Smart electricity grids – more than a technological shift

Tomorrow’s energy grids are smart. Research at the Centre for Wireless Communications (CWC, University of Oulu) shapes them.

Electricity grids of today are organized around centralized energy production plants. From them electricity flows one way to the customer, whose money then flows the other way. Smart grids will revolutionize the system: customers will be included into the market as producers and traders of energy.

“We are developing tools that allow customers to be a part of the electricity market. In the future, the customer could for example install solar panels on his or her roof and sell excess energy to the market,” explains Professor Ari Pouttu. This kind of small-scale production of energy is called microgeneration.

Microgeneration is one element of flexibility, which the smart electricity grids of the future are all about. As well as microgeneration, future grids require flexible consumption and local trade of electricity loads. With smart energy monitors in every household, customers such as you and me will be able to offer our electricity loads into the market. For example, if you lower your use of electricity during a consumption peak in the grid, you will receive a compensation.

Energy storage is the third core element of flexibility in the grid. This means storing energy in batteries and being able to release it to the grid when there is higher demand for it.

Smart electricity grids will include microgenerators that run within microgrids. “With smart grids, the electrons flow every direction. And so does the money,” Pouttu says. “We are now working on solutions that can make you and me part of the game.”

New kind of market – new kinds of issues

There are several problems to be solved with microgeneration and microgrids. One question is how the physical network can accommodate multipoint injection of energy into the grid. For example, some houses in a neighbourhood might only consume energy while some others also generate it and push it to the grid every now and then. “We need to develop totally new kinds of control algorithms so that the electricity network can survive these types of operations,” Pouttu remarks.

Providing the technology that allows microgenerators to trade their energy is another thing. The EU-funded P2P-SmarTest project led by Ari Pouttu deals with the question of how to aggregate energy from microgenerators into the market. “We are developing mechanisms and functions that will allow the aggregation of microgenerators to be offered to the market as a big chunk,” Pouttu says.

Wireless ICT solutions are required to coordinate these types of aggregations. There are also regulatory and socioeconomic aspects that need to be considered. “Then there is the existing physical grid: we can develop an ideal system but we also have to consider the transition of the current system to the new one. Some of the solutions we develop might be usable today, some in a few years, and some in 10 years or later.”

“We are constantly on the lookout for good partners. We have good connections to Europe but wish to have local partners as well,” Professor Ari Pouttu says.

Exploding the energy market

“In my view, smart grids pretty much denote the modernization process of the current grid. Our research is affecting this process,” says CWC researcher Dr. Pedro Nardelli. He is working in the BCDC Energia and P2P-SmarTest projects under the lead of Ari Pouttu.

There are more than methodological aspects to take into account with future energy management. Nardelli has studied socioeconomic features of smart grids. “We need technology to solve the problems, but we also need to create rules about how the energy is going to be distributed or used,” he says. “If everybody in the future generates energy and there is a way to share it, there can be microgrid alliances. Basically this means exploding the market as it is now. You don’t even need mediation of money anymore.”

“Sometimes the academia is very far away from reality and is based on a traditional way of doing things. My ambition is to close the gap,” Dr. Pedro Nardelli says.

“Our technological solutions can be applied to the market and then to other ways of distributing electricity. But we need to take into account that there is no universal solution,” Nardelli reminds. This is because the market is very different in different parts of the world. “Up north for example, we would need really good storage systems so that we can generate energy in the summer and consume it in the winter,” Pouttu explains.

Along with radical changes in the electricity market, there could be new kinds of business opportunities in the services smart grids could provide. Pouttu elaborates: “Lease a Tesla car from me, and buy a solar panel to your roof to get your fuel from that. We want to enable these kinds of new business models and solutions to appear in the marketplace.”

Research at the CWC in Oulu revolves around 5G, which is also expected to offer a great platform for novel services. “We view connectivity as an enabler for new things to happen. That’s why our EU projects are so nice. We have companies who expect services and products and then we have academics looking at the control and trading solutions. Everything comes nicely together,” Pouttu concludes.

Read more:

P2P-SmarTest (

BCDC Energia (

Blog (


Text: Antti Miettinen


Last updated: 21.2.2018