KTH to Host New Smart Grids Centre

Supporting EU energy & climate targets


Published Jan 13, 2012

KTH has been selected to anchor the new Swedish Centre for Smart Grids and Energy Storage (SweGRIDS), bringing academia together with industry and public utilities to tackle the European Union’s ambitious targets for improved energy efficiency. Some one hundred scientists will work on development of electric power grids that respond intelligently to consumer and supplier behaviour.

Today’s electric grids are marvels of large-scale engineering, having grown up since the late 1800s from local and citywide systems to become interlocking national distribution networks — an infrastructure backbone enabling the domestic comforts and industrial might that most of us are fortunate enough to be able to take for granted. But some of the basic characteristics of this century-old model are growing obsolete under the need for radically revamped energy production and consumption patterns in an age of scarcer supplies and the threat of global warming.

The electric grids we rely on today were built to service consumer and industrial demand with large, centralised generation stations delivering cheap electricity over enormous geographic regions, where power flows mainly in one direction, and relatively simple control systems provide all the information necessary to keep the system humming. But that’s all about to change in the 21st century.

“The new generation of sustainable electric systems will be built around multi-directional power flow and information management,” says Rajeev Thottappillil, KTH professor of Electric Power Engineering and Design. “These new networks will adapt to shifting needs, embrace thousands of small producers and send the right price signals to consumers to level out swings in load demand.”

Professor Thottappillil will head the new SweGRIDS centre, which was recently awarded SEK 22.5 million ($3.2 million) by the Swedish Energy Agency to fund initial operations. SweGRIDS will bring together about one hundred researchers specialised in disciplines ranging from physics and chemistry to systems technology and information and communication technology. 

But SweGRIDS is anything but an ivory-tower academic think tank — the public and private sector actors who turn research into functioning systems are deeply involved from the outset. Vattenfall, Sweden’s largest public utility, and the giant Swedish-Swiss electrical engineering firm ABB are among the founding partners, and more companies are expected to join soon, drawn by new opportunities for profitable entrepreneurship and innovation. Also onboard is Uppsala University, located about an hour north of the Swedish capital.

SweGRIDS will integrate closely with KIC InnoEnergy, the European “Knowledge and Information Community” involving all the partners in SweGRIDS as well as a network of more than 50 companies, research institutes, technical universities and business schools. Founded in 2009 and financed by the EU and partner organisations, KIC InnoEnergy aims to become Europe’s leading engine for sustainable energy innovation. The new SweGRIDS centre is a perfect fit with KTH’s role as the KIC InnoEnergy node for Smart Electric Grids and Energy Storage. 

“One of the great strengths of this constellation is that we’ll be involved in an enormous urban development project, Norra Djurgårdsstaden, that will completely re-shape the northeastern side of Stockholm surrounding the main KTH campus,” Thottappillil says. Begun in 2011 and slated to continue at least through 2025, Norra Djurgårdsstaden is one of Europe’s largest urban building projects, involving construction of 10,000 residences, about 30,000 workplaces and a new harbour for Baltic Sea passenger and freight shipping. In keeping with the city’s well-deserved reputation as a world leader in green development, energy efficiency is a central theme in every step of the project’s construction and long-term planning.

SweGRIDS’ direct focus will be primarily on the Swedish and Nordic electrical networks, but Thottappillil says he expects the centre to set a new standard for sustainable energy that will reverberate across Europe. “The EU is serious about wind and solar, and if those technologies are going to make up a significant share the energy mix, we have to have grids that work with distributed generation,” he explains. “That means if a factory or housing development has its own generators, the grid can receive excess capacity when it’s available, carry the energy where it’s needed or store it in some form to complement traditional hydro or nuclear generation.The grid has to respond minute-by-minute, and it has to account for every kilowatt.”  

For more information: Rajeev Thottappillil, rajeev.thottappillil@ee.kth.se; +46-8-790-8057

About SweGRIDS

  • Ten-year program with initial funding from the Swedish Energy Agency of SEK 22.5 million ($3.2 million) to cover two years of operation. Further funding will come from corporate sponsorship and payments for access to industrial research facilities
  • Will recruit approximately 30 researchers in the first phase to work in materials science, chemistry, electrical and systems engineering, and engineering physics.
  • Some 30 projects are planned, encompassing electric power, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for power grids, controllable and intelligent power components, research into new materials, insulation, and energy storage technologies.


By Kevin Billinghurst, kb2@kth.se

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