RTE is an actor in the energy transition, and environmental issues are central to its commitments. As an industrial firm, RTE strives to reduce its pollution risks, to minimise its environmental footprint, and to protect biodiversity and landscapes.
All of RTE’s activities have been ISO 14001 certified since 2004. This certification validates its commitments to environmental protection, a top priority for RTE.

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The energy transition

France’s “Energy Transition Law for Green Growth”, published in the Official Journal on 18 August 2015, sets forth the main objectives of the energy transition and creates a stable framework to guide actions starting immediately, including:

  • a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030;
  • renewables to account for 32% of final energy consumption by 2030;
  • energy consumption to be reduced by 50% by 2050.

Improving energy efficiency and energy savings across all sectors of the economy, the robust rollout of renewable energy sources, and switching energy sources are keys to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
As these changes take place, the transformation of power grids is a consequence of and prerequisite to the decarbonisation of the power system as part of the drive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Thanks to its position, RTE is at the centre of the energy transition, and is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its activities (reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, protection of biodiversity, etc.).

RTE striving to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions

Introduced with the “Energy Transition Law for Green Growth”, the National Low-Carbon Strategy is France’s roadmap for fighting climate change. It defines a path for reducing greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050 and sets short- and medium-term targets in the form of carbon budgets. The goal is twofold: achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and reduce the carbon footprint of consumption in France.
RTE is taking action to reduce the environmental impact of its activities by utilising its resources and energy more efficiently.

More specifically, RTE is targeting its main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Its direct emissions relate primarily to leakage of SF6 (sulphur hexafluoride), which is used in industry for electrical insulation and is notably found in gas-insulated substations, in buildings or outdoors, and in SF6 circuit breakers (present in most overhead transformers). Leaks can be accidental, or due to the ageing of the equipment or maintenance operations.

RTE has been working actively since 2004 to reduce leakage of SF6. Its efforts, which were stepped up 2018, involve exceptional curative action and a plan to replace some 20 ageing substations that contain SF6, at an estimated cost of €630 million over 15 years. The company also intends to reduce the amount of SF6 installed by using compact substations that contain SF6 only as a last resort. To this end, RTE is giving priority to overhead transformers, and testing alternative solutions currently in development.
In 2020, SF6 emissions reached 5.08 tonnes. Implementation of a leak recovery solution is expected to reduce this total.

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RTE’s commitments to biodiversity

Preserving natural spaces, biodiversity and landscapes is the primary focus of RTE’s environmental policy. With 90% of its facilities located in natural and agricultural settings, RTE strives to ensure that its structures and activities blend seamlessly into their surroundings, and takes measures to promote biodiversity, including by adding green corridors under its power lines.

To scale up these efforts, which are part of its “Impulsion & Vision” corporate project, RTE leverages strong, long-term partnerships to develop the solutions of the future jointly with all stakeholders. RTE’s commitment to promoting France’s “National Strategy for Biodiversity” was recognised in December of 2012, and then again in 2017.

In 2020, RTE joined Business for Nature – act4nature France, an initiative launched by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and run by the French Biodiversity Office. RTE set specific targets for itself, including:

  • Double the surface area on which alternative vegetation management solutions are used to 2,400 by 2024, and apply these techniques across all regions;
  • Landscape 100% of its existing and new tertiary sites as green spaces that support biodiversity;
  • Install more than 500 anti-electrocution systems and fit more than 20 km of high-risk lines a year with anti-collision devices (that reduce the risk of birds colliding with them while flying).

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Environmental protection at RTE

Protecting birdlife is a cornerstone of RTE’s plan to protect wildlife, as illustrated by its partnership with the LPO (French league for the protection of birds). For instance, RTE installed 13 perches for birds over nearly 10 km of a 63 kV line near the commune of Saint-Gilles.

