EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Smart Grids? Smart Baloney!

Sir,

Regarding ‘Smarter grids crucial for delivery of EU climate goals‘:

I’m an ex-power engineer (having designed and operated power networks) working in the area of renewables. I disagree on a fundamental level with the comments by GE’s Keith Redfearn concerning ‘Smart Grids’ and that renewables targets are too demanding for the existing transmission network.

Regarding ‘Smart Grids’, Mr. Redfearn makes a couple of assumptions. First, that people will look at ‘smart meters’ and switch things on and off according to the prices on offer. In the real world, I would suggest that this is hugely unlikely. Furthermore, technology such as dynamic demand management fitted to appliances such as fridges and freezers could do the same thing, at a lower cost and without human intervention. However, if you are in the game of selling high priced ‘smart meters’, this may not be all that interesting.

Secondly, making the transmission network or different layers of the distribution network (disnet) ‘smart’ will not make them either more efficient or easier to manage. In the case of the disnet, the layout and the way in which different layers interact is rigidly fixed. There is no need to introduce ‘smartness’ into this network.

There are two areas where things need to change: rural networks and transmission networks. First, taking the example of North Wales, there is huge potential for wind but the rural overhead line network is incapable of moving the power to where it could be used (this issue was briefly mentioned by Klaus Kleinekorte of RWE when you interviewed him in December 2008). The issue of who pays to strengthen the network has yet to be addressed. Again, smart grids bring nothing to the issue.

Second, in the case of transmission networks, more thought (and investment) is needed to connect off-shore wind to existing transmission networks. The Germans have started some work in this area, but the Brits need to get their skates on. Again, there is no role in any of this for ‘Smart Grids’. The transmission network is already controlled in real time, and there is little need for real-time control of the disnet. Where is the role for Smart ‘Grids’?

Final comments: In the time-frame 2010–2020, electric vehicles (EVs) will become important both as a transport mode and potential stores of power. However, a combination of on-board ‘intelligence’ plus dynamic demand management will be sufficient to integrate EVs and their power demand/power storage capabilities with existing distribution networks.

Smart Grids? Smart baloney.

Mike Parr

Ex-MANWEB, ex-Sony.

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Comments

  1. mike parr is wrong and apparently does not know what smart meters/grids will do- switching smart appliances on and off will be an automatic process and does not rely on the user – this would be unrealistic – there is no danger of smart meters being
    expensive if they are installed in high volume, as in italy
    the control of the grid will be more complex but this will allow much more flexible use of intermittent renewable power and a much more efficient power
    distribution network
    ultimately when the european green energy supergrid is introduced an energy
    superhighway will convey electricity round europe and the mediterranean will
    become a major source of EU solar power, which will benefit us all

  2. Interesting letter. Interesting reply. My only point is that both of you would appear to be right and the real problem here is that governments need to urgently prioritise investment in grids — i.e. new cables to new sources of energy. Whether these are “smart” or not is irrelevant; they just have to be cables which are suitable to carry the current and projected load of electricity produced in some rather unusual places (20 miles out to sea, on the top of a mountain). Rather than bicker about how clever the metering system is, surely you should join forces and lobby your governments to invest in this — especially in a time when public works schemes are all the rage.

  3. Mr Di Marco fails to answer the points I made in the original letter plus makes some confusing points: is he saying that dynamic demand management is “unrealistic”? if this is the case, why then does it already exist? In terms of “a more efficient power distribution network”, currenty losses are less than 2% and are centred around 33/11 and 11/LV transformers. More efficient products exist but the $ rationale to replace them does not. I fail to see how “smart grids” could contribute to this.

    As is common amongst non-power engineers, power networks are compared to IT networks. The 2 are not comparable and never will be. Still who am I to assert this – after all I’m only a power enginner who also founded an UK ISP so I guess I would no nothing about either network?

  4. In fact, most analysts including O. Rix in the UK expect that smart meters help in complex “hedging” total energy exposure to gas and electricity.

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