Guest blog by: Sara Cebrian & Fabien Deswarte, UK Science and Innovation Network in Europe.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to read this blog and find out more about the work of the UK Science & Innovation Network.
Our names are Sara Cebrian and Fabien Deswarte. We both work for the UK Government’s Science & Innovation Network (SIN) jointly funded by BIS and FCO. We are lucky to be based at the British Embassies in Madrid and Paris.
Today, we would like to talk to you about an exciting European workshop we have recently organised in collaboration with the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and its highly dynamic Knowledge Exchange Manager, Dr Jeff Hardy.
Why did we organise a workshop on Smart Grids? By 2050 we will need to produce more electricity than we do today but must do so largely without emitting greenhouse gases. To support these changes, we will need substantial investment in a modernised electricity grid or, as the experts in this sector call it, a “smart grid”. A smart grid is all that equipment required to bring electricity from suppliers (e.g. offshore wind farms, coal-fired power stations, biomass heated power stations) to consumers (i.e. you, us, the shop next door or the big company at the end of the road).
Whilst the smart grid requires an upgrade of the electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure it may also require an adjustment in the way consumers perceive and use electricity. The smart grid can provide consumers with strong pricing signals (e.g. when electricity is cheap or expensive) and consumers may chose to, or indeed the grid may automatically, adjust their behavior in light of these price signals. For example, consumers may choose to delay washing their clothes or charging their electric vehicle until the prices are cheap. There is currently a great deal of interest and activity from the research, policy and business communities on these behavioral issues.
Talking to experts like Dr Aidan Rhodes (UKERC Knowledge Exchange Associate and author of two recent reports on Smart Grids), it is clear that the major investment required to develop a UK smart grid (£32 billion of investment over the next ten years) needs to be supported by strong, clear and long-term policies and regulatory support. In addition, smart grids will inevitably have a substantive effect on our lives. Significant research on the social impact of smart grids is therefore required, including thorough testing and evaluation of how customers respond to implementation of various smart grid technologies and services.
Across Europe there is significant interest in the smart grid and most countries have a strategy or aspiration to develop a ‘smarter grid’ in the future. As a consequence, there is a diversity of policy and regulatory approaches to delivering the smart grid, and a wide variety of research into both the technical and social aspects of the smart grid. In response to this, we thought it appropriate to bring key European experts together in a workshop held in London, to discuss and compare the emerging best practices in the policy, regulatory and social dimensions of the smart grid. As far as we are aware, this was the first workshop in Europe to focus specifically on this aspect of smart grids.
Some key conclusions from the workshop are summarised below:
- The smart grid offers a number of benefits to society, including improving reliability of energy supply, enabling a low-carbon transition by incorporating low-carbon generation technologies thus assisting in climate change mitigation.
- Currently, consumers (and others) have a poor understanding of what a smart grid is.
- Whilst consumers are going to pay for the implementation of the smart grid, it is unclear whether they will perceive or realise any benefits. Transparency of information and education are important in unlocking consumer benefits.
- The smart grid offers new business opportunities, however, these may be limited by data access issues, a regulatory framework that prohibits them and a lack of consumer trust.
- There is no common forum all smart grid actors to share information, nor any agreement on how such a forum should operate. This workshop was seen as a positive first step in bringing the actors together.
For more information about the workshop including the programme, the presentations and the final report, please visit the EU Smart Grids page on the _Connect website.
Please note you will need to be a member of the Energy Generation and Supply Knowledge Transfer Network and the Future and Emerging Opportunities group in order to read the report. Don’t worry membership is free!
We would like to thank David Clary for giving us the opportunity to appear on his blog and for his support for the work of the Science and Innovation Network.