In 2020, RTE landscaped 1,235 hectares of land to support biodiversity. It did this through partnerships with local players, thus strengthening its regional roots.
Since 2020, sheep have been helping control vegetation near the substation in Barnabos. This 100% natural solution is in keeping with RTE’s environmental policy and the “zero phytosanitary substances” strategy launched in 2017.

Lastly, to deepen its understanding of the benefits and effects of its activities on biodiversity, RTE has forged partnerships with specialised research teams and is involved in a number of biodiversity projects.
As a member of the “Linear Infrastructure and Biodiversity Club” (Club infrastructures linéaires et biodiversité – CILB), RTE made a commitment to the Foundation to conduct research on biodiversity through the ITTECOP programme, led by the French ministry for an Ecological and Inclusive Transition, in coordination with ADEME. The primary objective of this programme is to address the technical challenges posed by transmission infrastructure with the territories, factoring in local landscapes and ecosystems.

RTE is also committed to enhancing its understanding of coastal and marine ecosystems, notably when current and future offshore projects are being implemented. Indeed, preserving natural environments, which are often protected, as well as marine activities such as tourism, fishing and transport, is a priority for RTE as it works to blend its infrastructure into this fragile environment.

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RTE is modernising its network, taking its environmental footprint into account

With the reconstruction of the Avelin-Gavrelle 400 kV power line (in Hauts-de-France), RTE is upholding its commitment to better integrate its infrastructure into the landscape and to do its utmost to protect the living environment for local residents, notably thanks to the new “Équilibre” pylon, which addresses a request from the region.

The objective: create a design that reduces the pylon’s visual impact and limits its footprint on the ground.

This pylon is slimmer, and its height and geometric configuration also make it possible to install the cables higher off the ground. The footprint is seven times smaller than that of a lattice tower.

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Minimising electricity losses

Some electricity is lost while being carried from production sites to consumption sites. Physical losses on the grid may be due to the Joule effect, load losses in autotransformers and transformers, losses due to the Corona effect, no-load losses in autotransformers and transformers, and self-consumption by substations.

Losses are primarily caused by energy that is dissipated, in the form of heat, due to the “Joule effect” while power is moving through overhead or underground lines.
Loss levels depend chiefly on consumption, generation schedules and cross-border exchanges. It is RTE’s responsibility to offset these losses.

There are different ways RTE can reduce losses during grid operations:

  • Maintaining voltages at the highest values allowed by technical reference standards;
  • Optimising the operational scheme of the network.

As the transmission system operator, RTE must ensure that electricity losses are offset. This involves purchasing electricity from suppliers. Losses are calculated as the difference between the energy delivered and electrical energy consumed on the transmission system.

RTE losses = (generation + imports) – (consumption + exports)

The other indicator used is the rate of losses on the transmission system:
RTE rate of losses ≃ RTE losses / consumption

Loss rates on the transmission system range between 2 and 3.5% of consumption, depending on the season and time of day.

In 2020, the average loss rate was 2.31%, which corresponded to about 10.7 TWh.

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Impact of the health crisis on losses and loss rates

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a steep drop in electricity consumption in 2020, and losses therefore declined as well. However, the loss rate, as a percentage of consumption, increased over the year.
Electricity losses are a function of several factors the most important of which is power consumption: when consumption decreases, losses decrease: in 2020, they fell to 10.7 TWh, from 11 TWh in 2019.
Another factor to consider, however, is the distance between where the electricity is generated and where it is consumed. The greater the distance, the higher the losses. Generation schedules and cross-border exchanges thus impact loss levels.
As consumption was declining in 2020, electricity generation was adjusted downward, mainly in the nuclear fleet. The health crisis also caused the availability of nuclear power plants to decrease. As a result, imports accounted for a higher share of exchanges than in 2019 at all borders, especially Spain, Great Britain and Italy.
Each of these factors put more distance between some main consumption centres and the source of their power supply.
This had an impact on the loss rate, which increased relative to 2019: in 2020, 2.31% of the power produced and imported was “lost” compared with 2.22% a year earlier.

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