Coreso guarantees the security of electricity transmission networks, 24×7. And Bull ensures the high availability of the IT systems needed to do this highly sensitive job.
On 4 November 2006, at 9.38 in the evening, E.ON Netz, one of the four Transmission System Operators (TCOs) in Germany, power off a 400,000 volt electrical power line spanning the river Ems, to let a ship pass underneath. But this everyday, risk-free operation had actually been programmed to happen at 1.00 in the morning. By bringing it forward to earlier in the evening without taking sufficient precautions, E.ON Netz triggered a major imbalance in the German transmission network, with then had a knock-on effect on interconnections and automated safety and security devices that very quickly spread across the whole of Europe. From Denmark to Bulgaria, TCOs in different countries had to react urgently and often blindly, to avoid a total blackout. In France, the situation was brought back under control in under an hour, but the crisis – which affected 15 million households across Europe – underlined the importance of better co-ordination between TCOs and the need for greater visibility of transmission networks at a continent-wide level.
Drawing on the lessons from this incident, three of Europe’s main TCOs (RTE in France, Elia in Belgium and the UK’s National Grid) joined forces to take equal shares in a new enterprise, known as Coreso. Its aim was precisely to provide its shareholder-customers with global information about the security of the transmission networks in Central Western Europe, 24×7. Because the events of 4 November 2006 clearly showed that to plan operations effectively it was no longer possible to rely on information limited to only one country. With the opening up of energy markets and the growth in renewable energy, transmission networks have become both more complex and more vulnerable. “There are innumerable parameters governing the management of a transmission network,” explains François Boulet, CEO of Coreso, “maintenance work, which must not impact the end users, the characteristics of technical equipment, the weather, which affects consumption patterns and the production of renewable energy, the price of raw materials… And because you cannot store electricity, you constantly have to balance production and consumption. All these parameters generate flows on the lines, which are more and more difficult to estimate.”
A single supplier
To do its job of analyzing, providing information and advising its members, Coreso has put together a 15-strong team of experts based in Brussels, and equipped itself with state-of-the-art information system. This highly specialized system is spread across two sites, with office applications in Brussels and analysis and simulation software provided and hosted by RTE at its center at Lomme, near Lille. Coreso wanted a single, neutral supplier to take responsibility for maintaining and operating the whole set-up. “We are a small company, very focused on operational issues, and we have to simplify our working environment as far as possible. So we were looking for a single point of contact, capable of managing all our IT,” François Boulet stresses. Eventually, Bull was chosen to deliver this outsourcing service, which is unusual in the range of technical skills it requires. In effect, it involves guaranteeing not only the high availability of the industrial hardware located at Lomme, but also the confidentiality of the mission-critical information being exchanged between Coreso and the TCOs, as well as highly responsive on-site desktop maintenance.
Understanding and flexibility
Despite this, the wide range of expertise involved was not the only aspect of Bull’s proposal that attracted Coreso, as François Boulet explains: “We have a highly specific business model that is very demanding and constantly evolving. And Bull demonstrated that it had the necessary understanding and flexibility to support us, both in terms of the technical solution and the shape of the service it provides.” So above and beyond the customer-supplier relationship, a real partnership has been established between Coreso and Bull. Their teams share the same objective, each working in their own areas to organize themselves to they can respond quickly and effectively to very unlikely and yet highly critical events.
Updates every quarter of an hour
Since Coreso began operating in February 2009, the required service levels have always been met as a result of the remote supervision and administration of its information systems by Bull’s high-availability experts. Day in, day out, the company can carry out its tasks despite very tight timescales: every evening, around 6:00pm, Coreso receives provisional data from each of the TCOs, and at around 11:00pm it sends back the consolidated security analyses for the next day, taking account of all potential incidents. So the network’s capacity to overcome the failure of any of its individual lines is assured: it was just this rule, the so-called ‘N-1’ regulation, which was not met on 4 November 2006. Afterwards, throughout the day, Coreso updates its predictions every quarter of an hour using real data.
Coreso is now planning to extend its offering, to help TCOs manage the many and complex interconnections between their networks. This service will also be delivered using an innovative IT platform, which will naturally be included in the flexible outsourcing service that Bull delivers.