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Hungary needs a smart electricity grid – interview with Zsolt Bertalan, President of the Smart Future Innovation Cluster

More efficient electricity supply networks as well as smart grids are a key element in the decarbonisation of the energy sector. However, “smart grids” is a concept that unfortunately is not very trendy in Central and Eastern Europe and many people have never heard of it.

CEENERGYNEWS spoke with Zsolt Bertalan, President of the Smart Future Innovation Cluster, about the role consumers can have in the decarbonisation of the energy system and what is needed to change in the CEE region for grids to become “smart”.

“A smart grid is a rather technical concept not many people should have met with,” he begins. “It is designed to provide more flexibility and resilience especially when the share of renewable energy is high in an energy grid. In Hungary, historically speaking the majority of our energy mix came from a stable nuclear source, therefore, intermittencies were not an issue.”

However, as the country’s energy mix shifts and digitalisation penetrates the market as well, Mr Bertalan acknowledges the need for and sees the remarkable possibilities in a smart electricity grid and plans to play an active role in developing the grid in that direction. 

But what exactly needs to change in order for grids to become smart
“On a regulatory level, we need policymakers to share our understanding that this is the way forward and their support is necessary by implementing laws and regulations that facilitate the creation of a smart grid,” Mr Bertalan explains. “On the technological side, digitalisation (including smart metering, IoT and so on) and data management between prosumers and DSOs, DNOs and TSOs are key, solutions for energy storage and further electrification such as home heating are also an important part of smart grids.”

“Also, creating market mechanisms that operate on the balancing market are important to make demand-side services profitable for the end-users thereby helping the spread of the smart grid concept.”

There is a worldwide tendency for consumers to become prosumers. And especially nowadays, lockdowns are forcing people to rethink the way in which they generate energy.
“If someone is considering a home renovation, they can opt for new technologies that promote energy savings such as heat pumps, insulations, heat energy storage, or PVs,” noted Mr Bertalan.

“However, if such investments are not planned, end-users can still modulate their heating for example to ease the burden on the grid, or try to shift their electric load to times when the grid is less overwhelmed like mid-day or at night times.” 

Collaboration, cooperation and dialogue are key for a future that is based on innovative solutions. As emerged at the Third Energy Innovation Forum, an exclusive workshop on innovation in the energy sector in the UK, organised by the British Embassy in Hungary and the Smart Future Innovation Cluster, the UK has shown tremendous progress in electricity decarbonisation. As pointed out by Ambassador Paul Fox, the UK proved that green growth is certainly achievable: between 1990 and 2018, the economy has grown by 75 per cent, while at the same time emissions were cut by 43 per cent.

“The UK is ahead of us in many aspects when it comes to renewable energy integration and smart grids,” underlines Zsolt Bertalan. “Therefore, these forums are exceptionally useful for exchanging knowledge and gain crucial insight as to what is needed to help the adoption of new ideas and concepts. We can learn what are the key areas of focus on when implementing new solutions in the energy industry and how can we effectively tap into the newly formed markets to maximise profits while accelerating the transition towards a more sustainable energy system.”

One thing is needed for sure: expertise and workforce. As Mr Bertalan recognises, the initial rollout and efficient operation of smart energy will require quite a broad set of expertise from engineers, information technology experts, technicians, administrative workers, customer service and so on. And he is positive about Hungary’s readiness.

“In Hungary, I believe we have outstanding human resources especially in the quality of the workforce, quantity can be an issue that is why education is a strategic field, but we see that our education system is already adapting to the markets’ needs and offering applicable and high-quality education for many professions even the ones that newly appear,” he concludes.  

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