EY consultant: Europe is lagging behind in power grid digitalisation

(EurActiv, 29 Jan 2019) The volume of solar panels and electric cars connected to the grid is still manageable for now. But massive new load expected from electric vehicles in the coming years will require stepping up network digitalisation, warns Serge Colle.

Serge Colle is global power & utilities advisory leader at EY, a consulting firm. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Frédéric Simon on the sidelines of an event organised by industry association Eurelectric on 24 January, From Pipes to Platforms New DSO Business Models. Colle is the lead author of an EY report on the digitalisation of the electricity sector that was presented at the event.

European electricity utilities and grid operators – how far have they come in the digital transformation?

It’s a mixed picture. If you look at the volumes of solar panels and electric cars put on the network, you can say that utilities and DSOs are coping with this. So in a sense, you could say they are doing well.

But if you look at digitalisation, Europe is lagging behind countries like the US where over 50% of consumers already have a smart meter for example. But this is not necessarily the DSO’s choice – smart meter deployment is often driven by a regulatory agenda.

The question of smart meters keeps coming back in Europe, as an obstacle to the digitalisation of electricity. It’s taking a lot of time to deploy them, so what’s the way forward?

First of all, consumers are facing a digitalisation of their environment – in their homes, or in their cars. So the general acceptance of being connected will increase over time.

Nevertheless, people’s concerns about data privacy are real. The data captured by your smart meter can tell when you’re home, how many cars you have, how many air conditioners, and so forth. So there is a concern that will not necessarily go away. And it’s up to the regulators and utilities to address them.

That being said, we have to digitalise the network to make sure the energy transition works. Digitalisation is necessary in order to understand what’s going on in the network. This means placing sensors on the network in order to see where investments are needed to reinforce the grid with copper cables. But that will be very expensive.

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EurActiv, 29 Jan 2019: EY consultant: Europe is lagging behind in power grid digitalisation