International collaboration to promote Smart Grid as an enabler for sustainable development

By Karin Widegren, Adviser to the Director General at the Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate (pictured)
Winter 2016

The transformation of our Energy systems to the long term energy and climate policy goals in the EU and worldwide, is one of the most challenging missions of our time. To fulfil these goals, future electricity systems require to be considerably "smarter" than today, substantially changing how electricity systems are planned, operated and controlled. Smart grid is a key enabler in reducing carbon emissions and improving energy efficiency by:

  • facilitating higher penetration of renewable (e.g. wind and solar) by ensuring power system reliability as uncertainty and variability increase;
  • helping consumers participate in the market not only by valuing their flexibility and increasing energy efficiency but also by allowing consumers to act as producers (prosumers) selling back their excess electricity;
  • managing challenges posed on the distribution network e.g. by larger shares of distributed renewable generation and electrical vehicle infrastructure;
  • improving over-all efficiency of the network and reducing network power losses;

Furthermore, with the need to replace/refurbish an increasingly ageing electrical infrastructure, the necessity of extensive investments in smart grids becomes even more evident. Smart grid captures a range of advanced information, sensing, communications, controls and energy technologies, resulting in an electric power system that can intelligently integrate the actions of all connected users – from power generators to electricity consumers, to those who do both. Smart grid solutions are also found across the entire electrical system, from the high voltage transmission grid, through the distribution grid and finally on consumer level.

Rapid developments in information and communication technology are facilitating the modernization of the electricity system and the introduction of new market solutions that can contribute to crucial changes in the way customers participate on the market. New technology, new market models and regulatory approaches that help to increase flexibility throughout the system will enhance the functioning of the market to the benefit of consumers. It is in this perspective that the need to further develop and invest in smart grids is to be considered.

The opportunities provided by Smart Grid is basically determined by the same set of drivers in different regions of the world, but with different priorities. In the developing world, demand is growing rapidly. Driving the need for massive investments in grid to connect more and more people while delivering high level of services. Developed countries face problems with an aging infrastructure. In Europe policy goals like the full integration of the internal electricity market and the integration of renewables as well as increasingly constrained networks have been identified as the dominant drivers. It is therefore no generic solution or size that fits all for the solution towards the smart and strong grid. At the same time there are generic solutions and findings from experiences that can be adapted by other countries to make local implementation faster and more efficient.

ISGAN (International Smart Grid Action Network) is an IEA Technology Collaboration Program (TCP) with the vision to accelerate progress on key aspects of smart grid policy, technology, and related standards through voluntary participation by governments in specific projects and programs. ISGAN is also an initiative of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) and was formally established at CEM2 in Abu Dhabi, in 2011. As the only global government-to-government initiative for sharing information, best practices, and competence on electricity networks ISGAN helps to identify solutions to accelerate smart grid deployment, enable replication of proven ideas, and support greater national ambition in developing and deploying smart grids. In addition, ISGAN facilitates dynamic knowledge sharing, technical assistance, and project coordination, where appropriate. ISGAN participants report periodically on progress and projects to the Ministers of the Clean Energy Ministerial, in addition to IEA reporting requirements.

Membership in ISGAN is voluntary, and currently includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, European Commission, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

ISGAN plays an amalgamating role between government and related private sector in both informal and formal ways. ISGAN focuses its activities on those aspects of smart grids where governments have regulatory authority and expertise.

The present ISGAN membership includes countries responsible for more than 80% of the global GHG emissions and promoters of more than 90% of green energy technologies investments. The experience expressed in this context is therefore potentially unique and the reports and tools developed within ISGAN and beyond can find a very fertile terrain for new developments, validation and deployment. Policy relevance is a top priority for ISGAN. The unbiased technical expertise and the direct interaction with policy makers are the two major assets on which ISGAN can base its leadership.

The collaborative efforts of ISGAN focuses on development of protocols and best practices, identification of environmental issues and mitigation options; and by publicizing its member countries' and industries' newly developed tools, techniques, R&D, and country support policies, ISGAN contributes to a global benchmark and collaborative attitude among participating countries.

ISGAN activities are conducted in several areas:

  • The working group on smart grid case studies captures and shares important lessons learned from the many smart grid pilot, demonstration, and deployment projects completed or underway.
  • A cost-benefit analysis working group collects and evaluates existing methodologies and tools and develops new tools for assessing grid maturity and measuring smart grid benefits and costs.
  • A working group on strategic communications helps other ISGAN activities translate complex information on smart grids for decision makers and highlight areas for further ISGAN or CEM attention.
  • The Smart Grid International Research Facility Network (SIRFN) brings together world-class research and testing facilities to exchange knowledge, coordinate joint assessment, and advance global best practices on electricity system testing.
  • A power T&D networks working group supports joint consideration of the technical needs and related policy–regulatory–institutional considerations for future, smart, sustainable electricity networks.
  • An ISGAN working group focused on the smart grid transition examines the institutional change management considerations that will support or impede the evolution to smart energy systems.
  • The ISGAN Award of Excellence is an annual competition that showcases global leadership and innovation in smart grids, highlighting the value that smart grids provide for specific objectives, such as renewables integration.
  • The ISGAN Virtual Academy is a new online curriculum for smart grid professionals that will augment or reinforce national and regional training programs and accelerate international best practice exchange.

To sum up ISGAN activities showcase good practices for smart grid pilots, demonstrations, and deployment; identify areas for increased attention and investment; improve international collaboration on smart grid testing and evaluation; and support a global community of smart grid practitioners. The outcome of these activities are leveraging organisational and institutional learning and innovation process across sectors and disciplines accelerating the deployment of smart grid solutions and applications including new market arrangements as demand response and energy storage. Energy and the ICT Industry, research institutions, the relevant bodies of the public sector as well as new market actors and early adopting customers are all key actors in this process defining and verifying smart grid solutions to improve electricity system over-all efficiency to the benefit of consumers.

The long-term and sustainable planning of the future electricity system will require a broad and holistic approach also looking on synergies of the electricity network with other energy carriers and infrastructures like for example gas grids and storages, heating and cooling systems as well as electro mobility. Across this landscape of change, it is crucial for policy makers to understand the possible synergies and the need for a system view in which global know-how and best practice can be shared. This is a global challenge that requires global cooperation.


Karin Widegren holds a position as Adviser to the Director General at the Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate, the Swedish energy regulator, with policy development in relation to electricity market design and implementation of new technology with focus on smart grid and demand side flexibility as her main expertise. Since spring 2015 Karin Widegren is Vice Chair of ISGAN (International Smart Grid Action Network) an IEA Technology Collaboration Program. Karin Widegren has also served as the Director of the Swedish Coordination Council for Smart Grids, assigned by the Swedish government for the period 2012 – 2014 with the scope to develop a national action plan for smart grid. Karin Widegren is also one of 18 members of the Forum for Swedish Smart Grids, appointed by the Swedish Government and lead by the Ministry of the Environment and Energy with the mission to implement the action plan proposed by the Swedish Coordination Council for Smart Grids.

Before joining the Council Karin Widegren held a position as Director of International Affairs at the Swedish Energy Markets Inspectorate. Her career also includes a position as Science and Technology Attaché at the Swedish Office of Science and Technology in the USA and as Deputy Director for Energy Market Policies at the Swedish Ministry of Industry, Employment and Communications. As a former Research Project Manager within Vattenfall, Karin Widegren has gained a broad experience from corporate energy research.

Further information can be found on the ISGAN website