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The case for a smarter grid in Central and Eastern Europe

The economic slowdown is having a definite effect on the global energy sector - with many companies and governments delaying or cancelling critical energy investments. However, for some progressive thinkers, the global economic crisis provides an even more compelling reason to continue to develop more efficient, cleaner energy alternatives.
Now is the time to widen our thinking and dedicate ourselves to unlocking the full potential of a modern, efficient energy systems in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region.
Despite global economic challenges, the Energy Information Association (EIA) forecasts the total world consumption of energy to increase by 44 percent by 2030. At the same time, the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is also increasing worldwide.  In order to secure a sustainable future and meet its environmental responsibilities, it is essential for the CEE region to explore a broad mix of advanced technologies including cleaner coal, natural gas, biogas and nuclear, wind and solar energy. 
Currently, the CEE region's energy infrastructure is unable to take full advantage of the benefits of renewable resources. The existing grids are not designed to handle the multidirectional power flow of renewable energy sources entering the network from multiple locations. In addition, infrastructure is aging, and with plans for replacement slowed, much of the current infrastructure is nearing the end of its lifecycle. While this seems to foreshadow a significant capacity gap when the market returns, it also represents a great advantage if we act now.
GE Energy believes that Smart Grid technologies will enable the CEE region to accommodate and optimize higher volumes of renewable energy and prepare the grid to manage widespread distributed generation efficiently and reliably. With improved two-way communication and advanced controls and grid automation technologies within a smarter grid, utilities will be able to effectively reduce power outages, increase energy efficiency and reliability, and extend the performance of the existing grid and the effectiveness of current fuel supplies. By increasing the volume of renewable energy in the grid, CEE countries can also match the amount of coal consumed today, reducing carbon emissions and dependence on foreign oil. In the future, a smarter grid will allow storing energy to make use of excess wind energy production and discharge the energy when demand exceeds supply. The Smart Grid also empowers consumers by providing them with real-time energy consumption devices to monitor their energy usage and costs. 

Team effort a crucial part of Smart Grid solution

The technology already exists today, but in order to bring it to life, we must secure a legislative and regulatory framework in the energy sector that promotes widespread investments in these technologies, even within the context of a global financial crisis. This is largely possible both on a country and regional basis. Effecting changes of this scale and mobilizing organizations and consumers to adopt alternative energy technologies will require policy implementation and clear, coherent legislation. Ideally, the CEE region should create a truly integrated energy policy that gives businesses, governments, and non-governmental parties an equal playing field and the confidence they need to institute ground-level investments. Harmonized, regional legislation that gives potential investors a long-term line of sight into the potential returns of their investments may be exactly what the region needs to resurrect a strong and stable energy infrastructure.
The importance of incorporating renewable energy sources into the region's energy infrastructure can't be understated. Even in an unstable economy, not only must the region work to honour its commitment to emissions reduction, but must also continue to invest in the modernisation of its aging grid or prepare to contend with a failed infrastructure.
The CEE region is well positioned to benefit from the growth of the renewable energy industry and must push forward to capitalize on its current progress and investments. With the timely implementation of smart grid technology and legislation that incentivizes rather than hinders investments in an advanced energy infrastructure, this region can address its energy deficiencies and challenges and use this opportunity to enhance its position in the global marketplace.

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