What is the main difference between this century and the previous one? It would not be too far-fetched to answer “flexibility”. This is demonstrated by the great importance attached today to resilience – the ability to adapt to changes and take advantage of them. One of the areas where this is most evident is the energy sector, which is fluid by its very nature. And in particular, the electricity sector, which is playing an increasingly central role.
Enel is at the forefront of this epoch-marking change. This is due to its consolidated experience of managing electricity grids and to the constant innovation in digitalization that enables new flexibility solutions, in order to accelerate the grids of the future.
The reasons for change
The energy transition currently under way is driving the advance towards flexibility. From an upstream perspective, i.e., electricity generation, the traditional model based on a few large power plants is evolving into a decentralized system of smaller, renewable source plants. From a downstream perspective, final consumption is being increasingly electrified, for example in transport and in domestic sectors such as heating and cooking.
To respond effectively to the new requirements of the energy transition, electricity grids need to ensure an increasingly stable and efficient system, thereby enabling them to become more flexible in managing multidirectional energy flows and to constantly adapt to variations in production on one hand, and demand on the other.
These new technological and digital electricity grids are the so-called smart grids, a field in which Enel is one of the main operators at global level thanks to the 44 million plus smart meters installed for managing the grid in real time. But we want to go even further, with technologies that are increasingly geared towards flexibility. For this reason, we have launched the Flexibility Lab.
The new project
The initiative, in line with our approach of continuous innovation, consists of the activation of a laboratory based in four localities in two countries where the Group is present: Milan and Bari in Italy, and Malaga and Barcelona in Spain.
The laboratory facilities, which are managed by highly skilled technicians, are able to count on cutting-edge technologies to allow all stakeholders in the emerging market of flexibility to cooperate, test and assess their solutions in a genuine operational environment. Moreover, it will be possible to validate the compatibility of technological tools used, evaluate the quality of services, define and trial appropriate operational parameters, predict the impacts of various scenarios on the grids as well as conduct stress tests in exceptional conditions, such as extreme weather events and extensive damage to the grid.
Ultimately, the initiative is designed to reinforce the contribution and the diffusion of distributed energy resources connected to the grid, through the improvement of flexibility services. This is thanks to Enel’s capabilities as a leading grid operator at international level, which enables it to act as a neutral facilitator of flexibility services to manage grid congestion and voltage regulation and to prevent outages.
With this project we are meeting the requirements of the European regulations, in particular the “Clean Energy Package” 2019, a set of rules for the energy sector that requires electricity grid operators to acquire flexibility services through transparent and non-discriminatory market procedures, to manage and develop their own grids efficiently.
“While we enter a new era of energy characterized by an unprecedented shift towards distributed energy resources connected to the grid, our infrastructure needs to expand, and this requires intelligent and reliable solutions that are capable of providing a quality service to our customers, in any place, at any time. Within this evolving scenario, flexibility plays a key role in embracing the energy transition,” says Antonio Cammisecra, Head of Enel’s Global Infrastructure and Networks Division. “Through our Flexibility Lab initiative, we are opening the doors of our centers of excellence to all stakeholders involved in electric energy, allowing them to cooperate, test and trial their own solutions in a genuine operational environment, making them future-ready, to the benefit of consumers on the road map towards a zero-emissions future.”
Four specialized centers
Each of the four centers involved in the Flexibility Lab initiative has its own specific characteristics with regards to the technological fields of reference.
The two Italian centers are specialized in controlled environment simulations for analyzing the potential, and integration onto the grid, of various flexibility resources (such as distributed generation, electric mobility and energy storage systems), also under extreme operational conditions.
Specifically, the laboratory in Milan is specialized in medium voltage grids, the lab in Bari in low voltage grids and microgrids. These are the local mini networks which are powered by small generation plants and that are not connected to the national networks.
The Flexibility Lab in Barcelona, on the other hand, works with high voltage grids and electric mobility, with the possibility to study storage devices and the integration of electric vehicles onto the grid. Moreover, the site houses the Flexibility Control Center, which is responsible for supervising the various pilot projects that will be created as part of the project.
Finally, the center in Malaga is specialized in demand modulation and is a “living laboratory” that is part of the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), the international association created to facilitate cooperation and knowledge sharing between scientific laboratories. Within this context, the site also hosts the European project CoordiNet, which was set up to investigate flexibility at all levels, from transmission networks to those for distribution, to the direct participation of consumers. The end goal is a reliable, sustainable and resilient electricity system, a mission that underlines how flexibility can be a tangible way to improve the quality and sustainability of people’s lifestyles.