The proof of concept stage is done and dusted!

Tuesday 15 June

Hugues de Bantel is a director of Cosmo Tech, a specialist in simulatable digital twinning, and vice-chairman of Think Smartgrids. He gives us his vision of the energy digitalization market, which for him is reaching the stage of strategic maturity. Now it’s time to go concrete and operational. To do so, he invites stakeholders to share their scaling-up experiences. 


Hugues de Bantel, director of Cosmo Tech


What is the context behind this uprise in energy digitalization and what is at stake?

The energy digitalization issue overlays the energy transition issue. In April, 2020, the government’s medium-term energy program (“PPE”) set an objective of carbon neutrality by 2050. It also laid down milestones, including 5 million electrical vehicles in circulation and 500,000 charging points across the country by 2028. These are structuring factors for a sector evolving in a complex, uncertain context. Electricity transmission grids are also confronted with a wall of investments. The grids were built at the end of WWII with a theoretical lifespan of several decades. They need maintaining or even replacing. The investment and maintenance strategy for preparing grids of the future is a critical subject and a major issue for energy stakeholders. It must furthermore take account of production, whose nature is partly intermittent and distributed, and absorb it securely and perpetually.

Producers and distributors must not only assist the roll-out of smart grids, renewables, and grid storage capacities but also anticipate changes in consumption behaviour resulting from new energy uses. With new needs related to electric transportation, the decarbonizing of buildings, the development of flexible industrial consumption, and the emergence of the enlightened consumer stimulated by the advent of smart meters, many opportunities will be created but so will uncertainty and a high level of complexity. The world of energy is readying itself for these changes. Digital and its technologies will underpin this mutation.

How far advanced is this transformation?

The market is reaching a certain stage of maturity, with the proof of concept stage behind us. Value creation from new technologies has been extensively proven in a wide range of usage cases across the energy sector value chain. We are entering the operational scale-up phase. Many stakeholders have already committed to the energy transition by investing in big data and the IoT. Consumer data is available thanks to smart meters, while data from the grid is also more accessible. We can create a lot of value out of this data through new uses, accelerated by the digital transformation.

Electricity supply grid operators will for example be able to optimize control, maintenance, and investment in their grids based on AI solutions and digital twinning, increasing their ability to keep pace with current changes and to react quickly to future issues. The sector’s stakeholders will also be able to develop new uses and services for the enlightened consumer: dynamic pricing, consumption monitoring and advice, active management of equipment with substantial savings for residential and industrial consumers, and an active contribution to grid flexibility. Energy efficiency in buildings will also benefit from this transformation. Smart Grids and digitalization will speed up decarbonizing of buildings. On a final note, smart grids facilitate the convergence of energy types, thus enabling advantages borne from synergy between electricity, heat, cold, natural gas, and hydrogen.


You mentioned a context of uncertainty. How can this be tackled? 

Technologies will underpin the change. They can’t replace operator expertise but they will enhance it. In these uncertain times, they can assist decision making by running various simulations on the evolution of the electricity grid. For example, in the rapidly expanding digital twin ecosystem, there are simulatable digital twins that offer deciders a strategic view when preparing for change. They provide a virtual replica of the grid that incorporates internal and external constraints, enabling all kinds of simulation and providing short, medium, and long term forecasts of the grid’s robustness and resilience in the light of the organization’s decisions or the occurrence of disturbances.

Cosmo Tech has developed a digital twin for national grid operator RTE that simulates the impact of their maintenance and investment policies along different time scales according to imagined scenarios. The grid’s state of repair, service level, and environmental performance can all be simulated. The results of these simulations have informed grid management teams on their ability to invest and maintain their assets optimally in years to come, as well as assessing the robustness and resilience of the electrical system under various incurred risks. Simulatable digital twins are great decisional aid tools in a complex, uncertain environment. The Energy Regulation Commission has furthermore acknowledged this, motivating the spreading of these approaches. 


Who are the stakeholders involved in this new market and what’s their progress?

With the rise in power of digital and with the energy transition gathering pace, we are acting in a market where boundaries have fallen and industrial sectors are more loosely defined. In the case of electricity supply grids, there are many stakeholders with a whole range of different profiles: energy engineers of course (electricity, heating, cooling, carbon-free gas, hydrogen, etc.) but also specialists in other fields: IT, digital systems, electro-technical, electric transport, building, telephony. Start-ups, research laboratories, and universities lend agility, innovation, and new uses to long established corporations like Schneider Electric and Siemens or digital service providers like Cap Gemini and Sopra Steria. The issues are systemic. Stakeholders will have to work together in a yet-to-be consolidated ecosystem to tackle the uncertainty and come up with new solutions involving smart grids. The market is past the proof of concept stage and ready for industrialization. It needs stimulating by sharing a common vision and very concrete scaling-up experiences. 


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