Smart grids around the world: Nice, France

electricity consumption, energy 3.0, energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart grids

Existing energy grids must be modernized in order to adapt to a changing energy world as well as to the gradual emergence of decentralized production sources. More and more smart grids are being built in Europe and worldwide and seem to be an adequate, effective solution to this challenge. The European Union has launched a series of experimental projects across the continent, such as the Nice Grid in southeastern France.

A local project within a European framework

Located in the town of Carros, at the heart of the greater Nice Côte d’Azur area, Nice Grid started in 2008 as part of the European Grid4U project. Construction started in 2012, while the actual experiment began in early April 2014. The process originated in the Premio project, conducted in the village of Lambesc, which was selected as early as September 2008. It is the first smart grid demonstration ever carried out in France, where 10 different kinds of resources were tested in a period of one year. The following Nice Grid experiment is expected to be going on until 2017, while the first usable results could be available around 2015. Overall, the project represents 4 years of experiments, involves a consortium of 8 companies and more than 1,500 volunteer users, and costs nearly 30 million euros, funded partly by the European Commission and ADEME (French Agency for the Environment and Energy Management).

This project is part of the broader Grid4U initiative, whose goal it is to test the technical feasibility and economic viability of smart grids in various areas across the continent featuring diverse climate and population patterns. Five other locations thus take part in Grid4U: the town of Vrchlabi in the Czech Republic, the Italian province of Forli-Cesena, the Spanish province of Castellon, the Swedish city of Uppsala and the town of Reken in Germany.

Specific climate and population patterns

Each of these locations features a specific climate pattern (temperate, dry, mild, cold and windy, warm and windy) and population density (urban, semi-urban or rural) and uses a different energy production method and kind of grid. The greater Nice Côte d’Azur area features semi-urban population density with a warm and windy weather and focuses on sun and wind power.

The Nice area is an adequate location for such an experiment for several reasons: it faces energy supply difficulties, enjoys high amounts of sunshine, and the local authorities have a strong political will to use renewable energy sources in the grid. The town of Carros already uses a sizable amount of sun power, with 15% users resorting to photovoltaic panels in the Emigra neighbourhood, which was selected for the experiment.

Organization, goals and challenges

In a talk show by CleanTech Republic at the 2013 Pollutec Horizons Exhibition, project managers said that Nice Grid had three long-term goals: installing photovoltaic technologies on a large scale, observing user behaviours and testing the autonomy of the smart grid, the viability of its economic model as well as the efficiency of the equipment (networks, metres and batteries). This first experiment could therefore serve as an example for other very sunny regions around the world.

Project managers are seeking to implement load shedding, i.e. optimizing energy demand and cutting consumption, while observing user behaviours using a sociological and psychological approach. Users are equipped with monitoring devices and receive text messages informing them on their energy situation and prompting them to take certain steps the following day, such as turning off the heat for a while. Every day, information will be fed to a control station located in Toulon, which will identify peak risks and determine the optimal load shedding and storage plan to match supply and demand.

According to the Nice Grid website, the scheme consists of three areas and their respective goals. The first, broader zone, includes 1,500 volunteer users who will be connected to the smart grid. A smaller portion of the area will be turned into a “solar district” with new photovoltaic panels for 200 users in the Emigra neighbourhood. Finally, a “power island” inside the solar district will enjoy full energy autonomy at certain times thanks to on-site storage facilities. This will be a way of achieving the project’s main purpose: testing the day-to-day viability of combining decentralized photovoltaic energy sources with load shedding capacities made available by heavy-duty storage systems on the grid.

This life-size experiment should promote the development of smart grids in Europe by proving their technical feasibility and economic viability.

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