CIRED 2015 highlights: European DSO flexibility

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CIRED, of course, is arguably the most important technical conference for those who work in and around the European electrical utility industry. If you missed it, allow me to fill in some details. One of the major themes discussed during this year’s biannual conference in Lyon was flexibility for distribution system operators (DSOs).

DSOs need more flexibility for a growing list of reasons. Many of those have to do with the network systems they are responsible for. Those include ensuring reliability during times of peak loads, balancing local production and demand, and accommodating new, intermittent, distributed generation assets like wind and solar. And as power distribution flows become more complicated (integrating renewable producers and electric vehicles, for example), flexibility at the DSO level becomes key.

This is obviously a topic with substantial breadth and depth. Many CIRED presentations and poster sessions were dedicated to the analysis and real-world experience about the mechanics behind DSO flexibility, new flexibility innovations, as well as necessary steps for the future.

Take the example of one paper, co-authored by Schneider Electric and ERDF, the giant French DSO. It presents a study testing new software called StruxureWare Flexible Resources Operation, which is designed to improve electrical energy quality, network reliability, and loss risks associated with activating demand response management on the distribution level. They illustrate real-world experimentation and control mechanisms at Greenlys*, an experimental smart grid project in France. The authors show how technology that exchanges and analyzes data between DSOs and demand response aggregators not only facilitates the energy market but is also the most inexpensive way for DSOs to avoid substantial network reinforcements and local network constraints.

But making DSO flexibility work as well as it can requires more than just technology. It needs value in the marketplace, and therefore thoughtful and well designed regulatory frameworks.

And the CIRED crowd knows it. At the conference, there was a large emphasis by many presenters on the current regulatory structures and how they do not satisfy (or in many cases even accommodate) the business models of the near future—and some current models that even restrict possible benefits. There’s a conflict between regulation and the present and necessary future realities. To truly achieve the full potential of DSO flexibility, we need a market designed to reward flexibility providers for the substantial benefits they bring, as well as the ability to coordinate with transmission system operators.

Learn more about the exciting Greenlys project in action.

*The Greenlys project is a large scale smart grid demonstrator set up in the cities of Lyon and Grenoble by a consortium led by the French DSO ERDF and including the utilities Engie (formerly GDF Suez) and Gaz Electricité de Grenoble (GEG), Grenoble Institute of Technology as the academic partner, and smart grid solution provider Schneider Electric. The 4-year initiative started in 2012 and runs through 2016, and is supported from the Investissements d’Avenir programme of ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management).

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