Connecting Europe’s electricity grids is as old as the European political project itself. A high-voltage link between the grids of France, Germany and Switzerland was made in 1958 – the same year that the European Economic Community came into being.
So it is unsurprising that the grid system remains an important political project. In 2005, the European Commission’s research department set up the SmartGrids European Technology Platform for Electricity Networks ofthe Future, a group of researchers, government officials and industry representatives charged with drawing up plans for the electricity grid in 2020.
In April, it produced its third report, this time focused on how to get new grid technology up and running over the next decade. The group made ten recommendations including developing technical standards through international bodies, training more engineers and technicians, and more research on cost-benefit tools so that planners can make informed decisions about the environmental impact of building new power cables.
Another of the group’s recommendations is funding to demonstrate some of the newer smart-grid ideas. Money was made available under the EU’s Strategic Energy Technology road map, an initiative that gives funding to demonstrate new energy technologies, including smart grids.
In this paper, the Commission sets out the goal that 50% of Europe’s electricity networks should operate on ‘smart’ principles by 2020. As a result, €2 billion of EU money will be available over 2010-20 to test 20 smart grid projects affecting 1.5 million consumers.
A parallel funding stream to help cities reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% by 2020 could also benefit the grid system.
New laws on energy markets also include provision for smarter grids. Under the ‘third energy package’ of laws on energy market liberalisation, agreed in 2009, governments have an obligation to study the costs and benefits of smart meters by 3 September 2012. If their studies find net benefits, they are to draw up plans to give 80% of energy consumers intelligent meters by 2020.
National governments and regulators are also required to “recommend” energy companies to use energy sparingly, using “intelligent meters and smart grids” where appropriate. But businesses continue to argue that this is not a strong enough incentive to spend money on new grid infrastructure.
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