The Utility Side of the Smart Grid

The electricity system is a complex entity but can be broken down into distinct sectors of energy production, transportation and supply.

  1. Generation. Electricity must be produced before it is transported to the customer via the network. Generators or power plants convert various energy sources into electricity. The source of energy might be the wind, natural gas or coal. A complete list of electricity generating sites can be found on the EirGrid website -
  2. Transmission Network. This comprises the highest voltage lines that carry the electrical energy from the larger generators to the local distribution networks. The largest industrial customers would also be connected to the transmission system because the quantity of electricity they would need could not be supplied at lower voltages. The designated authority responsible for operating this high voltage system is called the Transmission System Operator (TSO) Ireland’s TSO is EirGrid. While EirGrid operate the transmission system it is ESB Networks who own the infrastructure i.e. ESB Networks are the Transmission Asset Owner (TAO). The transmission system may be likened to the motorway network . Reference
  3. Distribution Network. The transmission system passes the electricity to the distribution network. The vast majority of electricity customers are connected to and receive their electricity from the distribution network. Smaller generators also send the electricity they generate onto the distribution network. The distribution network includes low voltage lines and some high voltage lines in urban areas.  The designated authority responsible for the operation of the distribution system is called the Distribution System Operator (DSO). Ireland’s DSO is ESB Networks. ESB Networks are also the Distribution Asset Owner (DAO) which means they own the infrastructure. The distribution system can be likened to the national and local road networks. Reference
  4. Market operation. As with commodities such as oil and gold electricity is bought and sold in a market and its wholesale price rises and falls in response to global and local factors. As well as producers of electricity i.e. generators this market includes the following key participants:
    1. Market Operator. This is the “wholesaler” for electricity. They buy the electricity from the generators and sell it to electricity suppliers who in turn sell the electricity to their final customers. The market operator manages supply to meet demand and facilitates the transfer of monies from electricity suppliers to generators. There is one market operator on the island of Ireland, the Single Electricity Market Operator. hyperlink
    2. Electricity Suppliers. These are the companies that are licensed to buy wholesale electricity from the electricity market and to sell it to their final customers. These companies are the public face of the utility sector and compete in the media for customers. Each of these suppliers provides their own information on prices and how to understand their bills. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) publishes a list of electricity suppliers on their website.
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