Infrastructure, system operation and market tool design: Heading for smart power
Our roles and missions go way beyond the implicit meaning of the term "power transmission". Because electricity can only be stored in limited amounts, it needs to be used as soon as it is generated. At the heart of the power system, we are responsible for keeping the balance between supply and demand. By ensuring that we have the ability to fulfil this role on a daily basis, we provide our customers with economical, reliable and clean access to power supply.
Ensuring the smooth operation of our facilities
With close to 105 000 km of power lines and 2 710 substations, the maintenance of transmission infrastructures is essential for the supply of electricity 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. This work is performed by RTE's people who, as well as carrying out preventive maintenance, also carry out repairs if the slightest default is detected. This maintenance is increasingly using innovative tools and methods. For example, RTE operates its own state-of-the-art telecommunications system, an absolute prerequisite for transmission system safety. It is also piloting the use of robots and drones to improve on overhead power line inspections.
RTE is constantly upgrading its network. Up-rating existing power lines in expanding agglomerations; building new cross-border links to maximise transmission system efficiency on a European scale; connecting new wind turbines to the grid; enhancing power supply quality to help industrial consumers maintain their competitive edge, etc. We find answers to our customers' needs, while continuing to develop and upgrade the grid. In the coming decade, we will be spending nearly €1 400 Euros a year on grid improvements*.
Operating the transmission system
In order to maintain a real-time balance between supply and demand, RTE delivers an unhindered flow of electricity across the grid, second by second. We continuously monitor the transmission system from our national control centre and from regional load dispatch centres, where 40 000 bits of data are processed every second. Thanks to this real-time monitoring, decisions based on physical and economic parameters can be made immediately, always seeking the most advantageous solution and ensuring grid operability.
Designing market mechanisms
The market mechanism that we are developing makes it possible to use the most competitive energy sources in France and in Europe. This optimal use of resources call for close cooperation with our European counterparts.
RTE is constantly seeking ways of remaining a step ahead of changes within the power system. Among the solutions used to improve the operation of the power system are market mechanisms which affect the entire electricity value chain by emitting economic signals. These mechanisms support security of supply and economic optimisation of the system, while also facilitating other ways to consume power. The control and design of these mechanisms make RTE accountable for the entire power system and its stakeholders, be they producers, consumers or traders. This expertise is vital for RTE to constantly adapt to a highly evolving environment which is defined by the development of intermittent renewable energy sources, increasingly volatile electricity usage, and the introduction of information and communication technologies.
*Source: Ten-yearly grid development plan.
A more in-depth view
Maintaining, upgrading and adapting the power transmission system to present and future needs: we put all our expertise into serving RTE customers by meeting their needs and fulfilling our role as a public service.
Supporting our customers
RTE is an essential partner in its customers' efforts to achieve high levels of performance. We have set in place a new organisational structure for enhanced customer support, with 130 sales representatives throughout France. In addition to providing a high-quality connection to the transmission grid, and with the aim of promoting an efficient customer route, we have set up a new website, rte-cataliz.com, for easy access to our wide range of services. The website also offers dedicated customer support for specific needs and priorities. We have also launched "concerte.fr", a website dedicated to the Transmission System Users' Committee (CURTE). Its goal: providing the largest source of news items and reference documents regarding the arrangements which govern access to the transmission system and the market.
Helping to build the European electricity market
In order for flows of electricity to be conveyed across Europe, two conditions must be met: physical cross-border interconnections and a framework supporting trade via one or more European power exchanges.
We are continuing to expand our physical interconnections with neighbouring transmission systems. For example, a link is being built between France and Italy, and is expected to be operational by 2019. A new 65-km underground direct-current connection is also being completed between France and Spain.
RTE is a driving force in efforts to structure the European electricity market with a view to optimize the use of cross-border capacities, set up more open and transparent market mechanisms and promote price convergence over increasingly large areas. The development of a European market is reliant on market integration, achieved through the coupling mechanism. This method is being jointly used by electricity exchanges and transmission system operators. RTE was part of the very first project that allowed market coupling between France, Germany and Benelux. In 2014, this area was extended to the whole of north-west Europe, including the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. This achievement has created the prerequisite conditions for exchanges over an area whose power demands account for 75% of total European consumption.
Innovating and developing R&D activities
To meet the emerging challenges of energy transition and new uses of power, RTE is making its transmission system even smarter by introducing new technologies and building new solutions and mechanisms. RTE invests significantly in research and innovation to prepare for tomorrow's grid. Indeed, our research topics range from the new opportunities offered by information and communication technologies to bulk data-processing and the development of direct current power transmission. More than 100 people are employed on a full-time basis by the R&D department. We have drawn up an ambitious road map to guide our research efforts. We will be investing €100 million in R&D over the period of 2013 to 2016.