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Europe is inconsistent but interesting

Before April 1893, every European village had its own local time which was calculated using the stars. In Germany, which at that time was made up of small states, it was the norm for each state to officially define its own ‘local time’ as this was regarded as a demonstration of its power. As long as there was no inter-regional traffic which had to be time co-ordinated, this was no problem, and telecommunications were as yet unknown. It simply did not matter if office hours in Stuttgart and Munich were different.

It was the railways that initiated the definition of a ‘standard time’ in Europe, as well as in the United States, although we still had to deal with ‘local time’, ‘station time’ and ‘railway time’. This came to an end with the introduction of GMT in 1880, which was initially greeted with some resistance. Today over most of Europe we have Central European Time, which is the time zone at 15 degrees longitude, named ‘Goerlitz time’ after the city of Goerlitz which is on this longitude. (Of course, I greatly appreciate the name!) It is interesting that in order to unify the common market, CET is used in most states, although it covers two real time zones.

The start of this European ‘synchronisation’ is long past. In an area of 450 million inhabitants, with 23 UCTE member states, the electrical power supply today is highly synchronised with high quality connectivity, even if there are still several different zones. The UCTE – today the network of Transmission System Operators – focuses on providing a secure and stable grid operation all over Europe.

The constantly improving quality of the grid operation should not prevent us from noting that market regulations and common market access all over Europe is not yet a reality. In this respect, the clocks of the UCTE member states are still on ‘local time’. The United Kingdom has had a deregulated market for 15 years, France would like to postpone it for 15 years, and Germany would prefer to discuss it for another 15 years. We have a common European law for energy, but different applications of this law in member states will prevail for a while yet.

When it comes to metering, the clocks in different European countries are not ticking in time either. There are different local meter standards, different competencies of local approval or calibration authorities, many different methods and protocols for data transmission, and even very different approaches and visions for metering itself, especially for residential customers. Italy has installed millions of residential meters, and nobody knows their full remote reading capability. Sweden is following a similar path, but is covering the whole country with pilot projects.

Europe – this growing multi-ethnic, multi-cultural area – has no common image for its energy industry. If we examine the multiple local approaches, there is no guarantee that two or three methodologies will set the standard. Once, it was the railways that revolutionised our awareness of time. Today we have many technologies and ever more confusion.

However, we have successfully managed standardisation of television, even though Europe uses PAL as the colour encoding method and France has SECAM. And while we all watch a 625-line screen, there is competition, both in selling the devices and in transmitting the contents.

Europe may be inconsistent, but it is always interesting.