Prospective Developments and Challenges to Distribution Systems

We asked a few colleagues from our SmartNet partners, AIT, to highlight their views regarding the evolving role that DSOs, new services, data management and the DSO-TSO relationship will play in the future of distribution systems.

What role do you envisage for DSOs in future distribution systems and in particular in the framework of future services provided to the system from subjects in distribution?


The role of the DSO needs to be defined in detail to ensure the multifunctional usage of the flexibility. It will act as network planner and operator but various roles and responsibilities could be attributed to it in the future.

The issue of its participation to the market is controversial since DSOs could create market distortion without a sufficient level of unbundling.

Overall, DSOs could benefit of the flexibility products and should play an important role by safeguarding these markets through ‘traffic-light-concept’.


What new services could be provided from subjects in distribution and how old services will change their provision modalities?


Traditional services such as balancing services (primary, secondary, tertiary) will be necessary in the future, but they should be opened to new players. Currently, technical requirements impose a minimum size to offer balancing services in several countries, so small DER cannot take part in it although they actually have potential. For example in Switzerland, Austria and Germany it is already possible for small DERs to participate in aFRR and mFRR.


Because of the advanced control capabilities of the DER, especially the newly connected, new services will be available. Those new services, such as inertia emulation or black start capabilities, will become more important with the increasing technical challenges due to the intermittent properties of DER.


Which role will ICT and data management play in future services provided by subjects in distribution? Could technology availability or cost become limiting factors?


The main challenge will be to identify a business model in order to find a balance between costs and revenues.

On the one side, revenues have to increase through existing and new markets. On the other side, ICT costs have to go down, in particular for small scale DERs which are characterized by high costs. Today the potential revenues of the increased ICT technology in power grids are unclear.


Tasking the example of energy storage, some technologies such as Li-ion and are already matured and the cost have decreased considerably. They can even be competitive for specific applications in power systems with high shares of DG,  however an entire business model has to be put in place to allow a full scale deployment.


 Will TSO-DSO interaction have a significant impact on future  distribution operation?


Interactions will be essential to ensure grid resilience. Today, apart from occasional events, the amount of DER is not enough to jeopardize the system. Conventional generators still bring enough stability to the system. However, when the share of DER is high enough, the power systems can become less stable and other challenges such as congestion, overvoltage… will appear. TSOs and DSOs will be forced to cooperate closely to ensure a good quality of supply which will in turn impact the way they operate their respective grids. This will get more and more important with an increasing share of flexible and volatile DR in the distribution grid. The degree of needed interaction will also be influenced by the configuration of the distribution grids.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of AIT.