European Electricity Grid Initiative – the way to meet the 2020 challenges and beyond


By Kim Behnke, Vicente Gonzalez, Chavdar Ivanov and Konstantin Staschus

Renewable energy is booming all over Europe these days. Achieving the European Union’s 20-20-20 climate goals calls for integration of sustainable renewable energy sources (RES) in historical proportions. Are the European grids ready for this?

European Electricity Grid Initiative (EEGI), was launched during the Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) conference in Madrid at the beginning of June this year. The EEGI’s implementation plan and a roadmap define research priorities for the next nine years, ensuring that both the transmission grids and distribution grids are ready for the challenges of the future, especially the integration of RES. The R&D Plan of ENTSO-E, the European organisation of 42 transmission system operators (TSOs) covering 34 countries, is the TSOs’ input to this roadmap.

Europe has no borders when electricity is transported in the pan-European electricity grid. For decades the European grid has been connected region by region to ensure mainly reliability and security of supply. However, the architecture of the grid was designed years ago when the electricity supply came from large central power plants and was distributed down in the grid’s voltage levels, finally arriving in private households, industries and to other customers for end use. This philosophy of grid design will make the paradigm shift in the next decade.

The primary driver for this change in the electricity system is the radical change towards RES and other generation emitting low or no CO2. One of the main external drivers is the EU Energy and Climate Package, which has set out ambitious targets for 2020 and beyond in line with the three pillars of the EU energy policy (i.e. security of supply, sustainability and market efficiency):

  • 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (when compared to 1990 levels)
  • 20% of renewable energy sources in the EU 27 energy mix (today 6.5 %)
  • 20% reduction in the primary energy used (saving 13% compared to 2006 levels).

Coal, oil and natural gas are concentrated geographically but feature high energy density. RES are different: Wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydro or biomass are some of the RES available for us to harvest for electricity production. This RES electricity comes from multiple distributed units. Most of the future RES electricity is predicted to be integrated in the distribution grids. Distributed energy resources (DERs) can be houses with photovoltaic units, standalone wind turbines, micro-combined heat and power (CHP), or small bio gasification. Heat pumps or electric vehicles can act as DERs if their demand can follow market signals.

In the transmission grid there is also a new agenda. Large offshore wind farms with more than 400 MW capacity each and central thermal power plants with biomass combustion are priorities in many European countries to enhance the national climate goals. But especially wind and solar farms with their fluctuating power production call for a much stronger transmission grid and higher capacity on the interconnectors between countries or regions.

DERs by the thousands call for a robust electricity grid to integrate the sustainable energy and distribute the power in the local grid with intelligent grid management and active demand response (DR) all the way down to the domestic smart meter in the smart houses of tomorrow, including also E-mobility and energy saving technologies. This power system evolution is called “smart grids”. To ensure an optimal utilisation and balancing of the grid the RES and the DER must also meet the requirements of the liberalised, Europe-wide internal energy market (IEM).

The European energy and climate change targets for 2020 and beyond require a major acceleration of the development and deployment of cost effective low carbon energy technologies, as proposed in the European SET Plan.

The smart grid will be a user-centred, market-based, interactive, reliable, flexible, and sustainable electrical network system. Its deployment will proceed progressively over the period from 2010 to 2030 and result in benefits such as: 

  • Increased hosting capacity for renewable and distributed sources of electricity
  • The integration of national networks into a market-based, truly pan-European network
  • A high level of quality of electricity supply to all customers
  • The active participation of users in markets and energy efficiency 
  • The anticipation of new developments such as a progressive electrification of transport 
  • An economically efficient deployment of future networks, for the benefit of grid users 
  • The opening of business opportunities and markets for new players in the smart grids arena.

The SET Plan and low carbon technology initiatives are important in particular on solar and wind generation, since future electricity networks will connect new energy resources to the end users and enable the management of complex interactions between energy producers and users.

