Fast forwarding the energy transition in France


Smart Energy International spoke with Philippe Monloubou, Chairman of the management board of Enedis about European Utility Week, France’s role in the energy transition and plans for the French DSO.

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

For the first time France will play host to the European Utility Week. As Chairman of the management board of Enedis, can you tell us how important this 2019 edition is to you?

France is, of course, proud to host European Utility Week for the first time. Annually, this is a unique opportunity to meet all the actors of the energy sector in Europe and to exchange and compare our experiences. It is also an industrial showcase of the achievements of European energy companies, on a worldwide scale.

The timing of this edition is significant for all the actors of the energy sector in Europe, with the new EU Electricity Market design legislation which was formally adopted and published a few months ago. Additionally it comes after the European elections which led to a renewal of European institutions with notably a new Energy Commissioner and a new Director-General of Energy.

In France, under the existing Climate Plan, new energy and climate laws were drafted and adopted this year, and this sets ambitious targets for the next decade for renewable energies with about 75GW of wind and photovoltaic installed capacity by 2028 – against 25GW today. In parallel, the development of new electrified uses such as electric mobility is encouraged – which makes a lot of sense from a generation mix that is more and more carbon-free.

DSOs are key players in these developments. So far in France more than 90% of electricity generation capacity from renewable sources such as wind and solar are connected to MV and LV distribution networks. With regard to Enedis, today intermittent renewable energy produced from more than 425,000 DER power production facilities account for about 13% of our power balance. Ten years from now, we will have more than one million producers connected to the grids we operate, and the electricity they produce could represent between 30% and 40% of our electricity balance. It is quite a big challenge for us, and we believe for other DSOs in Europe – as well as for TSOs. For a few years, reverse flows from distribution grids to the transmission grids through our main substations have been increasing regularly, allowing us to reapply local production to areas of higher consumption.

Nevertheless, I am confident in our collective industrial strengths to meet these exciting challenges, particularly through the already ongoing deployment of smart grids solutions.

Speaking of smart grids, since 2016 Enedis has been engaged in a massive rollout of smart meters: where is this programme and what does this change for market players?

Last year during EUW 2018 in Vienna we had just over 14 million smart meters deployed. Today more than 22 million of our low-voltage customers, i.e. 60% of LV delivery points, are equipped with our Linky smart meters – and the entire fleet of 500,000 MV delivery points is fully equipped with our Saphir-class smart meters. Our goal remains to reach 35 million LV delivery points equipped with smart meters by the end of 2021. So far, this industrial programme has been successful, not only for Enedis but also for all partner companies involved in its realisation.

But in my view the most significant fact that we are seeing this year – and this is the focus we are highlighting for this 2019 edition of EUW on our Enedis Corporate Booth (E.60) – are the improvements that our smart metering programme is already providing for market players – first and foremost customers and energy suppliers.

Innovative offers from energy suppliers are multiplying, based on our Linky smart meter technology which enables managing several dozen horo-seasonal ranges. This allows them to offer more economical offers to their customers, at time periods when the electrical system is least constrained. Collection of indexes and load curves, and their provision to customers and suppliers is totally automated, and the number of suppliers and third-party subscriptions to customer hourly consumption data has tripled in just one year. It means that our smart metering system has already reached a critical size for the market.

Each day 75,000 requests of various services (change of power, modification of contracts, etc.) are processed automatically by the system; by the end of 2021, this figure will rise to 150,000 per day.

Furthermore, in our relationship with customers as a DSO, our smart metering system technology allows us to improve the quality of service delivered to the customer by improving the detection of failures and incidents on low-voltage networks and their recovery time.

When a customer reports an electrical problem to our troubleshooting callcentre, our operators can now remotely perform a diagnosis of the situation in a few seconds, and if necessary, decide an intervention or repair on site which can be scheduled more accurately and quickly. Since the beginning of 2019, our call centres started to perform 50,000 remote diagnostics each month, making it possible for us to address customer requests with much better efficiency and speed than in the past. As another example, this summer nearly 700,000 customer moves into new homes were facilitated by remote commissioning of their power supply contract parameters to their new delivery point. This ability to act remotely very quickly considerably changes the customer’s perception of the service rendered.

The ability of Linky meters to count energy in both consumption and/or production directions facilitates the development of individual and collective self-consumption projects, which have doubled last year.

It is also an asset, we are convinced, for the development of smart charging solutions for electric vehicles. Power data collection allowing to measure and prove energy savings are also of interest to local communities, building renovation companies or energy services companies.

Most important, we believe these recent developments will accelerate the empowerment of market players, first and foremost customers – consistent with the ambition of the revised European Directive and new electricity market rules which put consumers at the heart of the energy transition.

Beyond those for market players, what are the benefits of your smart metering system in day-to-day grid operations and activities?

Smart grids are already a daily reality for our grid operations and will strengthen in the years to come.

The use of the Linky smart metering system to optimise the management of the LV power grid network is already operational with automatic detection of power incidents and their geolocation. Thanks to the data collected from the system, our remote-control rooms hold a finer view of the state of the LV grid in terms of voltage levels or cut-off times.

