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IEEE: The expertise to make smart grid a reality

Miguel A. Sánchez Fornié

Speaking from the Smart Grid World Forum in Brussels, Miguel Angel Sánchez Fornié, Director de Telecomunicaciones y Sistemas de Control, at Iberdrola in Madrid, and Chairman of the European Utilities Telecom Council Board of Directors, discusses the Smart Grid landscape in France, Germany and Spain compared to the United States.

Speaking from the Smart Grid World Forum in Brussels, Miguel Angel Sánchez Fornié, Director de Telecomunicaciones y Sistemas de Control, at Iberdrola in Madrid, and Chairman of the European Utilities Telecom Council Board of Directors, discusses the Smart Grid landscape in France, Germany and Spain compared to the United States.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION

What are some of the biggest issues with Smart Grids?

Well, obviously for this question you always have to take into account what is being done in other countries. I am aware what has been done in the U.S.A. In the U.S.A. with the Recovery Act, they are really proceeding in practical large demonstration projects. In Europe, we have not started. We have dedicated a very long time to discuss or to agree in what could be the European vision, what could be the research development, the activities, and even we have set up a plan for implementation. The large scale demonstration projects have been commented on this morning.

So we have everything more or less thought of, but we have not started from the practical point view. This is a big fundamental difference, because of the financing of these projects. We need to decide how to get this financing and funding resolved and we will proceed, because we are very close to proceeding.

Another thing it is very important to take into account are the fundamental differences that I am watching with the United States. In the United States, for me, it is a little bit easier to proceed with a full chain of smart grid projects, because normally you can find that there are a lot of vertically integrated utilities. In Europe, we have a very serious restraint with this unbundling situation. We have to distinguish very clearly between the network operators and the retailers. Normally, the demonstration projects that we are really pursuing are mainly dealing with the networks. The retail is another subject.

You would think that Spain, Germany, and Denmark would aggressively pursue Smart Grids.

It is not only that it will be pursued aggressively, but in my opinion, it's something that we really need urgently. Now let me put you an example. In Spain, we have almost 3.5 thousand megawatts of solar photovoltaic plants, and that is as of today we don't have real-time data out from these installations. Smart grids will be a fantastic opportunity to control, in the proper basis, this huge amount of solar power already installed. This is one example. But another clear example is the offshore wind power. There will be a large amount of offshore wind power, especially in the North Sea, and this is absolutely a request for the smart grids. We need smart grids for that.

What is Spain's approach to fulfilling its energy needs for the next 10-20 years?

Spain, first of all, is very well aligned as it has to be with the European energy objectives. So, this is the most fundamental and basic thing. If I have to put a couple of distinctions from the average European attitude or the average European planning, I would select two. One is the reinforcement of the renewable installation. You have already mentioned that.

The second could be that, as of today, Spain doesn't have any real plan with nuclear energy. You can find some other countries, like the United Kingdom, have already discussed it and they have decided to take into account in their mix for the future the nuclear energy.

In Spain, due to the political situation and reasons, it has been discarded right now. Hopefully, there will be a future. I would hope in the near term that the discussion and the analysis on the possibilities of the nuclear energy will come back.

What are the mixed energies in Spain?

In Spain, we have a peak load of about 45,000 megawatts, and basically we have an installed capacity of more than 85,000 megawatts. The point is that we have a lot of combined cycle gas. We have some fuel. We have nuclear. We have hydro, and we are having a lot of wind, also solar, especially photovoltaic, as I told you.

Obviously, we have already registered sun days where the wind power has been big enough really to be in a situation that not all the wind power generated could be accepted by the load, especially by the system especially on the valley hours. That's because there was not really enough demand. I would say that in Spain we have enough capacity installed, but with a poor possibility of taking most of the benefits of the mix.

How would Smart Grids help with these mixed energies?

The smart grid could help in the sense of avoiding some new network installations, even a new generation. It could help on the integration of new renewables, because it is related to the previous comment. Basically, it could pave the road for getting benefits out from under the demand response. You know the demand management that is something that is going to be happening. When I referred to the demand response, I could also integrate the electric vehicle. It could be a part of that and it has to be controlled. So I really believe that the smart grid is going to be needed in Spain as in any other country of Europe and in the western world.

Is there a lot of power exchange between Spain and France?

Well, the problem that we have is that the capacity of this interconnection is not reaching the 5% I think will be needed. So it is a very urgent subject to resolve. It is one of the priorities given to the European plants, to enlarge this interconnection. This is something that is a very long standing problem that we have to resolve as soon as possible. Why has it not been resolved earlier? Well, it's the problem of a "not in my yard" situation, local opposition and also some political differences.

I really believe that at this time, not only the Spanish government, but also the French government, have accepted that this is a very urgent matter and they are proceeding. I would hope no later than in two years from now this will be a fact.

The acceptance of additional transmission capacity is a real problem in Europe?

Absolutely, and without that and if you look at the very latest communication out from the European Commission, it has been commented this morning. It has been out since November the 17th. In this communication, which is strictly addressing the infrastructure, it clearly establishes the priorities of these interconnections. The one that I have mentioned between Spain and France is one of the priorities, but there are other interconnection priorities.

One of the things that has already been decided as an interconnection is the transmission lines that will get the offshore wind, which is going to be installed in the North Sea, to the center of Europe. But there are other interconnections that are really a matter of concern and importance to resolve.

Do you believe a lot of the Smart Grid technological developments are being driven by activities in Germany?

Not at all, no. I think that there are a lot of approaches and a lot of activities going on inside other countries, France, United Kingdom. But Spain, I have to reinforce very much that Spain is really leading some of the concepts on the smart grids technology. Let me just put one clear example, interoperability. In Spain, we are a leader in really interoperability in the priority of all we're doing in Castellón.

By interoperability, I mean that you are able to connect a lot of electronic devices talking with the same language. This a very clear advance that you can find in Germany. I, obviously, have a lot of respect for the German approach, but also you can find very interesting approaches in Italy.

Just let me use the example of Italy. Italy is the leading country in really deploying telemetry. I don't think that we can speak about an upgraded, smart metering project for that, because it needs to be connected to the smart grids. But it's a clear metering project with 35 million smart meters already installed in Italy. That is another example to show that you cannot only focus in Germany.

We are approaching the overall smart grid deployment and demonstration from the European point of view really. We are taking into account whatever has been done by Germans, but also whatever has been done by other countries in Europe.