Future visions and technologies for distribution grids

Energy and environment Foresight 11:59

This publication is a collaboration between the Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences (SATW) and the National Center of Competence in Research Automation (NCCR Automation). It aims to provide small and medium-sized distribution grid operators, energy supply companies and decision-makers in Switzerland an overview of the upcoming changes in the energy system. The publication also aims to highlight the resulting opportunities, innovative technologies, possible solutions and new business areas to ensure a reliable and profitable energy supply by 2050.

Supply and consumption can be coordinated. The volatility of decentralized feed-in can thus be ideally exploited.

The energy system will be decarbonized, decentralized, digitalized and have a greater reliance on electricity; end users will not only become larger consumers, but also significant electricity producers. Lower grid levels are thus becoming not only more important for the overall system, but are also confronted with challenges. Technology can offer solutions and open up new business models.

Grid operators are already finding themselves increasingly faced with a bi-directional flow of electricity and an infrastructure that needs to be adapted to this change.  At the same time, they have a responsibility to ensure security of supply and grid stability in their supply area. In addition, small distribution grid operators who often rely on a volunteer run workforce are coming under increasing pressure due to changing requirements, be they technical or administrative. This is confirmed by the results of a survey of Swiss distribution grid operators.

The energy transition, in combination with new technologies, offers not just challenges but also opportunities. Hardware and software for digitalization and energy storage are becoming more affordable and reliable. They simplify the integration of decentralized energy sources into the grid and increase grid stability without requiring large investments in the physical distribution grid. 

If local suppliers do not limit their activities to electricity supply, but also focus on sector coupling, this also provides opportunities to grow into the areas of heat and mobility within their own supply area.

Experts emphasize that the key to success lies in thinking in terms of systems that go beyond the current division of tasks and responsibilities.

Read publication in:


Order publication

The direction of the energy strategy is undoubtedly coherent; it is important that additional regulatory framework conditions do not make implementation more difficult. Politicians must set framework conditions that enable us to ensure security of supply in the future and not hinder it.

Finally, the shortage of skilled workers, existing bottlenecks in resources (...) and securing specialist expertise as baby boomers retire pose a challenge.

The question of whether society is ultimately prepared to bear the higher costs is also likely to be challenging.