A SmartNet for a cleaner energy system

Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico’s Gianluigi Migliavacca highlights how the EU-funded project SmartNet can help to manage the so-called ‘energy transition’

Recently, the EU Sustainable Energy week in Brussels focused on what can be considered ‘The’ topic for this and the next decade: how to manage the so-called ‘energy transition’ – from traditional fossil fuel generation to greener energy systems, where electricity is generated from wind, water, sun, and other Renewable Energy Sources (RES).

One of the tricky points in the transition concerns the change of roles when it comes to managing the existing electricity network. Electricity is generated more and more at local/low voltage level and needs to be injected into the transmission/high-voltage level – while in the past it was exactly the opposite. How do we make this reversion possible and smooth?

In Europe, there is a sharp increase in reserve needs for coping with the variability introduced by a steadily increasing RES share in the generation. The big challenge is to extend the possibility of providing Ancillary Services (AS) (frequency and voltage control, congestion management, etc.) to entities connected to the distribution network. The legislative package proposed by the European Commission in November 2016, nicknamed the Clean Energy Package, assigns a role to Distribution System Operators (DSOs) for local congestion management but not for balancing, whose management would remain in the hands of the Transmission System Operators (TSOs)1. However, such a sharp decoupling risks leading to inefficient system operations.

SmartNet Project

All these issues are addressed by the SmartNet European research project, under technical and administrative management by RSE2, which aims to compare different TSO-DSO interaction schemes and different real-time market architectures with the goal of finding out which would deliver the best compromise between costs and benefits for the system. The objective is to develop an ad hoc simulation platform which models all 3 layers (physical network, market and ICT), analysing 3 national cases (Italy, Denmark, Spain). Subsequently, this simulation platform will be scaled to a full replica lab, where the performance of real controller devices will be tested. SmartNet considers 5 possible coordination schemes characterized by different coordination patterns, roles and market design (Centralized AS market model, Local AS market model, Shared balancing Responsibility Model, Common TSO-DSO AS Market Model, Integrated Flexibility Market Model). Specificities, benefits, and attention points of these coordination schemes are analysed in this report.

Reserve needs do increase and this justifies enabling Ancillary Service (AS) markets participation from flexible resources connected to distribution grids. AS market products have traditionally been designed for large transmission-connected generators. It is essential to propose a diversity of market products, while ensuring a sufficient level of liquidity to provide a level playing field to all flexibility service providers (including distributed generation, storage and demand response). More can be found in this report.

ICT architectures must be re-configured according to the changing service requirements of the different TSO-DSO coordination schemes. A more detailed description of the process and ICT architecture model in this PDF.

Small and dispersed generation units need to be aggregated and connected, in order to participate in and profit from the AS market. Aggregators gather the flexibility of many DERs, and forward them, in the form of complex price-quantity bids, to the AS market. They play a key role in reducing the amount and complexity of the data passed to the market, such that near-real-time results can be obtained, while retaining a straightforward way to transform market results into the activation of single DERs.

Additionally, the SmartNet project includes 3 physical pilots for testing specific technological solutions:

  • Demonstrating technical feasibility and requirements in terms of communication processes for the monitoring of the (distribution) network and enabling the participation of DER to ancillary services (Italian Pilot);
  • Demonstrating the use of price signals to control the set-points of swimming pool heating systems in rental summer houses (Danish Pilot);
  • Demonstrating the prospects for the DSO of using the flexibility of mobile phone base stations to reduce congestion in distribution grids, and to help the TSO maintain system balance by fixing an exchange schedule at the TSO-DSO connection point (Spanish Pilot).

In the final stage of the project, SmartNet will assess policy provisions necessary to enable needed TSO-DSO interaction and compare them with present national and European regulation. Whereas final regulatory recommendations will be possible only towards the end of the SmartNet project, a few preliminary considerations can already be highlighted:

While it could be appropriate that TSOs retain a responsibility for the provision of balancing services, nonetheless they could have to share part of this responsibility with DSOs to the extent that the importance of the contributions to this service from entities connected to distribution will grow;

  • A balance has to be sought for between local optimality and the implementation of a harmonised pan-European design;
  • Smaller DSOs have to integrate their efforts in order to be fit for the new responsibilities;
  • Only if the architecture of real-time markets will be able to take fully into account the characteristics of the potential flexibility providers connected to distribution grids, it will be possible to obtain a significant participation on their side;
  • Aggregators must be able to provide a simplified interface towards the market, hiding most details and complexities of the characteristics of the single flexibility providers. Aggregators must deliver flexibility providers efficient price signals to incentivise their participation;
  • Viable business models must be available for all market participants, including DERs, aggregators and other customers;
  • Network planning will also have to facilitate better utilisation of RES, while minimising infrastructure investments, or postponing investments so to reduce the risk of stranded assets. Technical optimality should be supported by a thorough cost-benefit analysis.

1 EC (2016) Proposal for a DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on common rules for the internal market in electricity – Art.32.

2 Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico: http://www.rse-web.it

Gianluigi Migliavacca

Project Manager

Ricerca sul Sistema Energetico

Tel: +39 02 3992 5489




Please note: this is a commercial profile


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