Grids at the heart of a dual energy and digital transition

Alexey Lokhov

Alexey Lokhov

Energy, Grids & Hydrogen Business Director

Graduated from the Ecole Polytechnique, Alexey has dedicated his entire career to the development of decarbonised energy: after more than 15 years working in the nuclear sector, Alexey joined Assystem to head the department of our “Energy” activities in France. He leads a team in charge of the development of our projects in electrical grids, renewable energies, and low-carbon hydrogen. 

The energy transition, for both environmental and energy security reasons, is based on a major increase in the use of electricity. This requires various means of production (nuclear and renewables in particular) and an evolution in consumer usage (demand response management actions, development of electric vehicles, and new uses of air conditioning, for example). These major changes will have a considerable impact on the construction and operation of grids, enabling the transmission and distribution of electricity from power plants to delivery points.

The challenges of the coming decades are huge in terms of building, developing and modernising grids in order to ensure their stability, security, and resilience in the face of consumption peaks, to ensure their balance and continuity of service, while respecting local norms and standards.

To support operators and governments in these structural changes, two main areas of expertise provide an appropriate response to the sector's challenges: on one hand, the ability to analyse, design and operate interconnections between regions and the connection of new low-carbon production plants within the grid, including a large number of small distributed production resources; on the other hand, the ability to model and digitalise these grids in order to optimise their construction and operation.

Connecting nuclear and renewable power plants to the grid: the need to adapt infrastructure for the energy transition

Certain that the engineering of grids is a major challenge to support governments and operators that are integrating low-carbon energy into their energy mix, Assystem's teams have been mobilising their experts for several years to modernise, renew and operate electrical transmission and distribution infrastructure around the world.

Our approach is comprehensive to ensure the safety, stability, and reliability of the power system, from impact studies upstream of a structural change in the grid to the effective connection of new generation units, such as a nuclear power plant, a large offshore wind farm or a solar park.

Indeed, one of the primary essentials to establish, before adding an additional source of electricity production to a grid, is to precisely define its impact: constraints of the local electrical system, quality of the existing grid in terms of capacity, stability, availability, proximity to the new power plant, or even easements to be anticipated on the grid route.

Once these impact assessments have been finalised and handed over to the operators, it is essential to carry out the studies, design, review and supervision of the construction of these new grid connections: preparation and review of the technical specifications, qualification, quality inspections, testing and commissioning, analysis and validation of the operating and maintenance conditions of the grid infrastructure.

In parallel, the verification and/or compliance of connections to local standards is also an integral part of the skills of our grid experts, who are able to update and maintain local electrical standards in line with international best practice, conventions, and treaties.

For distribution infrastructure, in particular substations and conversion stations (HVDC/HVAC for offshore projects, for example), Assystem's teams are able to operate as Owner Engineer and thus take the entire lead on studies, design and supervision of the construction of substations: civil engineering, structure, high and low voltage, HVAC, distribution networks, fire safety systems, etc. The sizing of equipment such as cables, inverters, transformers, metering tools, as well as SCADA, plant monitoring and security systems are also handled by our teams.

It is the role of engineering to design and enable a long-term approach, contributing to the development, adaptability, reliability and proper functioning of electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure which sit at the heart of the energy transition.

 

Construction and operation of electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure thanks to digital twin: anticipation and optimisation of grid performance

New technologies appear as an opportunity to develop a more dynamic management of infrastructure and to rethink the organisation and operation of grids.

At Assystem, we are convinced that digitalisation will enable performance gains in maintenance, engineering, and operation. It also contributes to the optimisation of schedules and processes and ensures cost optimisation and better collaboration between all stakeholders.

Digital is a key lever for designing, planning, maintaining and operating current or future sustainable electrical installations, and thus meeting the low-carbon challenges of the energy transition. On one hand, it will allow energy producers and operators to have access to new visibility and knowledge of the grid, and thus exploit the full potential of current infrastructure. On the other hand, it will help understanding of the integration of new low-carbon energy sources in order to guarantee an energy mix which is adapted to specific contexts (electrical demand, new uses, geography, topography, etc.).

Mastering data is a crucial issue:

One of the first steps in the digital transformation of grids is to digitalise them to ensure that assets are well controlled and understood. To do this, digital experts will rely on their mastery of digital technologies to collect data from multiple sources, including owners, operators, and regulators. This data is then centralised to extract a digital model called a digital twin, the main benefits of which are easier access to and visualisation of the data.

Simulating scenarios to inform decision-making:

The second phase involves using this digital twin to simulate assumptions and thus assess the impact of different factors on the behaviour of the grid during the design, construction, or upgrade phases. For example, measuring the impact of new electrical installations and their effect on grid upgrades. Finally, through simulation, the data collected on the evolution of the grid in real time throughout its life cycle will constitute a perennial database for creating multiple scenarios. They will contribute to a better understanding of the grids' operating dynamics, enabling operators to optimise operations and anticipate maintenance procedures.

Thus, the modelling and simulation of assets can be used throughout the entire life cycle of grids. Thanks to their dual expertise in engineering and digital throughout the world, Assystem's teams have already been able to contribute to several areas of use:

  • Upgrading of an existing national grid to adapt to new generation capacity or regulatory compliance:

“In Uzbekistan, teams from UzAssystem, a joint venture between Assystem and the Uzbek Ministry of Energy, have supported the national grid operator in creating a digital model of the country's grid to run simulations, assess grid conditions, the impact of new power installations and the effect of upgrades on the grid. This approach enables the grid operator to make informed decisions on infrastructure development. The study also provides the basis for prioritising and sequencing investments in grid integration.“

  • The development of grids for the electrification of new territories:

“Saudi Arabia, for example, is developing new territories such as the NEOM giga project. The digitalisation of grids is in full swing after the adoption of the digital twin. This technology provides real-time information and predictive maintenance capabilities, allowing for improved reliability and efficiency of power supply. Through digitalisation, it is now possible to anticipate and adapt effectively to changing conditions and generation sources, ensuring a resilient and sustainable energy infrastructure for the future.”

  • The reliability and security of the grid to guarantee the stability of the electricity supply in a territory:

“This is a need that is becoming particularly important today as the multi-energy aspects of grids need to be considered, as well as the major shift to new consumption modes such as hydrogen production and electric vehicle charging. Modelling and simulation enable the optimisation of interconnections or to solve local problems such as, for example, optimisation of the position and configuration of large energy storage units, which can help to regulate the electrical frequency of the grid."

  • Supporting the design and construction of an electrical conversion substation

"Assystem accompanies the joint venture CIDAC (RTE/EirGrid) in the creation of a direct current electrical link allowing the direct exchange of electricity between France and Ireland. This project, particularly complex and consequent, requires the monitoring of the requirements, the control of the design and the management of the construction project of the conversion station. Thanks to its expertise in digital tools, Assystem deploys tailor-made digital solutions in order to extract, classify and rationalize automatically the project data and thus guarantee a better control of the projects in terms of deadlines, risks and costs."

To learn more, Assystem is participating in the Celtic Interconnector (CIDAC) project to create a direct current electrical link allowing for the direct exchange of electricity between France and Ireland.

As you can see, the use of grid digitisation helps public organisations to build their energy mix by simulating scenarios (distribution of different energy sources in the overall production of electricity in a country, region, city, etc.). For each type of project, digital twin can intervene from the design phase to validate the design choices, make infrastructure scalability more reliable or optimise grid infrastructure maintenance to avoid the risks of service interruptions. It also interfaces with infrastructure cost rationalisation strategies and helps operators and investors to make informed decisions based on reliable data.

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