EDP’s main business is the sale of electricity and the company is currently investing in the InvoGrid project. This project promises to reduce the clients’ electrical bill in about 20%. This seems contradictory, but it is not. Instead of resisting change, the electrical distribution operator chose to anticipate the inevitable technological revolution in smart grids, which will be available in European Union countries over the next years.
Even with the risk of losing some of the potential revenue, EDP believes that the balance will be positive because this initiative will allow significant decrease in the network’s maintenance costs and in the technical and commercial losses.
In fact, InovGrid is part of a worldwide paradigm change in the energy sector. João Torres, president of EDP Distribuição, states that “all of us who until now have been mere passive energy consumers will be able to play an active role in the consumption management and even become energy microproducers. This will completely change the supply network as we know it.”
Moreover, InovGrid wants to place Portugal in a world leading position. For instance, Italy has launched a telemetry project that is far from InovGrid’s coverage and ambition. In fact, this project takes some of the telecommunication’s operating principles to the electrical network. The energy, instead of flowing from the producers (dams or thermal or wind power plants) towards the consumers (as is the case today), will be injected in the network by the consumer (microgeneration). At the same time, when there is a cut in a section of the network, InovGrid’s smart exchange (very much like Internet routers) quickly leads the energy through another circuit to the area where it is needed.
On the other hand, the project led by EDP is an initiative that can be included in the European and national contexts of environmental sustainability, investments in renewable energies and market liberalisation. This strategy requires a substantial renewal of the networks and an improvement in their operating modes.
From henceforth, the leading words will be “Energy Efficiency” and the aim is to adopt an environment friendly behaviour. In that sense, Brussels has launched the initiative ‘European SmartGrids Technology Platform’ in order to change electrical networks under this new paradigm until 2020.
Even before the InovGrid, Portugal was already following EU’s guidelines, namely through the inclusion of a new legal framework for the energy sector. As a result, microproduction was introduced (the first client-producers have recently started their active role), the market started its liberalisation process and, in the context of MIBEL (Iberian Electricity Market), there was a regulatory compatibilisation between Portugal and Spain.
Therefore, the company would either have to quickly learn how to deal with the new scenario laid down by policy makers, or it would inevitably be outdated. And EDP doesn’t want that at all. Thus the company decided to move forward with InovGrid, surrounding itself by worldwide known technological partners (INESC Porto, Efacec, Jaz and Logica).
Currently with dozens of people involved, InovGrid’s prototype is almost concluded and it has required an investment between 8 and 10 million Euros.
The pilot project will start being applied in 2009 in order to test the solution in small towns and in rural environments, which will implicate further investments. EDP’s managers believe that if all goes according to plan, the whole country will be benefitting from this new technology in 2014, six years before the deadline announced by Brussels. According Paulo Pinto de Almeida, administrator of EDP Distribuição, InovGrid’s implementation global cost will be between 100 and 150 million Euros.
The consumers will benefit from this efficient consumption management solution (and microgeneration, if that is the case) after they purchase an energy box (cost: 100 to 150 Euros).
With that energy box, the client will be able to manage consumption levels effectively and quickly start saving energy. This will result in lighter electricity bills at the end of the month. “We will be able to consume energy better and more efficiently”, João Torres stated.
However, for InovGrid to be ready for operation, two more pieces of the “puzzle” will have to be put into place: ERSE (Portuguese Energy Services Regulatory Authority) will have to establish a new regulatory framework that is suitable for smart grids; on the other hand, REN (National Electrical Network), holder of the energy transport infrastructure, will have to participate more actively. João Torres mentions that the entities involved and the political power are synchronised with the idea that the smart energy networks are the future.
Some of the immediate advantages with this service are the higher quality and the increase in the consumers’ level of satisfaction. Moreover, EDP also wants to reach another advantage with a long-term strategy: to be in a leading position as far as technology is concerned. In fact, this technology may be a good deal for the national cluster because it can be sold to other markets in the world. Spain may be the first step for the company’s internationalisation process. In fact, the company is already part of the Hidrocantabrico group and Paulo Pinto de Almeida says that the project “has been highly appraised in international forums”.
Operator of the distribution network
The energy paradigm of the future will be based on renewable energies and on the efficient use of distribution networks that will have smart search management mechanisms. On the other hand, consumers will be more informed and participative being that they can also play a role as energy producers (microgeneration).
