European Commission logo
JRC Smart Electricity Systems

Distribution System Operators Observatory

The electricity distribution is the electric value chain's segment where most of the digital-enabled, low-carbon energy innovation is expected to happen. Distribution System Operators (DSOs)'s role has evolved and diversified along with the transition towards a cleaner electricity system, making them a key instrument to reach the EU commitment to climate neutrality by 2050. Check out our latest effort to shed light on the features and challenges of the transitioning electricity distribution systems in Europe. 

Main publications

Over the years, we continued collecting, processing and analysing data on the changing European power sector. Up to 2016, little information was systemically available on the European Distribution System Operators (DSOs) and the networks they operate. This was also due to the vast number and heterogeneity of the distribution systems in Europe - in some Member States there is only one DSO, while in others tens or hundreds of them operate their networks on a regional or even municipal basis - and some constraints in sharing data on assets of commercial value.

The European energy system is facing unprecedented challenges and the electric power distribution sector is therefore required to move ahead fast with the evolving situation. The urgent request to deploy more and more renewable energy sources at an extraordinary pace to substitute imported hydrocarbons puts pressure on grid operations, while innovative business models and services, like citizen energy communities, and provision of flexibility, start to occupy DSOs’ investment plans for the future years.

Therefore, both innovation and provision of traditional services like grid connection are put under strain by a tense economic situation for DSO’s customers, European consumers and businesses alike. In such fast-evolving situations, regulation cannot focus solely on cost-efficient use of existing infrastructure and investment in grid replacement and reinforcement. To this end, regulatory experimentation has emerged in several EU countries as a novel approach to enable innovation in the energy sector, while protecting consumers and ensuring a fair energy transition for all Europeans.

We issued fourth subsequent reports over the years, representing one of the most comprehensive data collection exercises on European distribution systems.

The 2022 DSO Observatory provides a nuanced picture of the situation some of the biggest DSOs in Europe face and highlights the area that might deserve attention at policy level, so that critical aspects are tackled in time to deliver the sought-after energy transition. For instance, regulation for distribution networks needs to be fit for purpose. In other words, regulation cannot be based only on cost-efficiency, but rather promote and facilitate the development of innovative network solutions in light of unprecedented growing rate of renewable energy sources and electrification of other end-use sectors, namely transport and heating. One example in this context is the possibility of DSOs to effectively procure flexibility services from different type of network users, including the ones connected to the LV networks. Also, regulation should allow the best results from regulatory experimentations (regulatory sandboxes, citizen energy communities, etc.) to be replicated at larger scale, while at the same time keep the window open for new experimentations.

Representative Network Models

Building on the data collated in the DSO Observatory, we created Representative Network Models, i.e. realistic distribution networks useful for simulation activities. This quasi-real distribution network models can be used to perform meaningful simulations even without having access to the actual network data.

To download the Representative Network Models, please follow the next steps:

  1. Connect to the Circabc webpage with your EU login account:
  2. Ask to join the group: JRC Distribution Reference Network Models
  3. Wait for the confirmation e-mail
  4. Download the zip folder with the representative networks