Internet of Things creeps into the energy sector


Smart grids and smart meters were one focus of Eurelectric's Berlin conference. [Sarah Murray /Flickr]

Europe’s electricity sector needs to open up to the Internet of Things, where objects are connected to each other via the World Wide Web, policymakers told a Berlin industry event on Tuesday (2 June).

“We know the development of electricity production and distribution schemes and our electricity grid, including smart meters and smart grids, will closely correspond to the further development of the Internet,” said Peter Altmaier, the chief of staff of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a former environment minister.

“This is something that’s not yet fully reflected in discussions. We are discussing electricity, others are discussing industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things,” Altmaier told the conference, organised by industry association Eurelectric.

Smart grids digitally trace energy consumption recorded by smart meters, and can streamline power back to users.

“Every machine will have an IP address, where machines are interconnected with machines and with people. Industry 4.0 (creates) a lot of possibilities and opportunities also for the development of a sustainable production and supply system of electricity,” Altmaier said.

Consumer data collection for smart grids touches on a number of issues now under negotiation in Europe, mainly related to privacy.

The European Commission’s new Digital Single Market plans emphasise the “deployment of smart meters and other elements of smart grids will generate massive amounts of data”, posing enormous challenges for cybersecurity, competition and other EU policy issues.

>>Read: Smart grids could be Europe’s shale gas, Commission says

Discussions in Berlin turned to the question of who should manage data from smart grids, an issue that’s drawn concern over consumer privacy, especially if competing energy providers can access the information.

In Berlin, a Eurelectric officer said that smart grid energy consumption data should be managed by the distribution system operators who collect it.

Eurelectric will present its position on distribution system operators’ role in managing data soon, the officer said.

Peder Andreasen, incoming president of ENTSO-E, the association of transmission system operators, called for openness on access to consumption data.

“Of course, protect the customers, but make this data available for retailers. I strongly believe this is the right way to go,” Andreasen said.

Others urged caution in choosing where consumer data should be stored and managed.

Antonio Pototschnig, director of European energy regulator ACER, said it’s crucial for competition that whoever handles data remains neutral.

Pototschnig told EURACTIV, “There will be more opportunities for services which can be provided in competitive markets. All these services will use data as a key component, and you do not want the use of the data to be uncompetitive. You don’t want somebody who has an interest in an uncompetitive market to have privileged access to this data.”

Europe currently relies on a grid system for the transmission of its electricity that was primarily designed in the post-World War II period.

Power grids in the 20th century were originally built as local grids, which over time became augmented and interconnected.

Today, grid systems transmission and distribution operators need to consider a bewilderingly complex range of demand and supply issues such as the environmental impacts of fossil fuel use, the challenges of switching to cleaner but more ‘variable’ power sources such as wind and solar energy, security of supply, and protection from hackers.

>>Read our LinksDossier: Smart grids: Making connections

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