Discovering that EU taxpayers’ money is spent in a proper way is a good feeling. Finding out that citizens, local authorities, national bodies and private companies are using that money in a positive cooperative mood to test the future of energy is even better.
Carros is a nice village in the backcountry of Nice; its mayor, Charles Scibetta, arrived in France from Acquaviva Platani when he was 3 years old and became Professor of Economy. Acquaviva, meaning “Living Water” in Italian, is a small village almost in the middle of Sicily, whose economy is mainly based on agriculture.
Although far from the Côte d’Azur region, it shares the same mediterreanean atmospheres, the olive trees and more than 3000 years of history. Despite being in the City Council since 1983, Mr Scibetta was elected mayor of Carros only last year, but it is with a charming mix of pride and pragmatism that he introduces us to NICE GRID, the EU financed project which is developing the “power grid of tomorrow”, a smarter and more responsive grid integrating a high level of solar energy, storage units and smart equipment.
The consumer (or ’consomm-acteur’ with a nice wordplay underlining the active role of citizens in energy saving) is the main character of the experiment: 300 Carros families, 11 industrial customers and the administrative district are taking part in the project.
NICE GRID combines innovative technology, such as “Linky”, the latest electricity meter, and existing electricity infrastructure to test the concept behind smart grid networks in its entirety. Coordinated by ERDF, the programme is the first demonstrator of a smart solar district and forms part of the European GRID4EU project, whose purpose is to test innovative electricity management solutions.
Thought to last four years – but parties have already agreed to extend it of a year more – and with a total investment of €30.2 million, the project has been approved by and is being funded by ADEME, the European Commission, the French Energy Regulation Commission (’CRE’), the Alpes- Maritimes General Council, Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur, the town of Carros, Eco-Vallée de la Plaine du Var and the CAPENERGIES competitive cluster.
Some of these actors are also involved in other energy projects in the area, such as INFLOW, a floating vertical axis wind turbine installed on a semi-submersible floater off the coast at Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône or VertiMED, testing floating platforms off the French Mediterranean coast.
Last winter, Carros residents taking part in the experiment were encouraged to moderate their energy use between 6pm and 8pm (peak loads) and to test the control panel of their electric heating system via the Linky meter. On peak days, between 6 pm and 8 pm, these customers reduced their electricity consumption by an average of 20%. The companies taking part in the experiment (representing around 10 MW of subscribed capacity) reduced their power consumption by around 10%.
The Muzzarello family belongs to the group of customers who accepted to test the system both in winter and in summer; they receive an e-mail and an sms in the evening, informing them about the next days’ conditions and they know that if it’s a “Peak Day” they may be able to use their washing machine, electric oven and other energy intensive devices in the afternoon benefitting from an interesting price reduction (from 15 cents Kw/h to 10 cents Kw/h). Likewise, they know that the system may take control of their electric radiators and diminish their power if the grid needs less energy consumption.
Energy transition is a crucial dimension in the Energy Union’s future, placing the distribution system at the heart of the measures to efficiently absorb locally-produced energy, notably from renewable energy sources. “Smart grids” are the first step towords tomorrow’s “smart cities”, where the lifestyles of “smart citizens” will be reinvented using digital technologies and ICT (information and communication technologies) to reduce costs and resource consumption, enhancing quality and performance of urban services.
NICE GRID seems to go in that direction, Carros families and entrepreneurs are tasting a bite of future and EU funding is helping them, the companies and the public authorities involved, to have a positive feeling towards Europe, which – these days – is indeed something that deserves attention.