RTEi expertise is exported in Bolivia
The French Development Agency commissioned RTE International to carry out a very specific mission: to fly to La Paz in order to meet the main players in the Bolivian electricity sector and identify areas for improvement in the management of a rapidly expanding electricity network. Maria Giralt-Devant, Client Account Manager, and Eric Morelle, RTE International Consultant, are being cross-interviewed in order to share their experience with us.
Tell us about your mission in Bolivia ?
Eric: This mission was a little different compared to the assistance services we usually provide at RTE International. This time, we worked directly for the ’Agence Française de Développement’, a public financing institution that supports the growth of developing countries. Wishing to help Bolivia develop its electricity grid and integrate renewable energy, they asked us to help carry out a diagnosis of existing capacities and, following this, to list the conclusions of our audit in a report. The aim was to target sectors and activities in which Bolivian expertise needs to be strengthened to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s electricity grid, including energy transition!
Maria: Yes, the idea was really to identify the priority areas for improvement so that the French Development Agency would know where to provide support. Eric and I have led workshops with the main players in the Bolivian electricity network (many companies, the Ministry of Energy, the energy regulation commission…). Over 4 days, the exchanges were dense and rewarding. We covered a wide range of topics around electricity grid management and renewable energy integration: grid development planning, real-time electricity system operation, renewable energy support mechanisms … and even HR issues! We were able to compare Bolivian practices with our own and share our European expertise.
JPrecisely what expertise can a European transmission system operator like RTE bring to Bolivia ?
Maria: Our historical know-how! In Bolivia, electricity demand is booming (growing by about 6% per year). To cope with this, many production plants are being installed,with some producing forms of renewable energy. The development of renewable energy is just starting in Bolivia, whereas in France and Europe, we have already gone through this stage a while ago. So, we have real expertise to share with them and to help them develop their skills.
E.M. : Indeed, we are able to offer Bolivian players the benefit of our successful experience in the field of renewable energy integration, to which we add our expertise built on the strength of our international services. They are faced with a number of challenges that we have already experienced. For example, during our stay, we identified the need to adapt the operating process of their network. In particular, the ability to predict and supervise the intermittent production of wind or photovoltaic energy, which is essential to guarantee the safety of the electricity system. How to know what is produced in real time on the network? How to plan production capacities for the next day or week? Can the grid withstand the sudden shutdown of one or more solar plants? These are all questions Bolivia will have to answer to ensure the safe operation of its network. However, RTE was confronted with these problems in the 2000s. We have put in place a number of methods and models to predict the short- and medium-term production of wind and photovoltaic farms. We therefore have the know-how and the tools necessary to encourage the development of renewable energies.
On the other hand, do you feel like you have gained something from this experience ?
Maria: Yes, it’s about sharing! We learn a lot about our differences. For example, the Bolivia’s electricity transmission network has only 5,000 km of lines, while France’s is more than 105,000km long. So, it is so much smaller than ours and it is very isolated: the grid network on a national level is weak and there are no interconnections with neighboring countries. The intermittency of renewable energies has a much greater impact on the production-consumption balance.
Eric: Strengthening interconnections is one of the other areas of improvement that we have identified. The Bolivian network is currently relatively isolated, unlike France whose network is connected to those of other European countries to pool resources, provide mutual assistance and develop electricity markets. It is therefore likely to feel the negative effects of the rise of intermittent energy: in the event that the wind or photovoltaic power plant does not produce energy, the country’s only means of energy production is able to compensate for the imbalance.
Maria: We no longer realize that the ENTSO-E [European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, ed] is a very complex “big machine”. The Bolivian network is confronted with many more concrete issues and it is very interesting to take a break from your daily job to discover other ways of working, other issues and adapt to them!
If you only had only one thing to remember from those few days in Bolivia what would it be?
Eric: What we have seen with Maria is that Bolivia is very dynamic, socially and economically. There are many opportunities for development and many challenges to overcome. It is always stimulating to say that we can support them in meeting these challenges and that we are making our contribution, in a way.
Maria: Our complementary profiles with Eric have made it possible to examine many issues and provide different perspectives on the issues facing the Bolivian electricity system. This mission was really very rewarding, very interesting … and very intense!