CIGRE General Secretary Philippe Adam answers questions of Energy Today telegram channel subscribers

october 29, 2019

Questions of Energy Today telegram channel subscribers for Philippe Adam, CIGRE General Secretary

1. Global trends

Does RES-based (except for nuclear and hydro) generation pose a threat for the existing architecture of power systems, including the power system of Russia?

The integration of RES (wind and solar) into the power systems is challenging for power system operators, because RES are intermittent. There are several technical options to mitigate the effects of intermittency:

  1. Energy storage, based on battery systems or pumped storage
  2. Additional generation with fast response, like gas power plant
  3. Demand side management, like the curtailment of flexible consumers
  4. Interconnection with other neighbor power systems

All over the world, there are many examples of these different options.

The selection of one option or of a mix of these options should be the result of economic analyses, comparing the benefits and costs for the global system.

An interesting example is the power system of Denmark. During some days in a year, this country only produces renewable energy, and announces that RES (mainly wind) supply 100% of its consumption. This is possible because the Danish power system and the power systems of Germany, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, are strongly interconnected.

In Ireland where the connection of its power system is weakly interconnected with its neighbor power systems (United Kingdom), the challenge of going to 100% RES (onshore and offshore wind farms), is not achievable today, and the operator has chosen to develop further the interconnection with other countries like (France) through and HVDC submarine link.

As a conclusion, we can say that the development of RES needs the development of strong interconnections, as the most economical way to mitigate their intermittent character.

This is of course true for the power system of Russia.

How do you find the outlooks of coal generation in the world as a whole and separately in Asia, where it plays a significant role? How much can the growing attention to climate issues affect the projects already announced in this area?

Today coal generation is still the more economical way to produce energy. However, the climate change concerns all over the planet will push national regulators to limit its development for the benefit of non-fossil fuels like RES, hydro and nuclear. The International Energy Agency (IEA) studies clearly shows this trend. Regulators are also not only sensitive to the emissions in their countries, but also to the emissions of the imported energy and of the imported goods manufactured with energy elsewhere. This means that eventually growing taxes will be added to these energies and goods, making them less competitive. We can expect stranded assets in the field of fossil fuel generation units in a near future.

The transition to less coal with the parallel developments of RES and gas-fired power plants will probably take several years, because of the large number of coal-fired power plants in operation of the world. The next step will be the substitution of gas-fired power plants by other more RES, more storage systems, more interconnections and more flexibilities.

Can the creation of interstate electricity markets contribute to the economic growth of countries? Please also include a forecast for the EAEU.

The best example of interstate electricity markets is the European Union integrated electricity market. The European Commission has seen very early the need to develop this electricity market in order to provide the cheapest energy to all the European citizens and companies. The development of interconnections between the power systems was a priority to reach this objective, and is still today a priority to develop the RES.

The extension of the European Electricity Market is going beyond the borders of the European Union, thanks to the development of interconnections with North Africa in the South since (1998, 2006) and with Turkey in the East since 2009.

Prior to establishing electricity markets, the interconnections have to be feasible from a technical point of view (reliable) and from an economic standpoint (global benefits larger than costs).

2. Technologies

How realistic is the global massive transition to DC systems? Where and under what conditions will the technology be most effective?

There will not be a massive transition to DC systems, but an increasing integration of DC systems in the existing AC systems.

AC was selected in the late 1880ies because of its capacity to change the voltage thanks to power transformers and the simplicity of current cut-off thank to its zero crossing twice per period.

These properties are still valid today, and will still make AC less expensive that DC in the existing power systems, and in the common domestic and industrial usages.

However, two different trends will increase the share of DC systems in the future:

  1. Long distance transmission to connect generation areas (large hydro, onshore and offshore wind farms, large solar plants) to consumption areas, will still be required, and DC can be more economical than AC;
  2. Micro-grids, community grids and small smart-grids are developing solutions when DC is the natural format of some components like photovoltaic (PV), electrochemical batteries, and appliances that today require AC to DC conversion (internet servers, computers, video screens, individual terminals …).

