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France Grid Plans: Focus on RE integration and cross-border ties [free access]

October 10, 2017

The electricity system in France is undergoing a rapid, fundamental change. The key trend that is driving the process of energy transition in the country is the rapidly increasing share of renewable energy in the energy mix. As per the Energy Transition Bill of 2015, France has to achieve a renewable share of 32 per cent of final energy consumption by 2030.

 

According to the country’s transmission system operator (TSO) Réseau de Transport d’Électricité (RTE), in the third quarter of 2017 electricity production in wind, solar and bio-energy sectors grew by 11 per cent as compared to the second quarter of 2016. The total renewable capacity has increased by over 2,030 MW in the last 12 months, with wind and solar together accounting for 95 per cent of this increase. France has also succeeded in raising the share of renewable energies in its final energy consumption, from an average 9.2 per cent in 2005 to 14.9 per cent in 2015, according to statistics released by the Commissariat général au développement durable (CGDD) or General Commission for Sustainable Development.

 

To support the French government’s 2030 renewable energy consumption target, RTE is endeavouring to develop cross-border links and reinforce network capacity in order to ease inter-regional transit of renewable energy across the country. For example, in 2016 more than 30 per cent of the network investment worth EUR1,519 million was spent on projects for renewable energy integration.

 

According to RTE’s Ten-Year Network Development Plan (TYNDP) 2016, in the period between 2017 and 2026, EUR10 billion will be spent on the country’s electricity transmission network. As in the past, RTE will continue to focus its investments on developing projects aimed at accommodating new generation sources; strengthening its integration with the European energy market by enhancing cross-border exchange capacity; ensuring the operational safety of the networks and quality of supply to the different consumption areas and regions; and expanding and upgrading its information systems.

 

Transmission overview

At present, France’s transmission grid comprises transmission lines and grid stations at the 45 kV to 400 kV voltage levels. As of the end of 2015, RTE had a transmission network of 106,170 circuit km and a transformer capacity of 236,129 MVA. The company has electricity interconnections with Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), Belgium and Spain. Nearly 53 per cent of the line length operates at voltage levels between 45 kV and 90 kV; around 25 per cent operates at 225 kV; 21 per cent at 400 kV; and the remaining at the 150 kV, 200 kV and 270 kV levels. 

 

Table 1: Growth in France’s transmission network

 

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Line length (circuit km)

104,816

104,861

105,161

105,508

106,170

–400 kV AC

 21,364

 21,414

 21,752

 21,754

 21,839

–270 kV DC

117

117

117

117

 117

–225 kV AC

26,547

26,594

26,640

26,870

 26,937

–200 kV DC

60

60

60

60

60

–150 kV AC

1,063

1,063

1,063

1,063

1,063

–45-90 kV AC

55,665

55,613

55,529

55,644

 56,154

Transformer capacity (MVA)

222,973

224,840

228,277

232,759

237,583

Number of substations

2,639

2,660

2,668

2,697

2,709

Note: AC – alternating current; DC – direct current

Sources: Reseau de Transport d'Electricite

 

Recent investments

Between 2007 and 2016, RTE’s annual investment in the electricity transmission network grew steadily, increasing from around EUR600 million to EUR1,519 million. In 2016, the investment programme, which was EUR117 million more than the 2015 investment figure, was directed towards the reinforcement of interconnections with neighbouring European networks, construction of new generation facilities, development of the network in line with changes in consumption, and renewal of assets to maintain a quality service. Notably, more than 30 per cent of the network investment was spent on projects for renewable energy integration.

 

Future investments and grid expansion

RTE has planned massive investments to support the French government in achieving the renewable energy goals set by the Energy Transition Bill of 2015. According to RTE’s TYNDP 2016, EUR10 billion will be spent on the country’s electricity transmission network during the 2017-2026 period. As per the plan, during 2017-20, 51 per cent of the investment will be directed towards projects that are aimed at improving power security, 29 per cent will be spent on projects for efficient renewable energy reception, 14 per cent on the development of new interconnections and the remaining 6 per cent on achieving safer operations of the transmission grid. Beyond these investments, EUR200 million will be spent annually to cover various network requirements such as  information systems, remote network controls, exchange of information among actors in the markets, telecommunications, logistics and real estate.

 

Currently, works on projects involving around 1,102 km of high voltage lines, 5,030 MVA of transformer capacity and 12 substations are underway in France. These projects are likely to be commissioned by 2020. Meanwhile, RTE has also planned significant long-term investments to strengthen its European interconnections. The company is undertaking several cross-border transmission projects, which are at various stages of development.

 

One of the key cross-border projects is the 1,330-km-long, 500/600 kV BRITIB project with Spain and UK. The project, worth EUR2,450 million, proposes to construct a three-branched submarine high voltage direct current (HVDC) interconnector between Spain, France and the UK. The project is being supported by the European Commission (EC), which has partially funded the feasibility study for the link.

