smart grid and smart cities also continues to be a focus for new projects. A good example is the new smart city/smart grid project launched by Siemens and the Austrian utility Wiener Stadtwerke. Details of the €40 million ($55 million) project were presented during the Smart City session that I chaired at the conference. Based in a new development outside Vienna, the Aspern Smart City Research Program will be more expansive than most European smart grid and smart city pilots. The development will eventually support a community of up to 20,000 people by 2030, including living and working environments. It will involve a host of smart grid, smart city, and smart building technologies alongside an integrated approach to spatial design, energy strategy, and mobility planning. The project team is particularly intent on testing these technologies against the real living experience of people at work and home.
Aspern could offer a roadmap for how Europe can move from small-scale pilots to real-world integration of smart grid and smart city technologies. As I wrote in a blog last year, Europe has the opportunity to be a leader in many areas of the smart grid, but all parties need to ensure there is real substance behind the ambitious visions.
Tags: Building Systems, Conferences & Events, Distributed Renewables, Policy & Regulation, Smart Cities, Smart Grid, Smart Industry Program
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