Grid project maps out a smarter future for Europe

When the GRID4EU partners gathered in Paris in January to mark the end of the four-year project, they were able to celebrate a milestone in smart-grid development.

The EU wants renewables to provide at least 45% of its power by 2030. However, the intermittency of wind and solar, and their distributed nature, mean there is still a long way to go before grid operators can integrate renewables while ensuring a reliable, high-quality supply.

Smart grids offer the solution. They will help to integrate many small low-carbon generators and enable large-scale use of electric vehicles, while letting consumers play an active role in energy markets through effective demand response.

The scope and complexity of this step change are beyond the capability of any single organisation, which is why the European Commission brought together the 27 GRID4EU partners in the largest smart-grid project that it has funded, to collect and share knowledge and insights.

The project’s six distribution system operators (DSOs) — RWE, Vattenfall, Iberdrola, Enel, ČEZ and ERDF — which cover more than half of Europe’s electricity supply, worked alongside manufacturers of grid solutions and research institutes, as well as customers. The project focused on exploring new functionalities and on how these can be efficiently deployed and what benefits they will provide to DSOs.

The project partners explored distributed energy resources, active demand, energy storage, “islanding” and power management in low- and medium-voltage grids across six demonstration installations in Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic and France. In spite of different climatic conditions, regulatory aspects, grid conditions and population densities, the demonstrators established common methodologies and key performance indicators.

In collaboration with the DSOs, ABB was able to build and test smart-grid solutions in a real-life environment. We were a partner on three of the six demonstrators, in Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic, giving us first-hand insight into the cost benefits, scaleability and replicability of smart-grid technologies on large networks.

Germany has experienced a huge growth in renewables, making grid operations more complex and less predictable. The aim of the German demonstrator was to increase the penetration of renewables while improving reliability.

ABB worked with RWE and Technical University Dortmund to implement grid automation technologies and advanced automation algorithms on the medium-voltage grid.

The Reken area in North Rhine-Westphalia was selected because it is representative of the wider grid in Germany. We set up an autonomous system that would avoid overload, support voltage control and reduce network losses and outage times. The automatic Fault Detection, Isolation and Restoration system is based on remote terminal units (RTUs) and uses a distributed software system to monitor the network in real time and reconfigure the topology. ABB deployed 198 RTUs, connected using secure communication.

The results mean that grid operators can now evaluate automation as one of a portfolio of solutions. GRID4EU has established tools to deliver a greater ability to manage complexity on distribution grids.

Vattenfall’s network in Uppsala, Sweden, is largely rural or semi-rural and already has a network of smart meters, which is why it was selected to evaluate improvements to monitoring, communication and information exchange in the low-voltage network.

The focus was simple and cost-effective deployment of intelligent equipment. More than 100 modular RTUs were installed at secondary substations. The demonstrator led to better monitoring and visualisation of the low-voltage grid and reduced outages by 5-12%.

In the Czech Republic, ABB worked under the leadership of ČEZ Distribuce in Vrchlabí, evaluating automation on the medium- and low-voltage grids and islanding, including adaptive protection schemes and IEC 61850 smart-grid communications. The main focus was testing the quality and reliability of the grid, but the potential for islanded operation, electric vehicle charging and power quality measurement was also evaluated.

ABB delivered and commissioned ten secondary substations and low-voltage cabinets equipped with RTUs for smart-grid communication and low- and medium-voltage switchgear. We also implemented adaptive protection schemes to enable islanded operation of parts of the Czech grid. The result was an intelligent meshed medium-voltage grid that can automatically reconfigure and go into island mode.

GRID4EU has laid the foundations for the future large-scale roll-out of smart-grid technology. Evaluating technologies at scale under different conditions, while using a common methodology, enabled direct comparison of benefits and will ultimately inform investment. That’s a big step towards achieving Europe’s 45% goal without breaking the bank.

Jochen Kreusel is head of ABB’s Smart Grids initiative

This piece was published as part of the Thought Leaders series. Recharge’s Thought Leaders Club brings together leading thinkers and participants from the renewable-energy sector to examine the key challenges facing our industry