calendar 07.12. 2015

Italy's forerunner role in the digitisation of the energy system

From the large-scale introduction of electronic meters in 2001 to the government's strategy 2020 and the plans for the "smart city". A comment by Luca Tabasso, a journalist at the Italian magazine, "Quotidiano Energia".

In Italy, digitisation of the energy system took place much earlier than in most other European countries. The largest Italian electricity utility, Enel, already established the initiative “contatore elettronico” (“electronic meters”) in 2001. At that time, the old electromechanical electricity meters were replaced by devices which permit remote transmission of readings as well as customer management. Enel, in which the state has a 30% shareholding, installed 32 million electronic meters in just five years. It therefore created the world’s largest and most closely meshed infrastructure for an intelligently controllable energy supply.

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Enel’s digital strategy is, however, not only limited to electronic meters but also covers all operational divisions of the group: power generation, infrastructures, grids and markets. In the energy distribution sector, the company operates in Italy both in the field of grid digitisation and of plant control: a fundamental requirement for the development of a smart grid. Enel’s efforts to incorporate the end consumer in the digital strategy are remarkable. For example, the customer project, “Isernia”, provides for consumption to be monitored by a broadband connection on the basis of the WiMAX communication protocol. The basis for this is also the installation of electronic electricity meters.

In 2014, the Italian government passed the legislative decree, “Sblocca Italia”, which envisages digitisation as a mainstay of the economic strategy 2020.

Furthermore, the transmission of the electronically recorded consumption data was the subject of an agreement between Enel and the mobile network operator, Tim, in August 2015. Tim makes its own mobile phone network available to Enel so as to guarantee a high level of data reliability and connectivity for the provision of extended services. The aim of the initiative is to improve the performance of the Enel data transmission network and ensure optimum cost management. This is strongly supported by the Italian government – not least of all because the legislative decree, “Sblocca Italia”, which was passed in 2014, envisages digitisation as a mainstay of the economic strategy 2020.



Many other Italian utilities are currently following Enel’s example and digitising their processes and services. For example, Acea, Rome’s most important utility, and Esri, a company which specialises in geo-information solutions (GIS), have been cooperating since July. Thanks to this agreement, Acea intends to advance to become “Italy’s first fully digital multi-utility service provider”. The planned project, “Acea 2.0”, which is to be completed by 2016, focuses on the development and integration of the applications used by Acea group companies, i.e. enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, GIS and workforce management. This project is aimed at creating a single uniform system which increases productivity and improves the quality of the service as well as business transparency.

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The most important digital technology for contact between utilities and consumers is the intelligent, electronic electricity meter (smart meter) – not only Enel’s projects are characteristic of this situation in Italy. Along the same lines, a decision by the Italian energy authority in 2013 provides for the development of so-called “multimeters” with which gas, water, electricity and district heat can be metered at the same time. 2014 saw the launch of a pilot project of the regulatory authority, in which the cities of Turin, Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena, Genoa, Verona, Bari, Salerno, Catania as well as some smaller communities are participating. One year was scheduled for the implementation of the project, the operating phase itself is to last up to two years. The idea behind this is to use one single shared grid to transmit the consumption data of the various meters to the providers. “An innovative and technically advanced solution which reduces management costs and guarantees optimum administration of the data flows,” the energy authority explains.

The most important digital technology for contact between utilities and consumers is the intelligent, electronic electricity meter (smart meter).

In addition, a plan for the “smart city” drawn up by the Ministry of Economic Development is expected to be published at the end of November 2015. For this purpose, the Ministry set up a special task force headed by the Under-Secretary of State, Simona Vicari, to conduct “an examination, analysis, drafting, expedient integration and monitoring of the measures for the spread of smart grids connected to broadband infrastructures”. This is another major step for the advancing digitisation of the energy system in Italy.

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