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Shaping Europe’s digital future

EU policy supporting the digital and green transformation of the energy system

The EU policy promoting strategies for data, cloud and edge, and cybersecurity are central to the digitalisation of the energy system.

    The green and digital transformation of the energy system.

© image by Leo Wolfert - Getty Images/iStock


Standards are needed to cover the communication requirements of grid management, balancing and interfacing with the millions of new renewable energy sources, as well as for the complex interactions of the new distributed energy market, which is also enriched with demand-side response services.

The EC has been working towards interoperability of solutions and standardisation for several years now. The main coordination reference for smart grids at European level is the Smart Grids Task Force (co-chaired by DG CNECT and DG ENER), which was given the mission to advise the European Commission on policy and regulatory directions at European level and to coordinate the first steps towards the implementation of Smart Grids in accordance with the energy and digital legislations. It has issued key reports on standards, cybersecurity and flexibility markets.

To support and accelerate the rollout of smart energy grid solutions, the Commission issued to the European Standardisation Organisations the M/441 mandate for smart meters and the M/490 for smart grids, in 2009 and 2011 respectively. The mandates were successfully completed by the experts of the relevant Coordination Groups (SM-CG and SG-CG) who delivered a number of pertinent deliverables and standards. These Groups continue, also following their merging as of January 2021 into the CEN-CENELEC-ETSI Coordination Group on Smart Grids (CG-SG), to provide input to the development and maintenance of new and existing relevant standards. They also receive inputs from and provide input to the European Commission’s activities related to standardisation and remain actively engaged in the work of the Smart Grids Task Force. The outcome of this work, amongst others, inspires the Commission’s drafting of the Implementing Acts on data as provided for in Article 24 of the Electricity Directive 339 (EU) 2019/944. The first implementing Regulation (EU) 2023/1162 on interoperability rules for access to metering and consumption data was adopted in June 2023, and work is currently ongoing on the implementing act for demand-response.

A notable success story is the creation of a common interoperability language known as Smart Appliances Reference (SAREF) by the Commission in collaboration with stakeholders. SAREF became a standard of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and oneM2M – the global initiative for IoT standardisation – in 2015 and has been implemented in commercial white goods products of leading European suppliers since 2017. SAREF later evolved into a modular ontology with extensions for different verticals, including energy, paving the way for the creation of an interoperable IoT ecosystem.


    The image depicts the home and the energy operators system supporting bidirectional energy flows and enabling demand-side flexibility.


Figure 1: Towards a common language for demand-side flexibility (Source: EEBUS)

The SAREF ontology and its SAREF4ENER and SAREF4Building extensions are currently being piloted on a large scale within the framework of the Horizon 2020-funded project InterConnect.

Within the general framework of the Internet of Things and 5G, the EC is looking at all other communication aspects and needs of smart energy and including the necessary conditions in the development of said communication domains as well as aligning with the other domains such as automotive, health, smart cities, etc.


The European Data Strategy

The European Data Strategy recognises the importance of data in the modern economy, including in the energy sector, where new players bring valuable data assets. Data is at the center of the power grid. It is exchanged between a large quantity of different software systems which enables utilities to properly plan, operate, and maintain their grid, with a digitalised model of the physical world.

The strategy announced, between others, the creation of common European data spaces in several strategic sectors, including energy. The Commission will support the deployment of the energy data space through the DIGITAL Work Programme 2023-2024, by considering the results of six already ongoing energy data space projects supported via Horizon Europe. Striking the right balance between general rules and sector-specific rules is crucial for successful implementation. The effective implementation of the Clean Energy Package, coupled with relevant actions proposed under the EU action plan for digitalising the energy system, paves the way for seamless data flow within and across the energy sector and beyond, leading to a common European data space.

Moreover, to support the development and sharing of data in accordance with the EU values, the Commission proposed the European Data Act, which entered into force in January 2024. The new rules are expected to create €270 billion of additional GDP for EU Member States by 2028 by addressing the legal, economic and technical issues that lead to data being underused.


A European Strategy for Cloud and Edge

The EU Data Strategy highlighted the strategic importance of reinforcing the competitiveness of the European cloud-to-edge supply industry in order to ensure the resilience of the EU in this essential area and to make the EU one of the world’s most important data hubs. The EC is adopting a balanced approach with top-down actions via an IPCEI on Next Generation Cloud Infrastructure and Services, stimulating industrial alliances like the Alliance for Industrial Data, Edge and Cloud at a corporate level, underpinned by bottom-up targeted R&I under the framework HORIZON EUROPE to build a solid foundation for a Cloud, Edge, IoT Computing ecosystem.

The IPCEI-Next Generation Cloud Infrastructure and Services aims at strengthening Europe's digital and technological sovereignty and will create a “Multi-Provider Cloud-Edge Continuum” without being tied to a single provider.

Research and innovation on AI, cloud, IoT and, edge computing is supported under Horizon Europe Cluster 4. Cloud and edge computing can accelerate the energy transition by improving the efficiency and automation of energy systems. These allow for data to be processed closer to the source, reducing the amount of energy used to transmit data over long distances. Together, these technologies can help to improve the efficiency of the energy system and make it more flexible, which is essential for the transition to renewable energy sources.


Reinforcing Cybersecurity

The growing connectivity of the European power grid poses new technical challenges, especially in terms of cybersecurity. As more devices become connected to the power system, they create more potential access points for cyber-attacks on a critical infrastructure. The centrality of the energy infrastructure for our economies makes it essential to minimise the vulnerability of industrial control systems in the electrical, water, oil, gas, and data sectors and avoid any disruption of operations. To deal with these cyber-threats that know no borders, it is imperative to have a permanent operational cooperation framework and information exchange in place.

To appropriately respond to these challenges, the Smart Grids Task Force experts developed a comprehensive sector-specific strategy on how to reinforce the implementation of the NIS directive at energy sector level (see their respective report published in September 2019.pdf).

Over the recent period the work focused on investigating and accordingly providing advice to the Commission regarding requirements and procedures that need to be in place to ensure cybersecurity in the energy infrastructure. Their findings and recommendations fed into the development by the Commission of implementing or delegated acts on these topics in line with the Electricity Directive and Electricity Regulation (e.g., the Network Code on sector specific rules for cybersecurity aspects of cross-border electricity flows) or the Directive on measures for a high common level of cybersecurity across the Union (‘NIS 2’ Directive), which entered into force on 16 January 2023. In addition to the already covered entities in the energy sector under NIS1, NIS2 now applies also to electricity producers, nominated electricity market operators (NEMOs), operators of recharging points for electrical vehicles, district heating and cooling, central oil stockholding entities and hydrogen. Member States now have until 17 October 2024 to transpose the Directive into their national law.

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