No smart grid without metrology support

Introducing the European Metrology Network on Smart Electricity Grids

What is the difference between a normal grid and a smart grid? As Gert Rietveld, acting chair of the Smart Electricity Grid (SEG) network, points out: “The electricity grids were already quite smart, even before it became a buzzword.”  However, the society need for an Energy Transition has driven the need for reliable grid data and analysis, says Gert. “Due to the addition of renewables, there is an increased need for grid monitoring. The amount of measurements and data is greater than ever before. That’s the point where electricity grids have to become even more ‘smart’, and where the additional intelligence comes in. Collected data first of all must be reliable and secondly must be transformed into information that is useful and can be interpreted so that beneficial changes can be made to grid operations”.

Electricity grids are the backbone of our modern society, keeping our computers running and the lights on. But to meet energy demands and ensure a low-carbon and climate resilient future, energy companies need to make ever greater efforts to add renewable energy into their grids. Compared to nuclear power plants, which are a very stable energy source, renewables, like solar and wind energy, are variable sources. This means that depending on the time of year, or even time of day, they will be providing different amounts of energy into the grid. The challenge is therefore to ensure the high quality and stability of these hybrid grids, so that there is always enough energy available for users. Metrology can contribute to tackling this challenge by significantly improving the monitoring of smart grids. In the past decades more than 15 EMRP and EMPIR projects have already provided such support, but on a relatively ad-hoc basis. Over these years, the need has grown for a more structured and coherent approach to stakeholder needs. 

The aim of the European Metrology Network (EMN) is to bring together European scientists as metrology service providers to meet the needs of stakeholders and act as a central source of expertise and information. To illustrate this need, in the case a major company is designing new grid equipment for higher voltages, the EMN can arrange the effective development of new traceable test methods for this equipment. This allows companies to sell more reliable equipment and in turn introduce more efficiency into the grid.

A crucial benefit of the EMN on Smart Electricity Grids is that it builds on existing collaborations, bringing together knowledge from those central to the field. “In one of the first EMRP projects, we wanted to get out of our labs and make on-site measurements on smart grids” says Gert. “We asked eight utilities for access to their grids and assumed that we would get access to a maximum of three of them. It turned out that all utilities wanted our contribution, and we ended up with access to all eight grids. This was a unique milestone in the cooperation of metrologists and utilities, since usually utilities are very cautious and conservative. They don’t want to jeopardise the stability of their grids with additional measurements.” The desire for increased collaboration also illustrates the need for measurement science to support innovation and reliability in future grids.

“It is our dream”, Gert states, “that in three years from now the EMN SEG is recognised as an essential European metrology partner in this area, with strong links to our stakeholders.”  To achieve this, the EMN has set up a clear strategic agenda with five main objectives, that will ensure that smart grid measurement solutions are available that meet the needs of industry and society, securing a sustainable energy supply. 

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