Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 20, Supplement 1, pp 231–267 | Cite as

Policy-adaptation for a smarter and more sustainable EU electricity distribution industry: a foresight analysis

  • Guillermo Ivan PereiraEmail author
  • Patrícia Pereira da Silva
  • Deborah Soule


The European Union (EU) transition to a smarter and more sustainable electricity sector is driven by climate change adaptation and technological developments. For the electricity distribution industry, this has contributed to a growing need to understand how these network monopolies should adapt their role, activities, and responsibilities for a redesigned electricity market, given the growth of distributed generation, and the increased control and monitoring capabilities. Considering this, a foresight study on business model innovation, technological adaptation, and market design policy alternatives is presented. A Policy Delphi method was applied, involving two iterative survey rounds and 207 European experts, which assessed 57 policy alternatives. The results highlight adaptation challenges for implementing new technologies and business practices. Experts support innovation and transition to new roles, and innovative services, while warranting that core electricity distribution activities are secured. This shift in roles is expected to be achieved through research and development (R&D) support policies, innovation friendly regulatory frameworks, and concerted actions at the EU and Member States level. The results provide policy-adaptation guidelines for electricity distribution industry stakeholders.


Smart grids Electricity distribution DSOs EU Policy design Market design Policy Delphi 



The authors acknowledge the Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) for supporting this work through the Doctoral Grant PD/BD/105841/2014, awarded under the framework of the MIT Portugal Program funded through the POPH/FSE. Additionally, this work has been partially supported by FCT under Project Grant: UID/MULTI/00308/2013, and SAICTPAC/0004/2015-POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016434, as well as by the Energy for Sustainability Initiative of the University of Coimbra.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Energy for Sustainability Initiative, MIT Portugal Program in Sustainable Energy SystemsUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  2. 2.INESC Coimbra, Institute for Systems Engineering and Computers at CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  3. 3.CeBER, Centre for Business and Economics Research, Faculty of EconomicsUniversity of CoimbraCoimbraPortugal
  4. 4.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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