The cyber physical grid for the energy transition

To manage a fast-evolving power system 24/7 and keep the lights on, European transmission system operators (TSOs) invest in digitisation. However, today, the digitisation imperative is even bigger as TSOs are to find answers to a variety of new challenges such as an increased amount of variable generation, sector coupling, power and transport connected through e-mobility, increasing electrification in particular of transport, heating and cooling, as well as the rise of the internet of energy things. Digitisation also supports TSOs in their role of neutral market facilitator, enabling new actors and new roles, centring around prosumers and active system management.

A cyber physical grid is in the making. It is composed of the physical part on the one hand -towers, cables, wires, substations, etc.- and the rising digital grid on the other. The cyber physical grid will enable not only the automated and coordinated decision-making inside TSOs, and among them, but also in the future with DSOs and all the other parties constituting the electricity value chain.

Even if digitisation is an enabler, there cannot be a successful energy transition without investments in adapting and extending the physical grid.


The cyber physical grid in action

The TSOs invest in digitisation in all their layers of activities. From the physical asset and data management to the market facilitation, system operation and sector coupling activities. From ENTSO-E's own survey, the majority of projects relate to the asset and data management, followed by system operations. The projects dealing with market facilitation and sector coupling are fewer.

Digitisation brings added value for each layer of activity:

  1. Physical layer: reduction in maintenance costs and future increase in reliability.
  2. Data layer: improved forecast.
  3. System operation layer: new level of hyper-vision and automation in control rooms.
  4. Market layer: enabling new market actors to develop including consumers and prosumers.
  5. Sector coupling layer and cross border dimension: connecting the dots across sectors but also between neighbouring TSOs, at the regional and pan-European level. 


Digitisation will undoubtedly stimulate an increase in innovative smart energy services that will also work towards more energy efficiency and capitalising on end-users’ capacities to produce energy.


Cyber security: a new risk for Europe's security of supply

Opportunities brought by the cyber physical grid are manifold but it also exacerbates the risks of cyber-attacks as there is growing integration of ICT within the power system, growing reliance on public networks, internet based technologies, increased number of connections, of actors connected and need for greater transparency.

TSOs excel in managing risks. Even if a full protection against cyber-attacks is not possible, notably as new technology emerge that are less protected, there is a variety of countermeasures that are deployed and a series of standards in cybersecurity implemented. TSOs integrate cyber security in their digital strategy.

ENTSO-E, the European association of transmission system operators for electricity, supported the European Network and Information System (NIS) Directive. It identifies electricity TSOs, distribution system operators and suppliers as being providers of essential services and requires Member States to ensure that they take appropriate measures regarding cybersecurity. It also requires Member States to have a NIS authority and appropriate response teams, as well as to cooperate and exchange intelligence.

The heart of the European TSOs' mission is to ensure for Europeans to enjoy that their lights are kept on whilst enabling the energy transition. Addressing cyber security risks the right way forms increasingly part of this mission. This effort must be incentivised further at policy level for the benefit all citizens and businesses.


This article is a contribution from a EUSEW Partner. All rights reserved. 
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on behalf of the Commission is responsible for the use that might be made of the information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and should not be considered as representative of the European Commission’s official position.