Research area #3

Transmission, distribution, smart grids, storage and the management of electricity demand with special attention to financing investments in this area.

[ area #1 | area #2 | area #3 ]

Power grid Dispatching Network Hydro Plant

About the research area

Having always been at the heart of the electricity system, transmission and distribution are now facing major changes to their respective roles. Their activity is changing from the management of physical infrastructures, technically complex, certainly, but manageable according to established protocols, towards participation in the joint management of the economic, commercial and institutional infrastructures of the electricity market as a whole. Interconnections, markets for capacity and reserves, the integration of decentralized and intermittent renewables, there is hardly an aspect of the electricity market, where the construction, financing and management of networks does not play a role. Between Europe on one side and local communities and individuals of the other, the activities of transmission and distribution are also exposed to new demands that will eventually lead to a reorganization of their business models and operations.

Moreover, the increasing elasticity of the demand curve for electricity is a recent phenomenon that is gathering speed and will further transform the transport, supply, distribution and consumption of electricity. After the integration of information technology and communications in transportation networks, their progressive integration into distribution and consumption portends a qualitative change of which neither the actors nor the regulators have yet taken the full measure.

As far as high-voltage transportation networks and interconnections are concerned, operators have undertaken since several years important informational and technological changes, thus that they are now stabilized at a high level. As far as distribution networks and the “local loop” are concerned, suppliers, regulators and producers are preparing for the financing and the implementation of the next technological and structural leap. This will include changes in consumption patterns, curtailment, storage and the supply of micro-generation capacity often with “business models” that need yet to be invented. The remote management of industrial electricity consumption, real-time pricing based on wholesale markets or smart meters are just some of the instruments generating a greater proximity between wholesale markets and final consumers.

Although future scenarios are still highly uncertain, the development of smart grids allows also to envision a better integration of intermittent renewable into electricity systems, especially at local level. They also promise to render the demand side more active (traditionally inert with respect to short term electricity price changes) with benefits for consumers, security of supply improvements at different levels of the electrical system and ultimately the productivity of distribution networks (allowing for saving in investments, automated metering etc..). Current reflections are taking place in two areas (1) establishing the rules for sharing the costs and benefits of the transformation of distribution networks between producers, distributors, suppliers and aggregators and consumers, (2) finding ways of developing dynamic pricing as well as appropriate incentive regulation of distribution and supply activities. Again, the new Chaire EEM will concentrate on cost-benefit studies to find appropriate trade-offs between efficiency, investment costs and operational ease.

In addition to the formalized study of trends in transport, interconnections, distribution and demand-side management, Axis 3 will also maintain a systematic monitoring of new technological and regulatory developments that are emerging in the fields of distribution, smart grids, storage and demand management. This includes European and national policies for improving efficiency and energy savings as well as their implications for the production, transport and trading of electricity.

The annual commitments of axis 3:

- The publication of one article of formalized analysis of the evolution of transport, trades, supply, distribution or consumption of electricity in a peer-reviewed journal;
- The organization of two seminars on the evolution of distribution, storage and demand-side management as well as a sustained activity monitoring the contributions of other actors;
- The publication of an annual executive summary (30-40 pages) on the evolution of the distribution, storage and management of electricity demand;
- The integration of a PhD student whose research focuses on developments in the areas transportation, distribution or demand management.