1 – ENERGY DOMESTIC NETWORK
In each consumer/producer’s house, there will be an Energy Box, the true brain of the domestic management of electricity. Other than being a two-way telemetry system – measuring the energy that is spent and the energy that is introduced in microgeneration –, this system will allow the consumer to have a more effective participation in the energy consumption. For instance, the consumer will be able to subscribe new tariffs (benefiting from plans with advantageous price plans at certain hours of the day or week, or even benefiting from the subscription of prepaid packages). This is a useful option for a second house, for instance. The energy box will work as a local network that provides Web services, house automation and that facilitates the intelligent management of consumptions (system demand control) of the electrical equipments. Through remote telemetry, the suppliers will measure the energy correctly and provide information to the users throughout the day.
2 – HYDROELECTRIC POWER PLANTS
Dams will continue to play an important role as energy sources. Other than being renewable, they do not emit CO2 and, unlike thermal power plants, they go into operation in just a few minutes.
3 – SMART SWITCHES
A large part of the intelligence will reside in black boxes that will be placed in the crossing of the future meshed electrical network. They forward the energy traffic according to the flows and production flows. For instance, they ensure an intermittent entry in the network of distributed energy sources (wind and microgeneration). For the suppliers, they will introduce mechanisms to help prevent technical and commercial losses.
4 – WIND
They will remain the pillars of the current investment in renewable energies.
5 – THERMAL POWER PLANTS
Although they are pollutant, they will continue to exist, assuring a substantial part of the energy consumption. With the InovGrid project, EDP hopes to postpone investments since there will be a better exploitation of the current production and distribution capacities. With the consumers’ active participation, it will be possible to flatten consumption peaks, which will result in less CO2.
The country has a unique opportunity to place the national research and industry in a world leading position
After failing the industrial revolution and after arriving late to the Knowledge and Information Society, Portugal is now in a world leading position in the race for smart electrical networks. The credit belongs to EDP Distribuição, the company that decided to set up a consortium together with INESC Porto, Efacec, Janz and Logica in order to develop the InovGrid project.
Considering that InovGrid is one of the most advanced projects in the world, InovGrid may place Portugal in a leading position in an area that has a great future. The country can now catch the crest of the technological wave, something that happened only a few times in history, and thus originate an industrial cluster with the aim of exporting.
Besides the active participation of EDP and the Portuguese consulting company noLimits, the pilot-project (operating in the beginning of 2009) will have the scientific support of INESC Porto and other important institutions in the area of electrical material (Efacec) and manufacturing of energy accounting systems (Janz). Paulo Pinto de Almeida, administrator of EDP Distribuição says that the aim is to understand “which are the costs and the benefits”.
In its turn, the Portuguese subsidiary of Logica (former Edinfor) is devoting itself to software components that are essential for the system’s integrated operation, namely the billing and customer care applications. However, the enthusiasm surrounding InovGrid has crossed borders and it has been followed closely by Andy Green, Logica’s executive president.
According to José Carlos Gonçalves, general director of Logica’s Portuguese subsidiary, “we have all the conditions that are necessary to create a new industrial unit in Portugal because we are aware that we are in a leading position as far as other projects are concerned, mainly the ones that have to do with telemetry”. He also adds that one of InovGrid’s distinctive features is its integrated vision.
João Torres, president of EDP Distribuição, agrees that smart grids must always be seen in an integrated way, from the substation to the end-user, since the distributed production places new technical challenges that can only be overcome with smart grids.
If all goes according to plan, Logica may expand the team that is currently involved in the project and establish a software competence centre in Portugal for smart energy networks that will provide services to clients within the energy area of the British multinational for computer services.
Carlos Zorrinho, coordinator of the Technological Plan, believes that these efforts to modernise InovGrid’s electric network are very advantageous. In fact, he believes that “Portugal is a good testing market for technologies with an exporting component”. However, he prefers to maintain a neutral position as far as the freedom to set up national clusters in this domain is concerned, warning that in a small country like Portugal, “we should join efforts to tackle foreign markets”. In conclusion, he states that the matter of energy smart grids is part of the Technological Plan for Sustainable Mobility that the Portuguese Government will launch soon.
Expresso, 23 August 2008
23rd August 2008
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