Smart grid technologies are entering a new phase of development. Following initial field experiments in Europe, we are now faced with the question: How can smart grids be put to wider use? On the basis of successful case studies in Austria, Norway and Denmark, the MATCH project investigated the experience gained so far in pilot projects in Austria, Norway and Denmark and made recommendations for further development in Europe.
Our need for energy grows steadily. Renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind are becoming ever more important. Electric infrastructures such as the grid are replacing some of their centrally controlled features with more decentralised ones, thus becoming more flexible, responsive and ‘intelligent’. The MATCH project aimed to identify the necessary changes to ensure efficient and effective implementation of smart grid solutions for small consumers.
The project asks questions such as: Which solutions have already been locally tested and proven effective? How does energy pricing influence the use of alternatives? Is smart grid electricity cost-efficient? What systemic and interaction effects may arise and how do they influence objectives such as affordability, access, reliability and flexibility? What unfavourable outcomes do smart grid technologies show? How can data security and privacy be ensured?
To address these important questions, nine comprehensive case studies were conducted in smart grid demonstration projects in the participating partner regions in Austria, Norway and Denmark. Stakeholder workshops were held to share experiences and the systemic effects of the selected smart grid solutions were investigated using modelling techniques. The project team was composed of researchers, energy supply firms and local energy initiatives.
Previous research has led us to assume that effective solutions are the result of the interactions between regional and national features of already existing energy systems. For example, countries differ in their energy market structures and wider infrastructures. More specifically, the energy mix and the distribution systems can be as important in shaping the direction of energy systems change as the relationships between the actors involved (such as funders, users and suppliers).
Key findings from the MATCH project are:
- Smart energy solutions work because they are designed as socio-technical systems from early on. The successful implementation of new solutions depends to a large extent on a well-designed interplay of social and technical elements.
- Smart energy projects need to support processes of local anchoring in order to promote solutions with a high level of local legitimacy and to make local resources and actors become an active part in the energy transition.
- Technology users play a multifaceted and decisive role. It is important to ensure diversity of different user roles and their associated perspectives, interests and requirements from early on.
- Solutions that work well locally do not necessarily have a significant (positive) impact from the point of view of the entire energy system. Hence, it is important to examine the various systemic effects of locally successful solutions for existing energy systems (regional, national) before replicating or up-scaling them.