Smart gas: The French Connection


France is experiencing a period of significant growth in the biogas/biomethane market, especially after the government reaffirmed its goals to achieve carbon neutrality.

The ambition is to achieve 30% renewable gas by 2030, producing a perfect opportunity to capitalise on the region’s biogas potential.

Smart Energy International wanted to find out more and to this end, we spoke to GRTgaz and GRDF to understand how utilities are optimising these opportunities within the biogas/ biomethane space.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2018.  You have access to our digital magazine here. 

Bio-methane is a combustible gas produced by transforming organic material from various sectors: agriculture, household waste, industry, gas from non-hazardous waste storage facilities and water treatment stations.

GRTgaz has been working to improve smart grid infrastructure in France in order to accommodate the increased use of biomethane, and owns 32,414km of high-pressure network, one of the largest in Europe.

“In general, we are seeing increasing numbers of biomethane installations, affecting the grid in a positive way, says Pascale Guillo-Lohan, head of the smart grid and open data programme at GRTgaz. “We want to maximise the amount of this renewable biogas in the networks.”

Market response

In France, there is definitely an increased focus on renewable energy across all regions, especially biomethane. The national trend is for energy and agriculture to work hand in hand, as biomethane can be produced from agricultural waste and then fed through the pipeline, directly from producer to consumer.

Says Guillo-Lohan: “Our higher national objective is to ensure more renewable energy in the pipelines, up to 30% in 2030. With all the renewable resources we have, we could achieve much more. “This push to renewable energy makes us reconsider our network, which is why we are increasing the conversation about smart grids and adapting current grid infrastructure.”

From 2016 until 2022, 11 million natural gas customers will be equipped with smart meters connected on the distribution network. These new meters will allow better monitoring and management of daily gas consumption.

In order to welcome more renewable gas, GRTgaz needs to rethink the network. “We are working to include new sensors and indicators that can be used on the pipeline to better manage and predict consumption of biogas. Ultimately, all changes to grid infrastructure promote energy efficiency and are aimed at including more renewable energy onto the grid. We are trying to use the innovation that exists and develop new innovation in order for biomethane to reach maximum coverage across the country.”

Building the grid to accommodate renewables

“Our main objective is to use the existing infrastructure throughout many parts of France,” concurs Marine Gabory, a member of the open data and smart grid team at GRTgaz.

“We have gas coming from the frontier to the main transmission network. With the development of the biomethane, we now have to account for many production units injecting into the distribution and transmission networks. We are also working on a new installation called the ‘reverse flow unit’ to ensure gas flow from distribution to the transmission grid. It’s a challenging project with many new considerations, such as all the data we have to collect from the transmission and distribution networks to manage it.”

Supporting regulation

The development of renewables is very important for the regulator and the teams are working together to balance the cost of projects, while achieving maximum renewable energy roll out. The government has shown its dedication to greener energy by implementing the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, to increase renewable energy and gas uptake and inclusion on the grid.

GRTgaz works closely with many local authorities such as the regional council to develop new projects, develop the smart grid and implement renewable gas. An example of this is the West Grid Synergy Project in which two regional councils are taking part.

West Grid Synergy key stats:

  • The territorial smart grid demonstrator is developed in Brittany and Pays de la Loire
  • West Grid Synergy encompasses 37 cities/villages and 180,000 inhabitants
  • On average 40% of gas needed will be supplied by biomethane.

GRTgaz is launching two pilot ‘reverse flow plant’ facilities in Pontivy (Morbihan) and Pouzauges (Vendee), which will absorb surplus biomethane when local production exceeds demand. These two units are part of a territorial movement for the gas sector and will allow GRTgaz to test different network configurations and technologies. Over 150 reverse flow plant units could be installed on the French grid by 2025, representing an investment nearing €450 million for GRTgaz.

GRDF’s perspective

We also spoke with GRDF’s Alain Desandré for his take on the renewable gas trend and to find out how GRDF is maximising the opportunities presented by the biomethane sector.

Gas trends in France and GRDF’s response

GRDF manages 11 million customers with smart meters, the largest distribution network in Europe. GRDF designs, builds, operates, maintains and develops this network in more than 9,500 municipalities across France.

Natural gas is now being combined with renewable energies as a perfect complement for heating homes due to its availability, energy efficiency and because it is more competitive than other energies.

There is a need for greater flexibility to prepare for the future, to handle fluctuating demand, and to integrate more resources such as biomethane.

In 2009, the regulator launched the smart meter project, which revolved around achieving energy efficiency targets by introducing greater amounts of renewable resources. We have integrated many energy saving measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and focused on developing biomethane injection sites.

GRDF is developing the network with “Gazpar” smart meters, smart pipes and smart gas grids, allowing connectivity with other urban infrastructures and smart networks.

Smart pipes use remote surveillance to detect malfunctions and remote control to balance supply and demand. By combining data from the various meters and sensors at key points in the network, remote-sensing will help improve flow reconstruction.

Smart pipes could help support the electrical power grid, with decentralised production by micro and mini-cogeneration units. In high-density energy areas, heating networks combining renewable energy with gas in central heating systems could be developed.

The interconnection of smart pipes with other urban infrastructures, such as electrical smart grids, will form smart networks. The trends are therefore to build these smart networks and make them communicate. This will deliver many advantages to the consumer.

How far along is this grid modernisation plan?

Modernisation of the natural gas network is now underway. In order to achieve effective communication between networks, GRDF plans for a new smart gas meter to be installed at the premises of around 11 million natural gas customers.

Currently Gazpar smart meters, fitted with a radio module, transmits information on natural gas consumption to a data concentrator. The data concentrator, fitted with a SIM card, sends consumption data to GRDF’s information system, which processes the data and makes it accessible to customers.

The new smart meter used by GRDF is running with a low-power, long-range and bi-directional technology, and operates around 169 MHz frequencies .

Biomethane, we believe, answers the question posed by Regional Climate Air Energy Plans (SRCAE), Territorial Energy Climate Plans (PCET), and Territorial Coherence Schemes (SCOT) in the fields of waste and energy. In other words, developing biomethane means we can:

  • Create a territorial circular economy in which locally produced waste becomes a source of energy
  • Create local and non-relocatable jobs
  • Value community networks that become vectors of green energy • Generate new synergies between actors from the agricultural world, industry and local communities.

Regulatory and economic climate impacts on market growth

An encouraging dynamic exists within the country, made obvious by the character of recently passed regulations. The injection of renewable gas was really given the green light in 2008 with the favourable opinion of ANSES in 2009, with the “Grenelle de l’environnement” and the end of 2011 with the publication of biomethane purchase tariffs.

Public authorities opted for the introduction of a purchase price for biomethane injected into the natural gas networks. Thanks to this system, a producer is guaranteed to sell the green gas produced by his installation to a natural gas supplier at a fixed rate for a period of 15 years. SEI