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POWERGRID: Shaping the future of electric power transmission in Lille

23 Feb 2016 | Front page, A region on the move, Advanced Materials

Lille is home to PowerGrid, one of four campuses participating in France’s national smart grid program. Paul Ducasse, CEO of the MEDEE technology cluster, tells us more.

How was PowerGrid launched?

“Today’s societies are consuming energy at ever-increasing rates. To keep pace with global growth and preserve our planet, clean energies need to grow exponentially. 

In the EU, our goal is to produce 50% of electricity from renewable energies by 2050, and these new energy sources will upend existing systems for generating, transporting and consuming electricity. The power grid, which constantly balances production with demand, needs enormous stability and a system to regulate it. At the same time, consumers are gradually becoming their own energy producers. 

These two factors mean that we need the highest-performing power grid we can build. The French government has responded by launching a national smart grid program as part of Nouvelle France Industrielle, its campaign to reinvent French industry. The smart grid program consists of four complementary campuses: Grenoble, Nice, Saclay—and Lille, where the program is called PowerGrid.”

What exactly is PowerGrid?

“PowerGrid is a group of over 33 participants and partners working together to design models for tomorrow’s power transmission networks. 

That’s an enormous scientific challenge. We need to develop large-scale network models, simulate failures, test new components—and above all optimize performance. Then we’ll need to train tomorrow’s energy professionals to use these new technologies and encourage entrepreneurs to create start-ups. We’re re-inventing everything from the ground up. 

Practically speaking, PowerGrid is a national platform for smart grid research, innovation and training.”

Why is there a campus in Lille? And more broadly, what role have Northern France, now including Picardy, played in smart grids?

“Historically, the Gravelines nuclear power plant, near Dunkerque, has made Northern France a major electricity producer for the nation, and the Picardy Region, just southwest of us, is a leader in wind power generation. So the entire region is fertile ground for smart grid development. 

But above all, the region has incredible skills and resources! Lille’s Laboratory of Electrical Engineering and Power Electronics (L2EP) is well known in the field: the maturity of its distributed generation platform is excellent, and over the past five years it has participated in 11 filings for patents in France and abroad. And Amiens—Picardy’s regional capital—is home to Europe’s largest laboratory for electrochemical energy storage. The city’s Jules Verne University is building a real hub for that technology.” 

Can you tell us more about MEDEE and how it interacts with PowerGrid?

“MEDEE is an acronym for Motors and Electrical Devices for Energy Efficiency. It coordinates PowerGrid on behalf of Lille’s scientific community and leading energy corporations. Concretely, MEDEE acts as a conduit between the world of business and the world of research, coordinating meetings and facilitating networking. We have over 60 members—major corporations, SMEs, laboratories, schools and universities—who come to us from all over France to get the skills they need for projects in technology and business. And because we’re based in Lille, we benefit from the reputation and expertise of some of the most experienced teams in France. They’re working together to design and optimize complex, energy-efficient systems and electrical components, and to devise ways to structure grids and manage them intelligently.” 

What is the timeline for the PowerGrid program?

“The first stage is scheduled for late March, as the partners develop a roadmap for their R&D projects. The French State has earmarked a total of €50 million to fund the four campuses, and that shared budget reflects the perfect complementarity of the campuses and their determination to work together. We'll use this five-year period to firm up the science before we move into development. We expect to launch the first operations at the beginning of the new academic year. And if you go to EuraTechnologies, you can already see a demonstration model of a smart substation in RTE, France’s electricity grid showroom.”

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