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ISGAN Report Assesses System Operators’ Interaction in Evolving Grid Operations Sector

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

ISGAN Report Assesses System Operators’ Interaction in Evolving Grid Operations Sector

A new paper prepared by the International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN) provides a look at current and future interaction between transmission system operators and distribution system operators in the rapidly changing grid operations sector and presents potential methods of increasing future cooperation. Photo courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The Clean Energy Ministerial’s International Smart Grid Action Network (ISGAN) has released a new discussion paper that explores the increasingly close interaction between transmission system operators (TSOs)—transporting energy at a national or regional level—and distribution system operators (DSOs)—delivering energy to final users. The paper, TSO-DSO interaction: An Overview of current interaction between transmission and distribution system operators and an assessment of their cooperation in Smart Grids, provides a look at current and future TSO-DSO interaction in the rapidly changing grid operations sector and presents potential methods of increasing future cooperation. 

The relationship between TSOs and DSOs is changing for numerous reasons, such as the adoption of smart grid technologies and principles and the increase in distributed generation. The paper investigates six specific grid operation challenges, or cases, for which closer collaboration between TSOs and DSOs is necessary or helpful.

Experts from Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States provided input for the cases and helped identify gaps to full smart grid interaction for their respective countries.

The paper finds that the technical solutions required for a closer interaction between TSOs and DSOs are very similar for most of the identified cases. New technical requirements for the DSO include a two-way communication to both its flexible customers and to the TSO, and the ability to perform (quasi) real-time network simulations with input from grid measurements. These technical requirements can be met using available technology, but the complexity and skills required for implementation and operation should not be underestimated.

The paper also identifies several non-technical issues that must be considered, including maintaining a balance between infrastructure investments and use of flexibility, the role of markets, setting a level playing field for flexibility, and the role of regulation. It notes that a clear policy framework will encourage investments in smart grid solutions to address these issues. 

“Network operators around the world can learn from the different approaches to handle these challenges,” said Antony Zegers of Austria, a lead author of the paper. The paper can inform decision-making in restructured electricity markets, where a clear distinction exists between TSOs and DSOs, and may also be useful to decision makers considering the redesign of vertically integrated utilities. 

About ISGAN

An initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial, ISGAN seeks to accelerate progress on key aspects of smart grid policy, technology, and related standards through voluntary participation by governments in specific projects and programs. For more information on ISGAN and its activities, visit the ISGAN website: http://www.iea-isgan.org/