The combined effects of these trends will definitely increase the share of DC at both high voltage and low voltage.

Does the digitalization of power grids have to be revolutionary or should solutions be implemented gradually? Is it reasonable to teach students massively in technologies that they will not really be dealing with until many years later? 

The digitalization of power grids is the natural consequence of the search for better performances and cost effectiveness in the operation and maintenance of power grids.

For example, power grid protection systems in the 1980ies was based on electromechanical relays, replaced progressively in the 1990ies by static (electronic) relays, and later on by digital solutions.

Given the size of the power systems, operators have to manage transitions between these different technologies, while keeping the same infrastructures.

In order to avoid massive investments for these transitions, operators have to plan the implementation over long periods, sometimes anticipating the changes, so that they complete the change of technologies before the obsolescence of the older. Obsolescence regards to both the equipment itself and the human resource capacity to know and operate it.

It is therefore very important that young professional joining the power system industry are taught in new technologies that they will have to implement within the transition period decided by the operators.

Power engineers have since long been viewing blockchain as a tool that can increase reliability and reduce transaction costs. However, the technology is still used only in sporadic pilot projects. What is the reason?

Blockchain is a technology that can provide guaranty of origin for any transaction between two actors.

This guaranty of origin has become important quite recently in power systems, because of the multiplication of the stakeholders, and of the increased complexity of the exchanges between them.

The domain of application are typically the electricity markets where a customer needs to check that the product purchased corresponds to its requirements. How can you check that the green electricity you are supposed to consume and for which you pay more than the utility electricity price, is green when there is no sun and no wind in your area? The blockchain technology should support this type of requirement.

Like any technology, its development is depending on the results of the cost-benefit analysis of individual situations.

Business models in this domain are being developed, and we are waiting for the complete results of the different projects, to have a firm opinion.


How do you evaluate the role of CIGRE in the modern power industry? What new things has the work with CIGRE brought into your life, compared with the past experience?

Since its creation in 1921, CIGRE has been supporting the power industry by providing its members with information on the latest developments in the industry worldwide. Both technology providers and grid and system operators originate these developments.

CIGRE provides a unique forum to bring experiences and solutions, thanks to conferences, and to contribute to the universal knowledge, thanks to its working groups.

In conferences, the delegates can present their expertise, experiences and best practices, to open discussions with their peers and the community, and to stimulate new ideas. CIGRE creates working groups to develop further the topics raised during these discussions, in order to propose to the industry operational recommendations and new solutions for the future.

My personal experience with CIGRE started a few months after my company recruited me as a research engineer to develop the engineering of an HVDC project.

At this time, I was 26, and my knowledge about this technology was limited to a few courses on power electronics. My boss invited me to join a CIGRE working group he was convening, as the secretary. Thanks to the contacts I made with the best experts in the world, I have been able to grow quickly my knowledge in the field of HVDC, for the benefit of the projects of my company. Later on I became an expert myself, contributing to international conferences, and convening other CIGRE working groups.

I have also had the change to contribute to CIGRE technical activities as the Secretary of the Technical Committee (today Technical Council), which has provided me with a broader view of the power system industry, and has allowed me to improve the operational processes of this association, in particular to prepare and follow the working groups.

Now, as the Secretary General of CIGRE, I cannot but encourage young people, students or young in their professional careers, to join this association for their personal development and for the benefits of the entities, they are working with.

How can students and young professionals help with CIGRE's tasks?

As mentioned above, students and young professionals can get a lot from CIGRE.

However, they can also contribute to CIGRE activities for different purposes, and by different means:

  1. Present their works at CIGRE conferences when they propose new approaches driven by their recent academic knowledge
  2. Participate to CIGRE working groups, bringing their new approaches on the table for discussion
  3. Contribute to the operation of CIGRE working groups as secretary to prepare with the convener, meetings, minutes of meetings, follow up of members’ contributions, and editing works
  4. Suggesting ideas and solutions to improve CIGRE website, communication means (Electra, newsletters).
  5. Promoting CIGRE in their universities and companies

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