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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Mercè Griera-I-Fisa

Mercè Griera-i-Fisa, Project Officer with the European Commission and an ICT engineer.Interviewed during the IEEE Smart Grid World Forum in Brussels, Belgium, Mercè discusses what the European Commission is exploring in relation to Smart Grid, and the need for ICT and power engineers to share knowledge and collaborate on Smart Grid developments globally.

Next in the series of video interviews with Smart Grid experts around the world, is a conversation with Mercè Griera-i-Fisa, Project Officer with the European Commission and an ICT engineer. Interviewed during the IEEE Smart Grid World Forum in Brussels, Belgium, Mercè discusses what the European Commission is exploring in relation to Smart Grid, and the need for ICT and power engineers to share knowledge and collaborate on Smart Grid developments globally.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION

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Mercè Griera: I'm working in the European Commission and particularly on the digit that is responsible for information, communications, telecommunications, and media. So, my approach to the smart grid is from the technological point of view, from the ICT point of view.

I, myself, am an ICT engineer, not a power engineer. What is my link to this market is mainly all the information, the network, that needs to be on top of the electricity network to have what we're calling a smart grid.

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Mercè Griera: That has been really the main focus of our activities at the European Commission. We are convinced that we will achieve the smart grid only if that is built on a common knowledge, including knowledge from the power engineers and knowledge from the information and communication engineers. It's not a question that the power engineers need to better use a city. That's not that point. It's not the point that the power sector has to better understand what's going on, on this new technology or vice versa. It's a question to share knowledge, to build a common understanding from one sector to another, and to build on top of that a new thing that will be this smart grid.

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Mercè Griera: Yes, we will need to deploy these technologies starting from the smart meters, until arriving to the deep core of the smart grid. We will need a new set of engineers that will be able to understand both the ICT domain and the power domain. These engineers, they are very, very few today.

That is a world that we have to do, and I think not simply here in Europe. It's a worldwide issue. We need this new domain and the university. I think here in Europe, as well as probably in U.S. and other parts of the world, is very fragmented and it's not easy to build this new program that will have disciplines from these different areas. But for sure, that's something that we have to do. We have nowadays a few master degrees that are merging the expertise and that includes professors and engineers from both areas. But that really can be counted with the fingers of my hand. We need much more of that.

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Mercè Griera: Our main driver for the smart grid at the European level was the energy efficiency policy when we decided already in 2007 that the energy and the climate policy have to be put into a single package. We cannot anymore have an energy policy in one hand and then have an environmental, climate or whatever you want to call it policy on the other hand. The two have to be together.

When we put these two policies together, we said that the more important thing is to be energy efficient. There, on this energy efficiency context is when we start analyzing which are the sectors that need to have all of our attention in order to reach the well-known three 20% targets for 2020. There the power sector was identified as one of the fundamental sectors. We all know how much electricity, let's say, is produced and we know that only a part of this electricity that is produced is, in fact, used. How much kilowatts hour of energy a year have just been lost?

There, that was the first and the initial driving force to start looking and fostering the deployment of the smart grid. Then after the energy efficiency came the idea of the integration of renewables. That is another, it is the second of our 20, 20, 20% targets for 2020, is this 20% integration of renewables. There, again, we said if we want these intermittent resources to be part of the electricity grid, we need a smart grid. We cannot continue with distribution or transmission in the way we have it today. But primarily, the first driver was energy efficiency.

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Mercè Griera: The first thing to say is that some people say Europe may believe that the European Commission decided on these targets or invented these rules. Let's be clear on that. The European Commission is proposing certain policies, but who has the decision power for finally taking a position is not the European Commission. It's the council. The council consists of the ministers that are the running ministers of the 27 countries that are members of the union.

When we decided on this 20% targets, these targets were not decided in Brussels by the European Commission. They were proposed by the European commission to the council. But the 27 ministers of energy and environment of the member states agreed on these targets. That is the first thing. They agreed on these targets. They feel, themselves, responsible on the implementation of these targets on their respective countries.

Then the methodology to check how these targets will be implemented, what was agreed also by themselves is that they will deliver what they call the energy efficiency action plans. When we decided these targets, the first thing to be done was that each country will define a kind of broad map, from the day when the targets were agreed in 2008 till 2020, in order to show us how these targets will be achieved. These energy efficiency action plans are to be delivered to the European Commission. The European Commission will check the credibility of these plans. We will organize a Ministry of Conference. We're organizing each year where the different ministers exchange experience, discussing between themselves, and they see the possibilities of reaching the target. Then what we are doing in parallel to that is that we have Eurostat, that is our statistical office, and we are taking real statistics of what's going on in these countries.

From one side, we have the political plan. From the other side, we'll have the real statistics. Then we need to confront that with the reality and see where we're at. I must tell you that we believe that the 20% target of renewable energies will be achieved in 2020 with the data that we have today. We are not so clear with the 20% of the energy efficiency. The data that we have today tell us that we will not achieve this target if we don't do a real, real effort from now until 2020. But the renewable, the data we have now makes us believe that it will be achieved. Even in some countries it will be much more than the 20%. It will be even 30% or 40%.

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Mercè Griera: I think more of the countries, when you talk of wealth, you need to consider regions. There is in countries that you may believe that they are poor, but there are very rich regions. There are other countries that may look like rich, but there are very poor regions there. Then it is the regional policy that plays a key role in this game.

