In this episode 2, we’ll learn how digital is being used as a lever to accelerate the development of renewable electricity and the electrical networks needed to transport it.

In the previous episode, we discussed digital as a tool to accelerate the development of nuclear energy. Today, we’re going to look at the renewable energy market. To respond to the climate emergency, many programmes are under construction or planned. France has set itself the target of achieving 45% of renewable energy in its energy mix by 2030, compared with the current 20%. Globally, renewable electricity capacity is expected to increase by more than 60% between 2020 and 2026, reaching over 4,800 GW, according to the International Energy Agency. The production of electricity from renewable sources is changing the energy market landscape, due to its intermittent nature.

How is digital becoming an essential lever for the development of renewable energy and grids in the world?

In the face of the climate emergency, the decarbonisation of our economies requires the massive and rapid development of renewable energies and the electricity networks needed to distribute them. This acceleration poses many challenges to which digital technologies can provide solutions.


Renewable energies: a major development

Renewable energies are booming: around the world, renewable electricity capacity is expected to increase by more than 60% between 2020 and 2026, reaching more than 4800 GW according to the International Energy Agency's 2021 report.

France is aiming for renewable energy to contribute 45% of its energy mix by 2030 (compared to 20% currently). Ambitious targets such as this raise a number of questions: "The strong growth in renewable energy is a huge challenge in several respects in terms of industrial issues, availability of equipment, electrical connections, the impact on existing networks, and also in terms of project organisation to meet this schedule," says Frédéric Chéneau, business development director at Assystem.

"It is not possible to develop renewable projects at such a pace without modern, digital means."


Large-scale infrastructures are a source of complexity

Achieving these large-scale goals increasingly requires the deployment of large-scale renewable projects on a large scale (gigawatt scale).

This evolution adds to the complexity of infrastructure projects, providing multiple challenges: finding the optimum location for production and ); higher numbers of stakeholders with their own constraints and requirements; suitable environmental conditions (sufficient solar exposure, continuous wind, and good foundations to install wind turbines inland and offshore); " These challenges must also consider the added complexity of emerging hybrid solutions with battery storage, technological mixes between solar and wind power, and tomorrow electrolysers dedicated to the low-carbon hydrogen market, which will complicate the situation”, adds Frédéric Chéneau.

In this environment, the ability to replicate projects, both in terms of design and construction, is a major challenge. Digital technology coupled with engineering is a solution for achieving this, as Frédéric Chéneau explains: "Digital technology is essential for replicating projects and for keeping to increasingly tight installation and connection schedules, with controlled operation and predictable production - albeit intermittent by nature.


The digital twin to optimise costs

As well as considering the complexity of projects, cost considerations are a key priority.

The principles of project replication make it possible to reduce development costs during the construction phase. Significant cost savings can be made at the design stage using systems modelling combined with digital technologies (Model-Based Systems Engineering).

This combination allows for the creation of a digital twin of the project, which can be used throughout its life cycle. The benefits are numerous: better consideration of interfaces, easier collaboration between multiple stakeholders, more accurate estimation of the project's physical progress at all times. “This approach contributes to the smooth running of the project. In addition to a better understanding and therefore a gain in efficiency, it allows us to check, through simulations, very early in the project life cycle whether the modeling is correct and whether the result will be consistent with the initial requirements.”

"By coupling this MBSE method with a data management approach - the so-called data centric approach - we can guarantee continuity and traceability from design, during construction, and up to the operation of our clients' industrial assets."

Our digital approach, which has its place in the design and construction phases, also adds value in the operating phases. The digital twin of the infrastructure lists models, data and systems, acting as a simulator to enable advanced testing to be carried out to ensure better preparation for maintenance operations, enabling clients to anticipate and improve the control of work phases. It also provides a knowledge base for tracing changes and decisions made over time, "which is essential when infrastructures are intended to operate for decades.” It provides a means of training new operators and stakeholders. Finally, it allows visualisation of operating states and control of situations by detecting events at an early stage. This is an asset for optimising on-site interventions in highly constrained environments.

"During the operating phases, digital technology is a lever for analysing and monitoring operating conditions or anticipating maintenance and compensating for a lack of staff."


Digital and electrical transmission and distribution networks

As the keystone to ensuring a clean and sustainable energy supply, transmission and distribution networks will also undergo major changes, linked to the rise of renewable energies. Engineering skills coupled with digital technology will be essential to carry out transformation projects (reviewing and updating electrical standards, the reinforcement of electrical infrastructures, the development of an eco-design approach for electrical systems, etc.) which are large and complex in nature.

One of Assystem’s major projects of this type required the modelling of a national electrical network on the scale of a country of 35 million inhabitants. Over a period of 18 months, our teams identified, characterized and modelled all the elements of an infrastructure from 35 kV to 500 kV, representing nearly 40,000 km of power lines and nearly 2,000 substations. This will serve as a basis for dynamically simulating the behavior of electrical networks, which will accommodate more than 15 GW of renewable capacity by the end of the decade. "Access to electricity, price, risk of blackouts, and the country’s energy sovereignty. The impact of such a project is colossal and must be studied. It is digital technology that will be able to offer this level of relevance and added value," comments Frédéric Chéneau.  

"Digital contributes a great deal to the design, duplication, and de-risking to guarantee a smooth operation of all these new energy infrastructures"

Many challenges to be met

High speed electrification represents a colossal challenge. On one hand, electrical infrastructures with a very long operating life (50 to 80 years) that have never been designed to accept future developments and must be adapted and modified; and, on the other hand, equipment that will also have to evolve to allow for new functionalities (transformers and circuit breakers now with gases, more environmentally friendly cables that will remain at sea for decades).

We must also consider the connection of all the small and medium producers of renewable energy (individuals, farmers, traders) who install panels on their roofs for example, who will require quick, compatible connections to the electricity networks.

Downstream, new constraints will also appear. For example, larger numbers of people recharging electric vehicles at the end of the day or in the evening, requiring electricity to be available at these times. Public and private car parks will also require more charging points for vehicles, which will need to communicate electricity output, , electricity consumption and charge management data.

As we can see, many challenges will arise in terms of infrastructure and equipment, but also in terms of uses and practices, inherent to the novelty of the processes. With more than 55 years of energy transition expertise, the Assystem group is well equipped to answer these challenges.

The essence of engineering is to find solutions to problems across a wide variety of trades and numerous strict constraints. Through our purpose, to contribute to the global energy transition, Assystem is in line with this movement by combining innovative digital technologies with its rich experience in energy transition business and project expertise. Our mission is to support our customers in the search for solutions to produce and transport low-carbon energy at the lowest cost.

"Digital will make the energy transition possible by helping to mitigate the problems we face. Projects that contribute to the decarbonisation of our economies must be large-scale, innovative, numerous, quickly deployed, and deliver on their promise in terms of cost of ownership and operations."


Discover some of our digital projects in grids:


Frédéric Cheneau

Frédéric Cheneau

Business Development Director

Frédéric Cheneau has been working as an international Business Development Director for more than ten years, developing new opportunities worldwide, especially in Europe, Middle East, and Asia (Central and Southeast). His expertise covers complex infrastructure sectors with a strong focus on energy transition, including with nuclear, hydrogen, smart grids, and renewables energies.


In Switch On, our engineering, digital and project management experts shed light on the projects and technologies that are contributing to the energy transition around the world today.

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