RTE officials and French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Delphine Batho announced Wednesday at a Paris industry conference the company is proceeding with a project to establish two prototype substations in the Somme department under its Smart Electric Station program.
The prototype "smart" substations receive, process and automatically transmit digital information to adjust the configuration of the network in real time according to supply, demand and weather conditions.
RTE says the substations will be able provide greater local and regional reactivity to quickly changing system conditions, with data exchanges made over a dedicated and "highly secure" high-speed communication network.
The move to set up smart power substations is part of an effort to make the integration of intermittent and geographically scattered renewable power sources such as wind and solar power more feasible.
Equipped with their own weather stations, the smart substations are touted to be adaptive to climate conditions and capable of making quick analyses after line defaults, automatically "self-healing" the system by redirecting electricity flows where needed.
The four-year project, with a total cost of $42 million, will begin field trials in late 2015 with use in real situations coming shortly thereafter. Deployment throughout the rest of France will be done gradually after 2020, RTE said.
The company has received funding from ADEME -- the French Agency for Environment and Energy Management -- and investments from partners Alstom Grid, Schneider Electric, Alcatel-Lucent, ERDF and Neelogy in the effort.
The Somme area of northern France was chosen to host the first rollout of the Smart Electric Station program because of its position as the French department with the highest level of wind power production -- it currently generates 5 percent of the national total.
The Somme is facing the integration of massive amounts of renewable energy onto its electricity transmission network. By 2015, the department will be able to produce 700 megawatts of wind electricity -- the equivalent of a nuclear power plant.
The Smart Electric Station program will serve to "consolidate and secure all this development, contributing to economic development local and regional planning," RTE says.
At Tuesday's Smart Grids 2013 conference, Batho stressed the importance of electrical networks in the "energy transition" of France away from dependence of nuclear power, the French construction trade journal Batiactu reported.
She said 16 smart grid demonstration projects have so far been funded by ADEME, adding, "We are developing a new investment program for the future and I have asked the prime minister [Jean-Marc Ayrault] that there is a smart grid component."
Batho also indicated a long-delayed government tender for expansion of the "Linky" consumer smart-meter program would be announced by the end of this month.
Under that effort from electric utility EDF, more than 250,000 of the two-way communicating "Linky" meters were installed three years ago on a pilot basis in rural areas of Indre-et-Loire and in the greater Lyons area.
"We are working hard on the issue of the deployment of the Linky meters, which will create 10,000 jobs in France," the French minister said.