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Top-Level European Planning for Smart Grid

Europe is ahead of the world's other highly industrialized areas in planning for the smart grid. A well-elaborated vision, developed in the framework of European Union institutions, anticipates that the traditional distinction between transmission and T&D will blur and disappear, and that the end-user will more and more become a "prosumer", producing as well as consuming energy locally. Europe's 2020 targets for renewable generation will only be achievable, in fact, if smart grid features are exploited to the fullest.

Smart grid planning is at a relatively advanced stage in Europe. The term "smart grid" emerged early in this decade from an exercise called the European Technology Platform for the Electricity Networks of the Future, which the European Commission and other stakeholders initiated in Brussels in 2005. Working under the chairmanship of Christian Sasse, former general manager at AREVA T&D, to produce a document that would reflect a consensus of all major stakeholders in Europe, the future electricity networks group finalized a vision paper in 2006. It represented the work of several hundred specialists and advisers from the metering industry, consumer groups, utilities, telecom providers, and regulatory agencies, among others.

The vision, encompassing both transmission and distribution networks, is driven by the combined effects of market liberalization (that is to say, market deregulation and introduction of competition), the transformation of generation technologies to meet environmental targets, and changes in anticipated future uses of electricity.

One key element in the concept of smart grids as envisioned by the European Technology Platform: The boundaries between transmission and distribution, which have been fundamental to the way the power industry and its engineering support societies have been organized, will become vague and ultimately disappear.

A second major finding is that all stated official objectives for getting more renewable generation into the energy mix—especially the European Union’s so-called 20-20-20 targets—are only feasible with more advanced grid concepts and intelligent technology.

A third element: The grid user of the future will be a "prosumer," producing as well as using electricity locally. Unless that prosumer fully grasps the benefits of the new system, all technical and economic steps will be futile.

Following the 2006 Vision, a second major document to come out of the future grids group was the Strategic Research Agenda, published in 2007. It describes the main areas to be investigated, technical and non-technical, in the short-medium term in Europe. Since then these documents have inspired several R&D programs not only within the EU and among its member country institutions but outside Europe as well.

At the end of 2008, the first draft of a Strategic Deployment Document for the smart grid was released. It sets out the priorities for the transfer of new technologies into the electricity networks and enumerates the benefits that such innovations will deliver for all stakeholders. It also gives a timeline for deployment.

As a concrete step toward smart grid implementation, a number of important transmission and distribution organizations have joined in the European Electricity Grid Initiative, proposing a 10-year program. ENTSO-E, representing European transmission organizations, and E-DSO-SG, a newly founded smart distribution association, have taken the lead. The latter organization is an outgrowth of the European Technology Platform smart grid group, which is restructuring itself to reflect emerging needs.

For example, a recently created smartgrids ETP forum will set the agenda for future platform activities. The smartgrids ETP forum has an executive group of 12 individuals representing the various major stakeholder groups, and it is intended to be the main contact point for everybody seeking to facilitate the development of smart grids in Europe.


  • Ronnie BelmansRonnie Belmans is a full professor at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven in Belgium, where he teaches electric power and energy systems. He has been the chairman of the board of directors of ELIA, the Belgian transmission grid operator from 2001 to 2010, and is now its honorary chairman. He is a co-founder of the KU Leuven Energy Institute and of the European Energy Institute, and is chairman of the European Technology Platform SmartGrids. Professor Belmans is a fellow the IEEE and IET.

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About the Smart Grid Newsletter

A monthly publication, the IEEE Smart Grid Newsletter features practical and timely technical information and forward-looking commentary on smart grid developments and deployments around the world. Designed to foster greater understanding and collaboration between diverse stakeholders, the newsletter brings together experts, thought-leaders, and decision-makers to exchange information and discuss issues affecting the evolution of the smart grid.


Melvin I. OlkenMelvin I. Olken is the editor-in-chief of the IEEE Power& Energy Magazine. Prior to assuming this position, he was the first executive director of the ... Read more


Christos PolyzoisDr. Christos A. Polyzois, former Director of Technology Strategy at Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions, is an independent ... Read more


Ronnie BelmansRonnie Belmans is a full professor at the Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven in Belgium, where he teaches electric power and energy systems. ... Read more


Massoud AminMassoud Amin is director of the Technological Leadership Institute, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and ... Read more