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Smart grids can do for Europe what shale gas has done for USA, says EU official

April 16, 2015
Smart grids balancing intermittent solar and wind energy with flexible power demand could do for Europe what shale gas has done for the USA, according to a senior European Union official. European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said smart grids were crucial for EU single energy market plans as they could integrate more renewables into electricity networks, boost security of supply and help lower prices for consumers.
"Smart grids should become Europe's shale gas," he told a conference of Brussels-based European grid organisations ENTSO-E and EDSO.
Abundant shale gas has boosted US energy independence, lowered power prices and given the country's energy-intensive industries a competitive edge.
Earlier, EU climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said smart grids were central to the commission's vision of making the EU the world's number one in renewable energy and reforming European power markets.
"Smart grids work,” he told the conference. “They can reduce infrastructure capacity needed to meet demand by up to 30 per cent."
Canete said some 25 per cent of Europe's electricity already came from renewables and that could increase to almost half of EU power supply in 2030, but this would require more flexibility from grids. He said the distribution system operators, which ran the low- and medium voltage networks, would have to use power storage and demand management to encourage users to adapt their demand to the price and availability of power.
Coupled with smart metering systems, smart grids could help consumers adapt power use to different prices throughout the day and save money by consuming more energy when prices were low.
Smart appliances would play a key role in this, Canete said. Forty million dynamic-demand refrigerators could provide more than 1000MW of frequency response.
A smart appliance should be able to respond to information from grids, which could mean briefly turning itself off, or even turning itself on when it would not otherwise be operating to access cheaper energy, he said. Demand response could save the EU about €100bn per year, nearly €200 per citizen, he added.
The commission says the EU needs to invest some €400bn by 2020 to modernise power transmission and distribution grids. ENTSO-E and EDSO executives said they expected €150bn of that would be spent on high-voltage transmission grids, the rest on low- and medium voltage smart distribution grids.
Canete said public funding would provide part of those funds but should be used to leverage private finance.
Energy projects should benefit from much of the €315bn of public and private investments that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's investment plan will unlock over the next three years, the commission says.
Sefcovic said that since the financial crisis, Europe had seen six years of huge underinvestment in the power sector.
"The requirements are staggering,” he said “In some countries we have energy infrastructure that is very outdated."
Sefcovic said he hoped that most of the planned investment would go to the low- and medium-voltage distribution grids.
"The smart grids are the new brain of the system,” he said. “They tell us where we need energy and where we can save energy."