We must not oppose innovation


Smart Energy International spoke with Edouard Sauvage, CEO of GRDF, the French gas distribution system operator, about the decarbonization of the sector, innovation, the energy transition and plans for the next five years to a decade.

Mr. Sauvage, who was recently reappointed CEO of GRDF, believes the company faces two main challenges: digitalisation and the move to decarbonisation. In both cases, innovation will be a key success factor.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Smart Gas Grid to increase safety & energy efficiency.

“The Smart Gas Grid is a digitalized gas network providing new functionalities. It integrates
innovative, low cost and smart sensors,” explains Sauvage. “It allows consumption data to be collected through a very resilient and secured 169MHz radio network.

“Digitalization means we have an opportunity to use artificial intelligence to anticipate and improve leak detection. This will facilitate the identification of potential weaknesses in the network, allowing effective targeting for preventive maintenance and additional checks. Nonetheless, beside adding sensors it is our ability to analyze the data that is going to be key,” concludes Sauvage.

Focusing on the Smart Gas Grid, Sauvage indicates that “the first step is deploying smart gas meters. We have already connected more than three and a half million customers in France who now receive daily consumption meter readings. This €1 billion project aiming at equipping our 11 million customers is currently on track regarding schedule, budget and customer satisfaction”.

GRDF is indeed experiencing a very high acceptance level with less than 1% of customers declining the solution.

Smart gas meters are also a great tool for energy efficiency, believe both GRDF and the French energy regulator. A study revealed having easily access to consumption data can allow households to save up to 1.5% of energy. Moreover, Sauvage points out that “network monitoring will help us increase the amount of renewable gas injected into our network,” a key element in the move to decarbonisation.

The gas move to decarbonisation

Sauvage argues that “achieving decarbonisation requires the increasing integration and development of renewable gas until it eventually fully replaces natural gas. Over the last three years, GRDF has been working hand to hand with stakeholders in the agricultural sector – farmers, local authorities, industries and farming unions – to develop renewable gas production sites in France.” The focus is on biomethane, a gas that can be produced from agricultural waste and then fed through the pipelines, directly from producers to consumers. “We recently reached a milestone of 1TWh of biomethane injected in the grid,” Sauvage says. He continues explaining it took the wind and solar sectors 11 years in France to reach the same milestone, versus only seven years for biomethane. “It is important we keep the momentum going. And for that we need to work on reducing the delay for project owners, especially between the first request to GRDF and connection to the grid.” To date, more than 100 units are already injecting renewable gas into the distribution network, which is the equivalent of heating 120,000 houses. GRDF expects 8TWh of renewable gas to be produced and injected into gas networks in France over the next four years. “For now, we are focusing on developing biomethane produced by anaerobic digestion of agricultural inputs, biowaste and seaweed residues,” clarifies Sauvage.

Sector coupling is key to achieve decarbonisation

“The one message I would like to share with the attendees of European Utility Week is that in the coming years, the commitment to achieve a carbon-neutral economy will grow stronger. And it will only be possible to reach carbon neutrality if we consider coupling gas and electric sectors. Today, we see the pros of such solutions on a grid level with Power-to-Gas, and I am convinced it will become essential at a household level. We can imagine energy-efficient hybrid heating solutions combining the use of gas and electricity.”

“To be able to achieve this efficiently, we need active cooperation between electricity and gas DSOs, energy suppliers and manufacturers. We need an environment where we go beyond the competition between energies, and start seeing the countless opportunities hybrid solutions can offer. This will truly empower customers to choose innovative and efficient solutions, and therefore facilitate their zero-carbon transition. Cooperation between all stakeholders is imperative to tackle the complex challenge of reaching carbon neutrality.”

Edouard Sauvage will be speaking at European Utility Week on the following days:

  • 13 November 2019, 11:50: Renewable gas is necessary to achieve EU decarbonisation
  • 13 November 2019, 12:20: Panel Discussion: Decarbonising beyond renewables: Do we need anything else in Europe?
  • 14 November 2019, 14:15: Panel Discussion: The Future Role of Gas in the European Energy Transition, Closing Keynote.