“Digital is at the core of the future electric power transmission grid”

Monday 21 June

RTE operates France’s high- and very high voltage power transmission grid. Its mission obliges it to permanently balance electricity production with consumption. While the government’s medium-term energy program (“PPE”) provides for a gradual increase in decentralized energy from renewables, and a big change in usage patterns and consumption needs is taking shape, digital solutions are a key lever for managing the supply grid. We talk to François Chaumont, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regional executive for RTE.

François Chaumont, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regional executive for RTE


What changes is the electric power transmission grid faced with?


First of all, I’d like to remind everyone that during the most critical period of this pandemic crisis, namely the initial 2020 confinement, we succeeded in maintaining a proper balance between electricity production and consumption when faced with an unheard of fall-off of around 20% in demand. With public transport cut-backs, factories stopping production, and working from home becoming a serious option, consumption spikes took on a whole new profile. Despite that, we were well able to adapt, demonstrating the intelligence of our forecasting tools as well the flexibility of French production facilities in coping with these new daily consumption profiles. It has been a positive experience that motivates us in tackling new national trends—by 2035, wind power capacity will triple while photovoltaic installations must increase seven-fold. We must also address an appreciable upswing in electric transportation, with a forecast of 15 million electric vehicles by the end of this period. This heavy decentralization of production, coupled with substantial changes in consumption, requires a major adaptation of the electric power transmission grid and of its management.


Indeed it does. So what role is digital expected to play in adapting the grid?

A huge  one. RTE’s ambition is to be the leading European grid to couple power with digital. Digitalization of the grid is already under way. Take flexibility, for instance: we are increasing the number of sensors and programmable controllers on existing lines to optimize their operation, improving our response time when reconfiguring the grid locally or acting directly on production. By installing more sensors on our infrastructures, more data becomes centrally available to be processed and analysed in supervision rooms, thus giving us a better forward view for our asset management. From then on, we can develop numerous experiments, like constructing a digital twin of the grid, that’s to say a technical platform with 3D asset modelling processes that can handle the priority requirements of our various business areas.

As for electrical vehicle development, we consider this an opportunity for the grid. Managing battery charging so it takes place at the best time of day can not only relieve the grid but also enable the battery as a storage solution on a house-wide scale (vehicle-to-home) as well as pooling of batteries on a system-wide scale (vehicle-to-grid).

Alongside this, we are working on a project we call RINGO, relying on the deployment of battery-based storage sites. Linked to a telecommunications system, this storage network will be a new system—a coordinated augmented grid—that allows electricity to be stored in one place on the territory and withdrawn from another place at the same instant according to the stress on the grid. 

Digital systems are also involved in managing consumption flexibility. We enter into contracts with our industrial or energy aggregator customers for services enabling instantaneous reductions in their electrical consumption, managed by programmable controllers, to relieve the grid. We equip our industrial customers with smart meters tailored to their installation, allowing them to optimize electricity consumption in their industrial process.

Finally, on a European scale, we want to reinforce the French grid’s role as a hub in order to even-out production/consumption variations between all the countries. By 2035, our exchange capacity with neighbours will double. These larger electricity exchange volumes require ever more powerful forecasting tools, and these exchanges and data must be coordinated in European coordination management centres. 


So data is centrally managed and processed to help manage the grid; but is it also shared?

We manage over 300,000 data items per second across our 23,000km of optical fibre network. Some of it is processed by AI systems, notably to facilitate our operators’ work or to automatically detect anomalies. For a successful ecological transition, however, some of it must produce value in order to sensitize or inform political or citizens’ decisions. That’s what we do with tools like the freely accessible Eco2mix application, which provides a real-time view of production, energy mixes, and load curve forecasts on a national, regional, or even town level—or with the EcoWatt tool that we jointly created with government energy agency ADEME to encourage the adoption of eco-gestures in electricity consumption. 

We have also worked with GRTGaz to create an Open Data platform called ODRE, which notably gives local and regional authorities and their partners access to multi-energy consumption, production and storage data. This open, interoperable platform also features data exportation for inclusion in APIs developed by other stakeholders. The growing complexity of electricity supply systems requires collective intelligence.


Do we need to prioritize the development of partnerships for this transformation of the electricity transmission grid to succeed?

Yes of course. A whole range of skills are needed in this transformation. Moreover, RTE is intensifying its partnerships with the academic and industrial worlds, research laboratories, and start-ups. In 2021 we will be inaugurating “Campus Transfo” in the town of Jonage near Lyon, which will be the grid’s technological shop window housing trainers, experts, and innovative equipment like replicas of European interconnection line conversion stations on which tests or simulations can be run. 

This Campus has been thought out and organized to accommodate projects developed with partners like INSA in Lyon, the SuperGrid Insitute, or IRT SystemX, to name but three. By pooling our expertise and equipment, we can realistically take up position as the French flagship in high voltage, direct current matters, bid in European tenders, and conduct joint R&D programmes. We must bring together stakeholders who contribute to the digital transformation of the electric power transmission grid and more globally the electrical energy world, who initiate exchanges, who share their needs, issues, and technological innovations. This is an absolute condition for us to be able to take up the challenges of ecological transition and carbon neutrality.