Big works are ahead for the French power grid

Growing demand for renewables and electricity, aging equipment: electricity grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the grid
Growing demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: electricity network operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in the coming decades to upgrade the network (DENIS CHARLET / AFP/Archive)

Growing demand for renewables and electricity, aging equipment: Grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the network, and it intends to play the consultation card to get it accepted.

In Flers-en-Escrebieux (in the north), RTE has just opened its new Avelin-Gavrelle line, which runs from the outskirts of Lille to Arras, which it wants to make emblematic of both the transformation of equipment and its methods of dialogue with residents.

“The landscape is still more beautiful, I think of the Millau viaduct when you see the alignment of the pylons,” says Jean-Luc Floren, a farmer, watching the new pylons coming one after the other in his sugar beet and pea fields. .

After much consultation – eight years for just two jobs – RTE has indeed adopted a new pylon for the region called ‘Equilibre’, which resembles a boat sail and blends in more easily with the decor.

Forty-five were laid along this new 400,000-volt transmission line, reconstructed at a budget of €215 million to triple its capacity, while the previous one was nearing saturation.

“We had the idea to make a smooth line that would blend with the landscape,” explains the designer of the pylons, Franco-British architect Hugh Dutton. They had to be “as thin as possible”.

“Not easy”

Jean-Luc Florent also welcomes their low grip on the ground: “It’s easier for us to work because there’s only one support in the middle around which we can rotate.”

Growing demand for renewables and electricity, aging equipment: electricity grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the grid
Growing demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in the coming decades to upgrade the network (BORYS HORVAT / AFP/Archive)

The very high voltage electrical cables that are now placed higher up also give him peace of mind when traveling on the tractor. “There were times under the old line where you wondered why there wasn’t an arc.”

However, the project did not always have high press in the region. “In the early years, there were very strong disputes,” admits Xavier Pehachyk, president of RTE. But the work finally took place “in a generally serene climate.”

“The installation of new pylons required some concessions, such as the purchase of houses on the passage,” recalls Jean-Jacques Peiro, mayor of Fleur-en-Escrebier.

“It wasn’t easy, because the first house we had to remove was occupied by elderly people who had lived there for a very, very long time,” he says, welcoming the consultancy’s work.

It was absolutely necessary for RTE to adopt this new line, which was deemed necessary due to the great needs of the region, which produces a large amount of renewable electricity and where plants are phasing out fossil fuels. The new line also strengthens connections with neighboring Belgium.

Big investments

If it is not so common in France today to rework or build a 400,000 volt line, the exercise will soon increase.

Growing demand for renewables and electricity, aging equipment: electricity grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the grid
Growing demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: electricity network operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in the coming decades to upgrade the network (Pascal PAVANI / AFP/Archive)

“The French network of 400,000 volts was developed when we were building the nuclear fleet, today it is a network that will be about fifty years old. Therefore, we will start to update it in the coming years,” explains Xavier Pehachyk.

The needs are also changing with the advent of renewable energy sources. “When we build some (wind) farms in the sea, in the north and west of France, we will have to bring all that energy back to the metropolis and to the east.”

“This opens up very large investment prospects for us until 2050,” emphasizes the president of RTE.

Today, the company invests 1.7 billion euros a year in the network, and by the middle of the century this amount will gradually more than double. It will be more than 2 billion from 2024, then more than 3 billion after 2030 and finally more than 4 billion annually between 2035 and 2050.

The amount spent on power transmission is about 10% of the electricity bill, a proportion that should remain stable for the consumer in the future, RTE promises, even if the total bill is likely to increase.