Towards A Smarter Electricity Grid?

Towards A Smarter Electricity Grid?

Adam Gillert, a senior associate in Bird & Bird's Commercial Group, advises on technology rich areas involving the commercialisation of intellectual property rights and other complex technology projects and is a founder of Bird & Bird's smart grids blog. Here Adam explores the background to smart grids in Britain and certain opportunities and challenges key industry players may face.

Why a smarter grid?

Britain's electricity sector currently faces a host of challenges, including:

  • achieving a low carbon energy mix;
  • integrating intermittent renewable generation;
  • ensuring adequate electricity capacity and security; and
  • mitigating rising electricity costs and delivering value for consumers.

The "smart grid" agenda focuses on helping to overcome such challenges by using advanced information and communications technology to achieve improved outcomes and lower costs for consumers.

For decades even the most innovative electricity markets have relied on the legacy of last century’s technology.  Smarter grids are now high on the agenda of many of the world’s governments and leading companies. Smarter grids are being encouraged by a variety of investments, initiatives and policy changes such as the EU’s Third Energy Package, national legislation and local efforts focusing on creating smarter cities and communities. Under current plans, by 2020 around 53 million gas and electricity smart meters will have been rolled out to homes and small businesses in Britain as part of a Smart Metering Implementation Programme.  Those smart meters will be able to inform domestic consumers how much energy they are using through a display in their homes and communicate directly with energy suppliers (removing the need for meter readers to visit premises in the future).

A smarter grid has two mutually re-enforcing foundations:

  • smarter infrastructure: at the network level, greater use of technology should reduce costs, assist in making the grid more automated and better able to "self-heal" (reducing the risk of blackouts) and reduce the need for expensive re-enforcement through more efficient use of existing infrastructure. Smarter infrastructure, such as smart meters and other technologies to monitor the grid, also facilitates the creation, capture and analysis of smarter data.
  • smarter data: enables improved outcomes but also new consumer choices, markets and business cases that may facilitate investment in further smarter infrastructure and the growth or expansion of new markets such as renewable electricity, decentralised electricity, smart appliances and electricity storage. For example, better visibility of end consumption may assist network operators in reducing l

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