What we did is when the European Commission adopted the recovery package after the current economical crisis, there what we decided is that the regional funds could be used, not only for simply infrastructure projects, but also for energy efficiency. There we boosted the regional funds. The regional funds is money, it's an inter-compensation, let's say, between the different regions of Europe that comes from the more industrialized and rich regions to help the more poor regions. To use this money for energy efficiency and that was one of the important packages we need in order to help, and that will be developed in the poor part, let's say, of Europe.

But as I said to you before, it's not at the country level. It's the regional level. There are quite significant realities in between regions and not necessarily the most poor regions are in the most poor countries and vice versa.

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Mercè Griera: We see ICT playing different roles in the context of the smart grid. First, and clear role is monitoring and controlling of electricity production, transmission, and distribution. Classical monitoring and control exercise.

Second, and maybe more important than the first, is ICT will be the key for the new business models for opening what is the electricity market to new ways of selling, of buying electricity, and providing, let's say, the eBay of the electricity. That will be thanks to ICT and that is a completely different thing.

Third point that ICT will play in this area is the transformation of user behavior. If we want that the users are really engaging in energy efficiency, we need to provide them the necessary tools in order to know where each one of their Euros in the electricity bill was spent.

That is the case today on nearly every salaries that we can buy. Let's compare, for instance, with the telecommunication services. You know how much it was, each one of the phone calls that you did on your telephone. How long it took. What was the hourly price on this time of the day, where you were phoning, everything and that helps you to change user behavior. You know that if you phone in the morning it was more expensive. Then you know when you have package prices and that will help you in changing your behavior. The same thing will happen on the electricity. On that ICT is the key. We cannot do that without ICT, so that is a third role.

We see also a fourth role for the ICT technologies in this electricity sector that is measurement framework. That framework is in order to use policy and decision makers. If we want to have decisions, for instance, I don't know . . . at local level, what would be the energy implications of installing a new neighborhood in this part or this other part of the city?

We need simulation tools that will be based on proper measurements that could be done only if information and communication technologies are there to collect the data in an open and clear framework, to aggregate this data, and then to use this data in proper simulation tools for decision makers.

I see really four roles that are key if we want to see this revolution or evolution in the electricity sector.

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Mercè Griera: We really believe in our targets for the 2020. We really believe that in ten years from now we'll have a shared part of renewable energies on our energy mix. We really believe in that. We believe, also, that we, the customers will not be customers anymore. They will be consumers. That means that everybody will be able to produce energy at local level. We'll be very attentive of how the electricity is spent. We believe, also, that the security of supply will be preserved so we'll have electricity more secure or at least at the same level of security that we have today. We believe that the introduction of these new technologies will not compromise or jeopardize in any way the key that the electricity sector has had until now.

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Mercè Griera: Yes, you are right. As I said before, I think first we need to be able to measure properly the energy produced and the energy consumed. We need to do that on a transparent and very transparent and agreed way. Look, we cannot accuse anybody of wasting electricity, let's say, if we don't give them the tools to know where the electricity, the small bits and pieces of the electricity, will go. Let's put an example. I would like to know how much it costs me to roast my chicken in the oven compared to how much it costs me to roast my chicken in a pan on top of a fireplace.

If I know the different prices, then I can make an informed decision. If I don't know, I cannot decide. So before starting to give responsibility to the final citizens on the actions that they take, we need to provide them with a clear and well agreed measurement framework.

At this moment, then we can ask the citizens to have responsibility. The first thing is to give information to them. Then, in this context, we are working quite hard in the European Commission in order to try to have an agreed framework with as many people as possible for measuring the energy consumption. But as you can imagine, it's not easy.

This is what we can call green wars. If you check the social responsibility on the websites of our companies and I suppose your companies in America is the same, everybody's very green. Everybody's using electricity in the most safe, but people will not believe that because there is not a clear measurement framework. I can compare products by price, but I cannot compare products by energy footprints. You cannot accuse me of wasting energy if I don't know the product footprint of one option or another option. There is all this work on the methodologies and the measurements and informing the citizen on that, that needs to be done first. Then, social measures will come.

Look, it comes to my mind now that for instance if we manage to have a proper measurement of energy consumption of buildings, we may not think on paying our taxes in function of how green my building will be. Instead of paying just by a strange tax mechanism that is there that comes from centuries ago and the values of I don't know what. In the same way that we pay taxes on the cars, a function of how much CO2 they are emitting, why not paying taxes on the buildings like that?

For all that to come first, and I repeat this, this common measurement framework, if we don't have that, we cannot progress in this area.

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Mercè Griera: We're very pleased that IEEE organized this conference in Brussels. That has given us the opportunity to have a mutual understanding of what's going on, on our respective organizations. You have had here representatives of many directorate generals of the European Commission that probably would not have been possible if you were organizing this conference elsewhere.

For us, it has been also a fantastic opportunity in order to see in detail, to meet many of the members of IEEE to exchange views and to see what's going on in your place. What is important for me is that, at the end of the day, what I have learned is that we share completely our ideas on this area. There is a common understanding on what is to be done. I appreciate it, for instance, very much the fact that in this conference it was engineered from both areas, from the ICT and from the power sector. That is something that we at the Commission we are trying to do on each one of our initiatives.

I think that we are on the same boat. That is the conclusion that I took. I'm looking forward to continuing the cooperation between both organizations.

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About Mercè Griera-i-Fisa

Mercè Griera-i-Fisa is Project Officer with the European Commission and an ICT engineer.