Smart grids can offer the key to utilities’ sustainability

The InovCity project is showcased at a dedicated showroom in the city of Évora. This picture shows the main components of the solution.

(CASE STUDY:) January 3, 2013 — Mobile connectivity is enabling utilities to more effectively manage the supply and demand of consumers’ energy and water use. A good example of this is EDP’s Smart City Project in Portugal, Évora InovCity, developed in partnership with equipment and service suppliers, including Portuguese mobile operator, Optimus.

As Carlos Lourenco, head of Business Unit, Optimus and Paulo Monteiro, head of Solution Development, EDP Distribuição write, it is a big step forward for the management and control of power distribution, combining renewable production and efficient network operation with improved customer service.

By promoting energy efficiency, demonstrating an average reduction in energy consumption of 3.9% for consumers, micro-generation and electrical mobility, InovCity has become a prime example of sustainability for Europe. The project has been selected from more than 200 other smart grid projects by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission as the single case study for the assessment of smart grid projects in Europe.

InovCity’s founders are currently collaborating with the JRC on further smart grid analysis. It has also been labelled as a core project in Europe for smart grids by the European Electricity Grids Initiative and won Utility of the Year Award 2012.

This small scale model of the city of Évora shows the reach of the InovCity project.

Incorporating the deployment of 30,000 smart meters (known as EDP Boxes) in the Portuguese municipality of Évora, it is the first urban area in Portugal to hook up to the intelligent energy grid. The project provides the electricity grid with information and devices to automate grid management, improve service quality, reduce operating costs and promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. It also enables the monitoring and management of the state of the entire electricity distribution grid, significantly reducing the duration of service interruptions and the number of affected clients.

This newly built platform allows the development of new products and services by suppliers and energy service companies, including the offer of price plans adapted to customers’ consumption profiles and requirements. It also enables EDP to more efficiently support the implementation of a network of charging points for electric vehicles.

Discussing the project, EDP’s head of solution development for the smart grid project, Paulo Libano Monteiro, explained that they had learned four key lessons from the deployment. “Firstly, it is essential to engage the customer by presenting the benefits in a clear way,” he said. “Secondly, the management of the communications infrastructure as the scale increases is also critical for the future success of smart grids, as is the need to fine tune data processes so that the full benefits of the solution can be taken advantage of. Automation and a highly integrated approach to commercial and operational processes are vital. Lastly, you must remember that there are no easy deployments when it comes to innovative solutions; they take time and hard work.”

The head of Optimus’ M2M business unit, Carlos Lourenco, agrees that tight integration at the partnership level is the key issue for successful deployment of smart grid initiatives: “Traditionally operators are very capable of processing large volumes of activations, provisioning, billing and after-sales processes but projects such as this require a deep co-operation among the different partners in the ecosystem in order to make a successful deployment with minimum overheads, considering that the overall value proposition is high but the income per unit is very low. It is not just a matter of Optimus supplying the communications element for example, but constantly working together with EDP to prevent and solve issues as they arise so that the benefits and customer services that the end-user receives are very clear.”

For example, the operator engineering support and massive project roll-out experience would be an upside to be taken into account along with its willingness for building up an interesting and sustainable business case.

A general view of the InovCity showroom in the Portuguese city of Évora.

“The overall value proposition is high but the income per unit is very low.”
Carlos Lourenco, Optimus

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