Our estimation is that at this moment no one in the EU has a comprehensive concept of how to abandon the production of electricity from fossil fuels and replace it with renewable energy sources.
Scientists are warning that immediate action is necessary to minimise the impact of climate change, with the increase of energy production from renewable sources being one of top priorities. Aleksander Mervar, CEO of ELES, Slovenia’s electricity transmission company, however, says that switching to renewable energy will be difficult. And not just difficult – reducing greenhouse emissions will be almost impossible without nuclear energy. Though tackling challenges to reduce carbon emissions is an ongoing commitment, reliability of the transmission system is currently ELES’s first priority and, for this purpose, the system operator is introducing and exploiting the most advanced solutions in the field of smart grids.
Most non-experts expect the switch from coal and oil to solar and wind to be easy. Can you please comment on that?
The transition will be anything but easy. There is too much simplification in the media. Large-scale investments in the distribution network and integration platforms will be needed, and it will be necessary to provide energy saving benches that will bridge the periods of high and low production – at certain time intervals also zero production from solar power plants. Our estimation is that at this moment no one in the EU has a comprehensive concept of how to abandon the production of electricity from fossil fuels and replace it with renewable energy sources. Let’s just look at the example of Slovenia last February. Production from solar power plants was almost zero. Where would we get the missing electricity? From import? What if other countries also relied solely on solar energy production? That means we will need backup capabilities that will be included in such cases. We will need feeders such as batteries and pumping hydroelectric power stations. In our estimation, nuclear power plants will have a special place.
How realistic is Paris Climate Agreement with one of its top priorities being to reduce greenhouse gas emission by investing into wind and solar energy?
If we limit ourselves to solar and wind energy alone – in our opinion, it will be very difficult. With nuclear, yes.
Ljubljana and other cities in Slovenia are preparing for the higher usage of electric vehicles in the future as well as the increasing number of electrical appliances. How is this going to impact electricity distribution in the country?
Energy companies in Slovenia have different views on the impact of new users on the distribution network and the entire power system. We believe that the key solution to this challenge are smart networks and that with smart grids and minimal additional investments, most of the country’s challenges can be solved. In recent years ELES has been investing in smart grids, their building blocks and their integration into the EES Slovenia. These investments include the implementation of international projects, which are also co-financed by grants, such as SINCRO.GRID, NEDO, FutureFlow, Osmose, etc., to which ELES will devote much attention and resources in the coming years.
Modernising our electric grid through smart grid enhancements is an integral first step to enabling smart cities. Are Slovenia’s cities becoming “smarter” in terms of electricity usage? What can we expect in the next 10 years?
They are. ELES has a set of research and development projects: the Slovenian – Japanese development project NEDO is focused in this direction. For example, GEN-I is introducing a number of new market products. In ELES, we have included in our system services dispersed consumption a few years ago. This is just one of many.
What is the share of microgrids in Slovenia? What are the future plans?
Micro networks represent a response to the future challenges of network resilience – sleet, storms, floods – and local optimisation of customers and local resources within the geographical area. With micro networks, cities and suburbs can be further prepared for the challenges posed by renewable resources as well as increased electrification of the network. In cooperation with Elektro Ljubljana, Tetol, BTC and Japanese partners NEDO and Hitachi, ELES is building the first such network in Slovenia. Its location will be in the central and eastern part of Ljubljana.
How well are you prepared against any cyberattacks?
We are very much aware of cyber risks. Cyber threats to all economic and social sectors and businesses pose a great danger. Electric power systems and energy companies are no exception. In preparing for any possible cyberattack, we do not underestimate or overestimate our abilities. In the management of cyber risks we carry out a series of activities and measures to identify risks, protect cyber space and systems, identify and define events in the cyber space, and evaluate the ability to manage and eliminate negative and dangerous developments. As part of the protection of our cyberspace, we simulate potential threats and risks and based on subsequent findings we are raising awareness and educating all our employees, users of information services and operators of cyberspace and services. In doing so, we rely on internal and external professional staff and experts working within ENTSO-E – the association of European transmission system operators.
What is Slovenia doing, if anything, to ensure resilience against longer outages?
In the case of partial or complete disintegration of the electric power system, ELES has developed a system conservation plan and a plan for its restoration. These plans define the individual stages of implementation, the key stakeholders, their roles and responsibilities, the modes of communication and the highest level of coordination and harmonisation between stakeholders in Slovenia as well as between neighbouring system operators, with the aim to ensure reliable operation of the Slovenian and European electricity system. In short, Slovenia can count on the help of other European electricity systems in addition to its own energy sources – m hydro, coal – and procedures for action.
Is electricity going to be cheaper in the future?
First, we have to clarify the concepts. The price of electricity is one thing, the final price of electricity that is paid by the end consumer is another. The latter will only increase in the coming years and decades. Reasons? Investing in networks, storages, spare capacity, and increased scope of system services that will be required by system operators
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