Julija Vasiljevska, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, JRC-IET
Julija VASILJEVSKA is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Smart Electricity System and Interoperability Team of the Energy Security Unit of the Institute for Energy and Transport, European Commission in Petten, where she is responsible for activities within the European Commission Task Force on Smart Grids and integrated assessment of complex socio-technical systems. Julija has a PhD in Sustainable Energy Systems from University of Porto, Portugal.
Growing concerns over climate change, security of power supply and market competitiveness are challenging the current power system operation and architecture, with the resulting need to integrate increasing shares of renewable energy resources installed close to the consumers' premises. This will enable micro-players like electricity end-users to also operate and behave as producers, thus introducing additional flexibility into the system and increased challenges for macro-players like system operators and regulators. The same will endorse effective engagement of the electricity prosumer (producer-consumer) in the power systems daily operation and the home energy management.
Allowing for such flexibility would bring additional system complexity and thus require an upgraded electricity network with two-way information and power exchange between the suppliers, distribution system operators (DSO) or any third parties and the prosumers through pervasive deployment of information and communication technologies. The adoption of such systems is expected to demand and facilitate new market structures, new services and primarily new social processes.
Having a closer look at the European Inventory of Smart Grid projects1, performed by the European Commission's in-house science service – Joint Research Centre (JRC), one may identify an increasing trend of Smart Grid projects to focus on consumer engagement. Notwithstanding the positive trend, the number is still limited in comparison to the total number of projects, and most of the projects explore the smart grid social dimension at a community level, indicating lack of consumer involvement in larger scale smart grid projects.
At this point, one may recognize barriers for the scalability potential of smart grid projects in EU and recommend strategies on how to advance towards large scale adoption of smart grids.
Advances in EU Policy clearly played a significant role in the adoption of smart grids and smart grid technologies at a national scale. The European Commission's Interpretative Note on the Retail Markets for Directives 2009/72/EC and 2009/73/EC2 provides a description of the Commission's understanding of an intelligent metering system by "…the ability to provide bi-directional communication between the consumer and the supplier/operator…" and to "…promote services that facilitate energy efficiency within the home…".
The Recommendation 2012/148/EU3 on smart metering deployment further clarifies that the smart metering system should be defined through the functionalities it provides. In particular, in the case of electricity, the Commission Recommendation identified ten minimum functional requirements that the smart metering system should provide in order to deliver full benefits to consumers and the energy grid while supporting technical and commercial interoperability and guarantee data privacy and security. The JRC together with DG ENER4 is currently finalizing an in-depth analysis related to the long-term economic assessment of costs and benefits for national electricity smart metering roll-out, performed by the EU Member States, and their respective deployment plans and strategies.
It is worth noting that Member States such as the UK and the Netherlands strongly focus their analysis on the electricity consumer, thereby addressing smart metering acceptance, effective use and efficient roll-out as policy attention points in the early stage of the system development. In the Netherlands, social acceptance, related to privacy concerns, resulted in an amendment to the legislative proposal by means of an introduction of a voluntary approach for consumers' acceptance of smart metering systems.
To this end, the success of the smart grid deployment will critically depend on the overall functioning of the power system as a socio-economic organisation, and not just on individual technologies. As a consequence, the most important challenge for policy makers over the next decade will likely be the shift away from a supply-driven perspective, to one that recognizes the need for the integration of the different dimensions and actors of the smart grid. Furthermore, the role of communities (neighbourhoods, districts, cities, rural areas, etc.) will highlight the importance of discussing externalities and questioning uncertainties at an early stage in order to strive for a socially sustainable smart grid future.
The uncertainty due to autonomous prosumers’ behaviour is one of the main arguments for introducing complexities in emerging distribution systems. Thus, the challenge ahead is to understand the prosumer active role in the early stage of smart grid development, including the relation with the suppliers, system operators and other service actors and among and across the community of prosumers. Social scientists argue that for behaviour change to occur, prosumers must have the right information, possess or adopt consonant norms and values (or receive financial incentives), translate those motivations into actions and maintain behaviour change over time.
In this context, and based on the available theories of behavioural change, the JRC is developing a methodological framework based on agent-based modelling, able to provide a comprehensive insight into distinctive behaviours of individual components at micro-level, while observing emergent behaviour of the overall system at macro-level. Such a tool will permit in-depth analysis of the multi-layer complex distribution system with the knowledge of specified rules of the micro-players, which can define the individual behaviour and interaction pattern to some extent. By capturing different prosumers behaviours in terms of power consumption and generation decisions, while having the same continuously interacting within their social networks and being exposed to different policies and interventions from the macro-players, it is possible to observe and analyse the development of emerging electricity distribution networks, i.e. smart grids.
The provided insights and recommendations, reached based on the proposed assessment framework, should prove useful to better understand the electricity prosumers' own values and goals and the important role of adequate communication from the electricity suppliers, system operators and policy makers. The same should also serve the purpose of defining adequate consumer engagement and electricity network operation strategies central to the electricity prosumer, the community, and the society in general and recognize obstacles and risks as an attention point for sound policy formulation.
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4 European Commission Energy Directorate