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Electricity is as important as food and drinkable water

Everyone needs electricity. Digitalizing the power grid helps them get it, CIGRE's Marcio Szechtman explains

Marcio Szechtman is Technical Vice President of CIGRE, the International Council on Large Electric Systems, a non-profit organization in the field of high-voltage electricity headquartered in Paris.

Q: What does the digitalization of the power grid involve?
A: Digitalization allows power utilities to report to society and stakeholders in a more standardized way. It enhances management, technical, and reporting processes, making it easier to know what's correct, what's wrong, and where changes or corrections are needed. 

Q: What opportunities does that create in terms of electrical transmission, distribution, and storage?
A: Digitalization and automation processes enable a more reliable electricity supply service for society. Electricity is as important as food and drinkable water; societies cannot live without it. 
If you have a blackout, societies will suffer a lot: hospitals may fail, and traffic lights in cities could be a mess. 

Because internet services are based on electricity, it’s a basic human right. Also, digitalized power companies can be more in compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Q: What's the role of ICT and CIGRE in achieving a sustainable global transition? 
A: Digitalization is connected with the increased use of renewables. They are not the same topic, but they are very much linked. CIGRE has incorporated the key elements for a sustainable transition. The concept of sustainable energy transition means expanding the grid with higher amounts of renewable sources to maintain the 1.5°C climate target set by the IPCC. The electrical sector, in some countries at least, is also one of the pollution sources. So you need to know what your contributions are to a better planet. CIGRE is focused on helping with this relevant mission.

Q:  Is the need for sustainability becoming a more important part of what CIGRE does? And what are the challenges to achieving it?
A: We have the Paris Climate Agreement and the SDGs, and indeed, every new working group at CIGRE needs to see with which SDG they align. We have this preoccupation with helping the planet survive and to improve quality of life for 100% of the population. Also, we plan our technical events in full alignment with the SDGs.

Q: Why is there a need for a worldwide organization such as CIGRE? Aren’t electricity generation and transmission national responsibilities?
A: That's a very good question. It’s about information- and experience-sharing. Again, electricity is of fundamental importance, so we really need to pay attention to whether we are doing something that deviates from our main target of the betterment of societies. 

Even if your business is located only in your country or region, the problems, experiences, and lessons learned are fairly consistent. So it's important to have an international organization to provide this platform for information sharing and gathering experts from all regions to debate better solutions and actions.

Q: Where does CIGRE operate at the moment internationally? And are you looking to open into different areas?
A: CIGRE was founded as a European organization more than 100 years ago. The Americans joined after the Second World War, and more recently, the Asian countries. But we thought a few years ago that we should develop a special project for African countries. We are doing this in partnership with the World Bank, establishing national committees of CIGRE in many parts of Africa. We need to pay attention to Africa and include its people. We need to improve the quality of life there. CIGRE is currently present in more than 100 countries, with national committees established in 61 countries.

Q: So you want to extend electricity supply across the African continent?
A: We are going to give them the right mechanisms for expanding their electrical systems. What are the best practices, what are the mistakes they shouldn't make? How should they train people? How can they enhance their skills and educate them? Essentially, it’s about how to electrify 100% of their societies in the short term.

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