A European-level planning and implementation of the R&D plan and programme is necessary to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts, promote the replication of new developments and the exchange of best practices. In case of European transmission networks and markets it is crucial to ensure appropriate cross-border coordination of planning and operations. The EEGI will also promote solutions that support European standardisation and interoperability.

All European TSOs and DSOs have invested in high security of supply and the necessary update of their own grid, accommodating new production facilities and supplying new end users with electricity 24-7. New technologies have been provided from the major component industries. Each TSO has a national agenda and their individual challenges. This is no longer sufficient. Europe’s grid operators – all 42 TSOs and thousands of DSOs – now cooperate for the integration of RES and the re-engineering of the European grids. This calls for a historic R&D effort since 2020 is not a far away future but like tomorrow in terms of obtaining and implementing the R&D results needed to update the European electricity system, to the grid of the future.

ENTSO-E is not just a new TSO organisation. ENTSO-E is taking responsibility and leadership in the task of orchestrating the realisation of the TSO part of this massive R&D effort. The ENTSO-E R&D Plan was published in March 2010, and gave background for the EEGI RD&D programme, building on the strong support and excellent work from dedicated and far-sighted TSOs and DSOs (distribution system operators).

For the steering of the R&D activities, ENTSO-E is cooperating closely with the European Commission (EC), member states, industries and our DSO partners (organised in the new grouping EDSO-SG for this purpose) in the EEGI platform, a European Industrial Initiative (EII). Everybody realises that only by pushing hard for novel R&D projects and focusing on the highest priorities it is possible to ensure a pan-European update of the power system and grid performance.

The EEGI has agreed on a top 14 functional projects (work streams) for improving the transmission system. There are also a top 12 DSO functional projects and a top 5 combined TSO/DSO functional projects. All of these 31 functional projects represent the minimum RD&D themes that must be transformed into concrete RD&D projects with participation of TSOs, DSOs, universities, research institutes and industries. The EEGI is not just another report.

The EEGI RD&D programme is a roadmap for 2020 and has a realistic budget of some €2 billion. This is just the RD&D part of the whole effort toward 2020 challenges and beyond. The needed investments in the European electricity grids themselves are going to be much bigger. Cooperation between TSOs, DSOs and member states on the reinvention of the grid and the needed RD&D is the golden opportunity of working together for coherent solutions and robust investments. If R&D projects and other cooperation ensure efficient best fit for the future investments the perspective of mutual savings are substantial.

The EEGI is a 9-year European research, development and demonstration (RD&D) programme initiated by electricity transmission and distribution network operators to accelerate innovation and the development of the electricity networks of the future in Europe. All the main players in the electricity system will be invited and involved in the implementation of the EEGI programme, but the network operators should have a leading role in the initiative for several reasons: 

  • The EEGI focuses on system-level innovation and its validation and replication, a natural and legal responsibility of the network operators. 
  • The network operators must lead the demonstration activities to ensure secure operations, since the projects are performed under real operating conditions, and security of the system is the responsibility of the network operators. 
  • Network operators will ensure that new developments provide a level playing field for the competitive activities of market players. 
  • Network operators, also through the interaction with their regulators, aim at optimising the overall electricity system efficiency.

The EEGI programme encompasses RD&D activities according to the following definition: 

  • Research and development means activities performed mainly at the desk, in the laboratory or in test facilities aimed at creating new system knowledge, and validating technology or products that can offer a potential benefit for the electricity networks. 
  • Large scale demonstration activities means activities performed in a real environment (involving real customers, real voltages, real networks, at a scale suited for reliable scaling up and replication) and aimed at proving the viability of new solutions (technology, markets, regulation, customer acceptance) that can offer a potential benefit for the electricity networks and the users. 
  • Deployment means full scale implementation of a given solution on the electricity network. The activities necessary to prepare for deployment, including R&D and demonstration activities that will deliver requirements, specifications and innovative solutions, are included in the EEGI programme, but the costs of deploying these solutions at full scale on European networks are not included. Deployment activities are expected to start concurrently with the development of the EEGI programme.

