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Innovating in preparation for tomorrow’s grid

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In the next five years, France’s electrical grid will undergo more changes than it has done in the past 40 years. This is due to requirements associated with the energy transition, combined with digitisation, a driver of innovation.
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In order to rise to this challenge, RTE is investing 37 million Euros and has an R&D team of around 100 people, the largest compared with its European counterparts. At the same time, RTE is developing an innovation ecosystem including partnerships with universities, start-up companies and technology suppliers, etc.

The R&D roadmap comprises five programmes.

1. The components of tomorrow’s electrical grid

New types of connector (using the principle of superconductivity, for example), new-generation substations (with an increasing amount of digitisation including digital automation and control), etc.

2. Rationalisation of equipment maintenance

This involves establishing rationalised maintenance programmes by simulating equipment ageing processes, as well as gathering data required for monitoring purposes. In order to do this, RTE’s R&D teams are designing sensors that will be fitted to structures or their surroundings, as well as drones that will be used to identify malfunctions. Not to mention systems for processing all of this data.

3. Innovating for the environment and society

This programme seeks to minimise the impact of our structures on their surroundings. By testing, for instance, alternative solutions to the crushing of vegetation underneath power lines (planting of tiered forest edges, sheep grazing areas, mowing, selective cutting methods, etc.). Or by seeking substitutes to phytosanitary substances used around substations.

RTE’s R&D teams are also exploring the marine environment with a view to installing lines that will connect future offshore wind turbines to the French coastline. For example, they are looking into the use of the scallop as a biosensor because the scallop’s breathing patterns indicate the effects of submarine structures on their surroundings.

Still on the subject of submarine structures, RTE’s R&D team is using biomimetics to find a non-chemical solution for treating submarine cables. These teams are exploring the capabilities of shark skin to prevent shellfish from clinging to cables and weighing them down.

Another field of research: RTE is working on the public’s perception of its structures in order to make them more acceptable. A partnership with the National Landscape Engineering School is focusing on smart cities and the effects of the environmental transition on landscapes.

4. Market prospects and energy transition


The R&D team is designing tools and processes enabling RTE to regularly issue extensive engineering reports providing a 10-year outlook on the electricity sector. The next report will include a range of scenarios up until 2050, seeking to achieve the carbon neutrality target set by the public authorities.

5. Innovations in transmission system operation

Committed to maintaining a continuous supply of electrical power, RTE is responsible for the real-time management of a grid comprising 100 000 km of power lines running across the whole of France, and processes 40 000 data items per second. In order to help it fulfil thee objectives, RTE is developing smart solutions. Example: Apogée, a smart assistant for dispatchers (who control the grid at a regional and nation-wide level). Using artificial intelligence, this system – which is still being developed – screens information and conveys top-priority data to the dispatchers.

Yet another innovative field of research is that of grid forming. Tomorrow’s grid will essentially consist of a direct-current connection between generation facilities and users whereas the current grid uses alternating current. Can it make this adjustment? With what components? RTE has demonstrated the theoretical feasibility of such an adjustment. After the completion of conclusive laboratory tests, R&D teams will proceed with the large-scale roll-out of these tests.

Currently being prepared and scheduled to begin in 2021, the next R&D programme will focus sharply on two topics which are becoming increasingly important:

  • Public acceptance of structures and transmission systems. This issue could be an obstacle to the energy transition, as evidenced in Germany.
  • Resilience of the electrical grid: its ability to overcome different types of potential crises, the foremost of which include climate change.

6. Garantir la stabilité du réseau avec l’arrivée massive des énergies renouvelables 

La capacité du réseau à revenir à un état stable après un incident est un élément clé de l’exploitation ; l’arrivée de nouveaux composants connectés au réseau via de l’électronique de puissance (photovoltaïque, éolien ou encore lignes à courant-continu) va nécessiter d’un côté la mise en place de dispositifs nouveaux sur le réseau et, de l’autre côté, l’évolution des outils de simulation permettant de s’assurer de leur efficacité. L’équipe R&D développe les outils permettant de qualifier cette stabilité et de tester, via des démonstrateurs sur site, les solutions envisagées comme  le « grid forming ». Nous avons réussi à démontrer la faisabilité théorique d’une telle adaptation, après des tests en laboratoire concluants, les équipes de R&D vont commencer des tests à l’échelle industrielle.

 

Il est à noter que le nouveau programme de R&D, qui a démarré en 2021, alloue une place importante à deux sujets d’importance croissante :

  • Les enjeux sociétaux de la transition énergétique et ses impacts sur les infrastructures de réseau.

  • La résilience du réseau d’électricité : sa capacité à surmonter les différents types de crises qui peuvent survenir, au rang desquels le changement climatique.