More generally, smart meters are part of a larger set of smart grids solutions that we started deploying at an industrial scale back in 2016. For example, remote monitoring of equipment on MV grids such as fault indicators, surge arresters, transformer monitoring or flood sensors can detect faults and identify their location. Artificial intelligence and data processing solutions are also already operational for network managementand the optimisation of low voltage cable renewal. They will be extended in 2020 to optimise the renewal of medium voltage cables and predictive maintenance.

Production and consumption flexibilities are being tested. They will provide faster and cheaper connections.

The design of the networks will evolve progressively to adapt to the development of renewable energies, EV mobility and flexibilities.

I would like to emphasise that the deployment of smart grid solutions on an industrial scale is the result of the many smart grid demonstrators, in particular, European ones, in which we participated alongside with other European DSOs, power device manufacturers or market players, with the constant support of the European Commission. Demos like Grid4EU previously, or Interflex today, to name just two examples among dozens, have made decisive contributions in testing and developing solutions that we can deploy today on an industrial scale.

Smart meters, IoT and smart grid technologies, remotely searchable connected objects deployed on power grids … How does Enedis cope with all this influx of data?

You mention a critical issue. Mastering the management of a large volume of data, securely, is becoming more and more strategic for power utilities, particularly DSOs that must ensure the trust of customers and all market players.

With regard to Enedis, in parallel with the massive rollout of smart meters and smart grids solutions, we are experiencing a sharp growth in the size of our IT system. We anticipate the volume of data being processed by Enedis to rise from 14 petabytes of data this year up to 31 petabytes in 2023. These data are hosted in about 16,000 servers – in comparison there were 9,000 in 2016 and more than 22,000 in 2023 in order to ensure the associated treatments. With time steps closer to real-time, flows and treatments increase.

At the same time, in an increasingly digital world we are seeing a sharp increase of requirements for reliability and availability from our stakeholders: from customers for whom power data measured by Enedis is the trusted reference; from suppliers, especially for billing reasons; and from communities for monitoring their local climate plan.

In order to cope with this challenge, in addition to the necessary investments in the IT system we have for several years now integrated and developed new skills; for example in data science we have developed our internal Digital Factory with several dozens of data scientists. Also, to guarantee our smart metering system availability close to 100% on a 24/7 basis, we have staffed dedicated hyper vision and supervision teams. Our Linky system includes equipment (meters, concentrators) connected by a communicating chain (IT and telecoms) to a central system connected to customer interfaces and a dedicated portal for power suppliers. Given the sensitivity of such an end-to-end automated digital platform, significant efforts have been made to make the safest possible equipment and secure the core of the system. We have also staffed a cybersecurity team within our organisation with a programme to strengthen our actions in this area.

Last year was the first time you shared Enedis’ ambitions to facilitate the development of e-mobility. One year on, where do you stand?

E-mobility is a collective, societal and technological challenge and our ambition is to become a leading industrial partner for every e-mobility player to co-create solutions to make widespread EV development possible.

All our teams are mobilised to serve this ambition and within just one year Enedis has participated in nearly 150 operations or projects, with concrete references made on many different use cases – such as electrification of bus depots or collective residential car parks. The number of public domain charging points connected to distribution networks has increased to more than 27,000 – with an average accessibility rate of 42 charging points per 100,000 inhabitants.

Yet much remains to be done; we are just at the beginning of the transition journey. The objective in France is to have 1 million EV or plug-in hybrids in 2023 and 4.6 million in 2028 – compared with the size of the current fleet of light vehicles in France totalling more than 36 million vehicles.

But collective challenges are already ahead of us today. Clean mobility is at the intersection of several deeply changing ecosystems: transport, with innovations around autonomous vehicles and shared uses, energy and digital. Charging infrastructures are connected to distribution grids where local energy systems are gradually emerging, organised around local energy producers and consumers. To illustrate these issues, we have wished this year to integrate a multiple EV charging services station into our Enedis corporate booth.

In general, what do you think the key factors are that will enable the energy transition objectives to be achieved and what roles can utilities and DSOs have in particular?

Philippe Monloubou, Chairman of the management board, Enedis.

Every European citizen, economic, private or public actor, must be able to become an actor in the energy transition, by having access to tools, solutions and services under economically and socially acceptable conditions. As long as the economic, market and fiscal signals are consistent, and as stable as possible over time, the responsibility of power utilities is to be able to offer solutions and deliver services at a lower cost. This requires a lot of innovation, and an ability to structure industrial sectors capable of meeting the needs of the European internal market.

Another key factor of success, I believe, is to ensure that no one is left aside on the road towards the energy transition. DSOs and other network companies that irrigate all territories in Europe have a special role to play in preventing potential risks of territorial fractures between urban and rural areas, for example.

Success factors of territorial solidarity at the national or European level are even more crucial at the international level; French and European experiences in smart grids and new energy systems can already benefit other geographical zones. Enedis is well-positioned to share its skills for the deployment of smart grids in the world. Enedis thus supports the promotion of the expertise of the French smart grids sector through the Think Smartgrids association and the G3-PLC Alliance. We currently make available our smart metering system expertise in several projects; for example in India in the frame of a 5 million smart meters programme in several states, or in Singapore where Enedis is involved in the Microgrid Masera project, 100% powered by renewable power sources.

The willingness of European power utilities and DSOs to continue their commitment to the transition not only in Europe but also beyond our borders is a strong message for the future. SEI

You can visit the team from Enedis at exhibition booth E.60 at European Utility Week.