Enel and Electricity Grid Security

Published on Monday, 20 October 2014

Is there anything particularly amazing about using the switch to turn the light on at home? Today we can actually use smartphones to put into operation lights and electric appliances, even remotely, so we cannot share the astonishment felt by the New York Herald journalist who, when presented one of the first light bulbs that Edison turned on at the end of the 19th century, described it as 'cold and bright' and a 'small globe of sunshine'. Behind this this simple click of a switch is a complex world of daily work on the grid, study, prevention and innovation. 

Enel manages 1.8 kilometres of distribution lines over two continents and knows that the complexity of the network means that it needs to be in a state of constant developed in order to function properly. The security of the electricity system is based on the balance between two key things: generation, which determines system capacity, and load, which determines the capacity required actually by the system. Up to a few year ago, the dynamics involved were simple, with large plants generating the necessary electricity and the grid distributing it. However, electricity is now also generated from non-programmable renewable sources and from a large number of  plants, so that the system can come under severe strain in particular in cases of over generation – the 'three Ss', Sunny, Summer, Saturday –  and nature provides much more capacity than is required. 

Enel responded to this new mode of distribution by taking action much earlier than other energy companies, by adapting the network to these new requirements and completely redesigning the protection system. The introduction of electronic meters in 2001, the development of smart cities and others achievements are a testament to this: these include the drop in annual network disruptions per customer in Italy from 128 minutes in 2001 to 41 in 2013.

Synergy between the telecommunications and electricity networks made possible by developments in technology, has created the tools required to help the system adapt to this new model. Once telecommunications and distributions systems come together, new sustainable protection systems can be used. This means that network hosting capacity increases and solutions can be introduced that enable the regulation of energy on the network or the revolutionisation of the way in which the network is operated, allowing it to switch, for instance, from a highly meshed medium voltage network to a radial network.