Lessons learned in implementing the InovGrid smart city project in í‰vora

Interview with João Martins de Carvalho, Director of Planning and Management Control, EDP Distribuição

By Adriano Rehder, Conference Producer Latin America, Spintelligent

What are the main features of InovGrid and what is the current status of implementation?

The InovGrid is a multidisciplinary project that aims to improve understanding of the impact of smart grids throughout the electricity distribution network, from the substation up to the customer.

The project has developed a pilot solution, now being tested in Évora (InovCity), which has included the installation of 30,000 energy boxes and 40,000 distribution transformer controllers and the respective integrations with the company’s systems. In parallel with the installation of the hardware, we have proceeded with the definition of work groups dedicated to the analysis and quantification of the potential benefits of the technology.

The project has also been marked with an openness to alternative communication solutions, which have been gradually integrated into small complementary pilot projects.

The ultimate goal of the project is to understand the most rational technical solution for the Portuguese market, and the appropriate sequence and pace of implementation from an economic point of view. Thus, it is essential to test different solutions and subject the results to rigorous analysis.

What led to the choice of InovGrid to test the EPRI methodology in Europe?

In addition to the focus on a well founded technological solution, EDP Distribuição has maintained a special focus on a cost-benefit analysis of the project. A set of multi-disciplinary teams are currently working to quantify the principal benefits of the solution in terms of energy efficiency, reduction of technical and commercial losses, reduced meter reading and other operational costs, improved quality of technical and commercial service, reduced maintenance costs, and the integration of electric vehicles and microgeneration to the grid.

The EPRI methodology aims to estimate in a methodical and rigorous way the costs and benefits of a smart grid project. It is a methodology that has been used mainly in utilities in the U.S., and the European Commission wished to test its application to a real world case in Europe in order to evaluate its use in the European context.

The InovGrid project was chosen from among more than 200 projects to test the methodology in Europe as it seeks to demonstrate, in an integrated and complete way, the various benefits of smart grids both to customers and the electricity distributor, through improved quality of service, more information to the consumer enabling them to have an active role in their energy consumption, and improved operational efficiency for the operator.

What communications technologies have been used and what lessons regarding their use have been learned to date?

The InovGrid was launched in 2007 by EDP Distribuição and the communications technology that was selected for installation in Évora at the time was PLC DCSK. This is a technology that has served to guarantee the majority of functionalities but it has limitations to support future features, particularly in relation to demand side management, mass use of electric vehicles and microgeneration.

In a small percentage of consumers in Évora energy boxes with GPRS were installed. Additionally EDP Distribuição has implemented small scale pilots to test other communications technologies, including PRIME PLC and RF mesh. These projects have helped to realize the advantages and limitations of each of the technologies and their implementation costs.

How is the project managed in relation to the other companies involved, and what about the energy consumers?

The InovGrid had its genesis in a consortium involving EDP Distribuição, EFACEC, Janz/Contar and Logica. Each of these companies assured the development of one of the components of the project now in operation in Évora, under the coordination of EDP Distribuição. EFACEC developed the distribution transformer controllers, Janz/Contar the energy box and Logica did the systems integration.

Now, with the conclusion of the solution implementation, the evaluation of the results is being led by EDP Distribuição, with the support of companies specializing in specific areas of knowledge, for example the study of the behavioral changes of consumers.

What preliminary results were the most satisfactory?

The preliminary results have reinforced the viability of the project and in this sense can be considered satisfactory. The operating benefits (reduced reading and operation costs) were reconfirmed. The technical and commercial gains are also relevant in this first phase. For future evaluation a crucial variable will be the energy efficiency of the inhabitants of Évora. This is a dimension with large potential impact on the project, but it can only be accurately determined a year after the end of installation.

What aspect of the original project was not verifiable and why?

Initially there was a high expectation regarding the potential to reduce the maintenance costs of the distribution transformers. However, when we analyzed the first results we found this potential to be much lower than initially estimated.

Finally, could you mention one important lesson learned in the implementation and management of InovGrid?

The importance of the involvement of end-users. It is very important to manage the expectations, to explain clearly the benefits of the solution and to understand their needs and difficulties. After all, the client has most to gain from the solution.

For example, we saw that in the beginning there were customers who didn’t know what was the new device (the energy box) and didn’t know if it would cost them money. This forced quick action on our part with personnel and installers so they could better explain to the customers.

Local and direct contact is very important and it is something we have sought to strengthen. During this last year we have covered public sector bodies in Évora, including the university, schools, local administration and the city museum.