 

In addition, RTE is involved in building the 400-km-long, 320 kV Gatica–Cubnezais line with Spain. The project, worth EUR1,750 million, consists of an HVDC voltage-sourced converter (VSC)  link (mainly subsea) in the Biscay Gulf, between Gatica (Basque Country, Spain) and Cubnezais (Nouvelle Aquitaine, France). This project is aimed at improving the interconnection between Iberia and mainland Europe. It targets higher integration of renewable energy sources in Iberia, especially solar.

 

Another project is the 240-km-long, 320/563 kV AQUIND Interconnector. The project involves construction of the 240-km-long, 2 GW interconnection link between Lovedean, near Portsmouth in the UK, and the Le Havre area in France. The HVDC power link, which will run both undersea and underground, will connect northern France’s nuclear-powered electricity grid to southern England. The project, worth EUR1,400 million, is being funded entirely by private investment, without any government subsidies.

 

Alongside, RTE and UK’s TSO National Grid Plc are undertaking the 250-km-long, 320 kV Interconnexion France-Angleterre 2 (IFA2) project, which is the second interconnector under the English Channel between the two countries. The project, worth EUR685 million, involves the construction of a new subsea HVDC VSC interconnector between the two countries. It is being built to increase interconnection capacity between the UK and Europe and to integrate renewable energy, especially wind in the UK. In France, it will connect to the transmission system at the 400 kV Tourbe substation in Lower Normandy, around 28 km inland. In the UK it will connect to the transmission system at a 400 kV substation at Chilling Lane in Hampshire.

 

Apart from these cross-border projects, RTE is also undertaking several projects to strengthen its domestic grid. These include the 300-km-long, 400 kV Façade Atlantique (Cubnezais–Marmagne) line; the 275-km-long, 400 kV Massif Central North (Marmagne or Eguzon–Rueyres) line; the 220-km-long, 320 kV Provence–Midi line (also known as Aude–Bouches du Rhône line); the 175-km-long, 400 kV Massif Central South (La GaudieĢ€re–Rueyres) line; the 76-km-long, 225 kV Lorient–Saint Brieuc or Calan–Plaine-Haute line etc.

 

Table: 2 Key planned cross-border projects in France

Project

Country

Voltage (kV)

Length (km)

Commissioning

Abengoa Northern Atlantic Interconnection (ANAI)

Spain, France and United Kingdom

NA

NA

2026

Abengoa Southern Europe Interconnection (ASEI)

Spain, France and Italy

NA

NA

2025

AQUIND Interconnector

France and UK

±320/563

240

2020

Aragón region (Spain)–Marsillón (France) Interconnector

Spain and France

±320

NA

2025

BRITIB Project

France, UK and Spain

±500/600

1,330

2020

Celtic Interconnector

France and Ireland

NA

500

2026

Channel Cable Interconnector

UK and France

NA

144

2021

ElecLink Interconnector

UK and France

±320

75

2020

FABLink (France–Alderney–Britain) Interconnector

UK and France

NA

220

2022

France–Belgium Interconnector Phase 1

France and Belgium

NA

75

2025

France–Italy Interconnector (SA.CO.I.3 Project)

France and Italy

NA

358

2022

France–Switzerland Interconnection

France and Switzerland

400/±320

225

Beyond 2030

Gatica-Cubnezais

France and Spain

±320

400

2025

Grand Ile (France)–Piossasco (Italy) Interconnector

France and Italy

±320

190

2019

GridLink

France and UK

±525

NA

2021

IFA2 Project (2nd UK–France Interconnector)

UK and France

±320

250

2020

Pamplona area (Spain)–Cantegrit (France) (Navarra–Landes France-Spain Interconnector)

Spain and France

±320

180

2025

Note: NA – not available

Source: Réseau de Transport d’Électricité (RTE); Global Transmission Research

 

Other initiatives

In view of growing environmental concerns regarding the ecological footprints of power systems, France is seeking to transform its high voltage grid to preserve the environment, the landscapes and the biodiversity of the country. RTE is looking to modernise its electricity network so as to align it with the expectations of economic actors, associations and citizens. A key project being undertaken by RTE under this theme is the modernisation of the Hautes-Alpes network. The project involves the construction of new subterranean connections and dismantling of 206 km of overhead lines. The project, which is scheduled for completion in 2020, will reduce the overhead network in the valley by half (356 towers instead of 670).

 

Additionally, to explore more innovative and cheaper options for network transformation, recently in September 2017, RTE launched a new challenge of open innovation for start-ups, students, associations, designers, architects and artists. The aim is to discover innovative solutions for a safer, more efficient, more economical and cleaner electricity transmission network.

 

Summing up

The government of France aims to significantly increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix, and to this end, RTE is playing a major role in the country’s energy transition. To achieve the 2030 target of 23 per cent renewable share of final energy consumption, the company has planned massive investments for the sector. These investments will be directed towards projects aimed at integrating renewable energy both from cross-border and domestic generation. However, while the TYNDP 2016 designed for energy transition and corresponding stronger cross-border ties is welcome, timely execution of projects and sourcing of funds still remain crucial for achieving the desired results.