The EEGI has divided the different parts of the power system value chain into five levels to get a better picture of the task and the stakeholders.

There are several definitions of smart grids. The Smart Grid European Technology Platform defines a smart grid as an “electricity network that can intelligently integrate the actions of all the users connected to it – generators, consumers and those that do both, in order to efficiently deliver sustainable economic and secure electricity supply”.

The focus of the EEGI has been on defining the major smart grids functionalities necessary to reach the vision and the goals of the programme. To meet this goal, a smart grids model has been developed to guide in the process of defining the functionalities and the needed projects, to ensure that all critical issues are covered, and to avoid overlaps (Figure 1).

The focus of the EEGI is from Level 1 to Level 4. New large generation power plant and other activities at Level 0 are also relevant. However, Level 0 is not a part of the grid development which TSOs and DSOs are responsible for.

Level 1 – the TSO transmission grid
The transmission network activities have been organised according to four clusters corresponding to the four basic activities of a network operator (planning, investments, operations and power markets), as shown at the left side of Figure 2.

Clusters 1, 3 and 4 deal mainly with research activities, whereas Cluster 2 covers both research and demonstration activities. The right side of the figure lists the content of the cluster in term of functional projects (work streams).

Figure 3 indicates the scheduling of the functional projects over years 2010-2018, and the connections with existing activities at EU level.

The EC announced a new FP7 ENERGY call in July 2010 where functional projects T7 and T9 are open for project applications. This is a most important response from EC showing commitment and strong will to back the EEGI.

Levels 2-4 – the DSO distribution network
The RD&D activities needed for the distribution network over the period 2010-2018 have been organised in four clusters according to the corresponding levels in the smart grids model with 12 functional projects (Figure 4).

Each functional project requires a set of local demonstration projects and accompanying research and development activities to be completed. A limited number of local demonstration projects is needed for each functional project to cover different local conditions (e.g. climate conditions, existing network conditions, regulatory regime, etc.) and test alternative competing solutions to the same problem.

The corresponding research and development needs are best organised at the level of each functional project, rather than at local demonstration project level, in order to rationalise the RD&D efforts and avoid overlaps. These activities are typically needed either to prepare the demonstration projects and/or to analyse the demonstration results. A roadmap of the 12 functional projects is shown in Figure 5 with the associated budget per functional project.

The functional projects leverage on relevant running projects and investments already done at national and pan-European level. These running activities are an integral part of the RD&D programme of the networks, but are not included in the EEGI budgets.

Activities to coordinate transmission and distribution networks
Transmission and distribution networks will increasingly need to coordinate their operations and to exchange data in real time for this purpose. They need to prepare for this interaction and propose the following functional RD&D activities to address these issues over the period 2010-2018 (Figure 6).

The roadmap with the five functional projects is shown in Figure 7 with the associated budget per functional project.

The planning and implementation of the EEGI RD&D programme at European level will avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts, ensure full coverage of critical network issues, promote the replication of new developments and the exchange of best practices.

It will also accelerate the validation of new standards (like grid connection) and of the interoperability of technology-based solutions.

The total budget for the EEGI programme is estimated to €2 billion as summarised in Figure 8. These budgets are estimated from a detailed costing of functional projects.

These budget figures include all the necessary costs to implement the RD&D programme, and are not expected to overlap with those of other European Industrial Initiatives (i.e. Wind, Solar, Green Cars and Efficient Buildings).

ENTSO-E is proud to be in the centre of this important and historical partnership between the TSOs, DSOs and industries of Europe in close cooperation with the EC and member states. The EC has shown the way by opening two FP7 ENERGY calls this summer to support the EEGI RD&D programme. Now is the time for member states to support these important initiatives by allowing national R&D budgets to invest in the future European electricity grid.