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The transformation in the power distribution grids: everything you need to know

To understand the importance of transformation in power distribution grids, it is necessary to understand what grid flexibility is and why it is key to the energy transition.

Generating our own energy with solar panels on the roof of our home or company is already a reality but who would have told us that the excess energy could be stored in our electric vehicle? And know our energy consumption and possible incidents in the grid in real time? These ideas that years ago only had a place in our imagination are now a reality thanks to the flexibility of the power distribution grids.


Why is it necessary to transform the power distribution grid?

Electrification of the economy is key to making progress in reducing emissions and achieving a decarbonised future by 2050. This energy transition is accompanied by two major transformations that impact the electricity distribution grid:

  • the way of generating electricity is changing, renewable energies have more presence and self-consumption is growing.
  • there is further electrification of demand, with new uses of electricity, such as electric vehicles, and new, more efficient air conditioning systems.

In this new scenario, the role of the companies in charge of transporting electricity from the grids to the points of consumption is key to ensuring the electricity supply and balancing energy flows. These companies are the electricity distributors, which will need to focus on digitalisation and flexibility to respond to new needs.

"The transformation of distribution grids is an ongoing process that brings significant benefits to society," maintains José Manuel Revuelta, General Manager of Infrastructures and Grids at Endesa. "It is a progress that arises, at the same time, from the global challenge of decarbonisation of the current energy model and the need for technological change to adapt the grids to the new environmental, socio-economic and industrial context in which we live."

“The transformation of distribution grids is an ongoing process that brings significant benefits to society”.

– José Manuel Revuelta, general manager of Infrastructures and Grids at Endesa.

What is a flexible power grid?

To understand what a flexible power gridis, imagine a residential neighbourhood with a strong concentration of photovoltaic generation in the central hours of the day, that is, twelve in the afternoon and four in the afternoon. At this time, it is possible to match a maximum peak of photovoltaic production with a minimum level of consumption if many people are not in their homes. This strong generation surplus could lead to grid saturations or over-voltages.

This is where the markets for flexibility services come into play where the electricity distributor could request some flexibility on the generation facilities or on the demand of the affected area to increase its consumption or reduce PV generation on an ad hoc basis.

The development of markets for flexible services facilitates the optimal use of renewable production and new uses of electricity. This new model of management and operation of the distribution grid seeks not only to make more efficient use of the grids, but also to put the end consumer at the centre of the energy transition and open up new business opportunities.

What is the grid flexibility for?

When we talk about grid flexibility, we refer to the grid's ability to adapt to changing, diverse and dynamic conditions, the aim of which is to maintain the maximum possible balance between what is injected and what is withdrawn from the grid.

Therefore, when distribution grid reconfigurations are not sufficient, flexible operation on generation and demand is necessary to anticipate saturations and supply quality problems.

To achieve "flexibility", the operation of the distribution grid must go from being static to becoming a dynamic operation where the grid is reconfigured automatically and dynamically according to the flows.


What is grid digitisation?

Digitalisation is key to making grids much more resilient and flexible infrastructures and that also contribute to the growth of the economy and the creation of quality jobs.

Electricity distributors need new tools based on the digitisation and monitoring of their assets to perform analyses that allow them to anticipate and implement solutions. For example, weather forecasting is essential for predicting electrical flows in the coming hours. As José Manuel Revuelta maintains, "Operating the distribution grids in a more flexible way will allow us to advance more quickly in the necessary energy transition by taking advantage of the best available technology."

What does it mean to move from a passive grid to a smart one?

An electrified economy requires more digitalised power grids. The use of new technologies and monitoring and information gathering tools make it possible to have greater knowledge of the grid and apply solutions based on artificial intelligence for its optimal and efficient management.

In Endesa, for example, we have developed a system that allows us to replenish the supply of electrical installations autonomously and instantly and, therefore, without having to send our staff to the field. This greatly speeds up supply replenishment deadlines, especially in extreme weather adversity scenarios. As José Manuel Revuelta explains, "We are already implementing solutions that allow us to even anticipate incidents before they occur."


What is special about Spain?

The case of Spain is very unique. Given its high number of hours of sunlight, with an average of approximately 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, our country is making a strong commitment to the development of photovoltaic facilities. These plants produce electricity only during sunny hours, but electricity consumption is also necessary at night. So flexibility is essential to achieve perfect coordination between generation, demand and distribution grids.

During the last decade, different digital solutions have been developed in most of the sectors related to the energy transition and electric vehicles have managed to triple their sales in 2020. However, this electrification will require a flexible system in order to achieve the objectives of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation.

What are Endesa and Enel doing to contribute to the digitalisation and flexibility of the grid?

Currently, at Endesa we are making a strong commitment to digital transformation in all our business lines. These include digitisation in distribution, in which we have developed and collaborated in various flexibility projects:

  • Coordinet Project. This project aims to develop a much more open, participative and secure electricity system, in which the different agents can contribute additional services to the power grid with their generation and consumption.
  • SmartNet Project. Endesa has also collaborated in SmartNet, a European project aimed at improving both the efficiency and stability of the power grid. At the same time, it also seeks to create a more sustainable and flexible grid where the use of customers' resources is increased and where there is a reduction in losses and emissions by reducing grid overloads.
  • Flexibility Labs. This project is part of the Enel Group's initiatives to develop flexibility in distribution grids. With four locations, located in Milan and Bari in Italy and in Malaga and Barcelona in Spain, focus on different aspects of grid flexibility to reproduce the complex real-world operating conditions of electricity grids to experiment with innovative flexibility solutions.
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