Digital Twins: Turning complexity into better decisions
Energy & consumption resilience
14 March 2024
9 min
digital twins

Modern transmission and distribution electrical grids are the most complex machines ever built. They span continents and encompass numerous interconnecting components and subsystems—while intricately balancing energy demand and fluctuating supply.

Not only are today’s grids complex, they are mammoth in terms of components and their geographical size. There are over one billion operational smart meters worldwide and the cables and lines stretch across 80 million kilometers. In other words: ten roundtrips between earth and moon!

And this complexity is only expected to grow. According to a newly released IEA report—Electricity Grids and Secure Energy Transitions—to reach climate targets and ensure energy security, 80 million kilometers of power lines will have to be replaced or added by 2040.

As power grids increase in complexity and scope, grid operators are turning to digital twins. While digital twins have been applied for decades by an array of industries, they are increasingly being used to help grid operators make strategic planning decisions, optimize operational performance, and manage risks within the context of unprecedented complexity.

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3 factors that made grids so complex

  1. As the world transitions from fossil fuels to renewables, grids need a better equipment to handle the variability of energy sources from wind, solar and hydroelectric.
  2. The growing threat of severe weather caused by climate change is putting an additional strain on antiquated electric infrastructures globally.
  3. 40GW of rooftop solar panels have been installed worldwide in 2022. This massive, fuzzy, intermittent deployment of solar energy injected into the grid has brought major challenges in power quality and load forecast management.

To handle these growing challenges, power grid operators have turned to digitization to improve the operational management of networks. Smart meters and IoT sensors provide operators with valuable data; yet, they add an additional layer of complexity.

Digital twins: From grid knowledge to understanding

With this increasing complexity and the overwhelming flow of real-time data, digital twins are proving pivotal to the operation of smart grids. They are used in order to:

  • Simulate ‘what-if’ scenarios to understand, for example, operational outcomes of varying decisions
  • Manage and foresee maintenance needs
  • Avoid or limit grid downtime
  • Help operators present data-backed asset investment plans.

The power of digital twins is their capacity to virtually reproduce the multi-scale interactions and correlations between organizations, thus providing a more holistic view of the grid and avoiding decisions made in silos. This gives decision-makers of any given department, such as engineering, planning, and operations, the ability to stimulate the consequences of various decisions and their impact throughout the organization. As such, calculated decisions are made based on implications, expected outcomes, and trade-offs and not just on past knowledge and experience.

Digital twins are revolutionizing grid management, as demonstrated by the landmark initiative to build a digital twin of Europe’s electricity grid. One of the initiative’s key aims is fostering innovative technologies in the race to ensure the readiness of the electricity grid for the drastic increase of renewable energy and resiliency to future shocks (such as climate and cyber-attacks).

6 key areas where digital twins are revolutionary

There are six key areas where the deployment of IoT-connected instrumentation sensors together with digital twins are providing impactful benefits and value to grid operators.

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Nexans’ solutions: AI-powered analytics and simulation digital twins

Digital twins empower operators with enhanced visibility and grid transparency, predictive capabilities, and decision-making insights, all crucial for navigating the complexities of modern energy systems.

Nexans contributes in several ways to the modernization of grids, of which digital twins are an essential part, particularly with two of its solutions: Adaptix.Grid and Asset Electrical.

Adaptix.Grid, the AI-powered analytics offering from Nexans’ partner Sensewaves, provides power grid operators with a comprehensive and precise computable model of their grid that lays out the detailed topology of the network, even at low voltage levels. Thus enabling grid operators to shorten the intervention time of field crews in case of outages or visualize the areas of congestion accurately and re-balance the grid accordingly.

Simulation digital twins, such as Nexans’ Asset Electrical, built in partnership with CosmoTech, lets infrastructure owners simulate whether asset maintenance and renewal policy changes could impact the company’s quality of service or financial indicators.

For example, strategic asset managers using Asset Electrical can stimulate, leveraging objective data, whether postponing the replacement of an asset family reaching its theoretical end of life (meaning deferring capital expenditures) poses a significant risk regarding the occurrence of network incidents or from an environmental point of view.

Digital twins represent a significant paradigm shift in electrical grid management. They facilitate all aspects of the business and operational mission of grid operators. They are paving the way for more reliable, resilient, efficient, and sustainable power grids, thus enabling the industry to meet its ambitions to be at the forefront of the transition to clean and decarbonized energy.

Olivier Pinto

Author

Olivier Pinto is Nexans Innovation Director in charge of services and digital solutions for power grids. He leads a team of grid experts developing a portfolio of innovative offerings designed to solve the issues and address the challenges faced by electrical network operators, leveraging on a solid ecosystem of technology partners. Olivier joined Nexans in 2001 and has held various R&D, operational and sales & marketing positions. He holds a M.Sc. from the School of Chemistry, Physics & Electronics of Lyon, France.

Energy storage technologies: Enabling grids to transition to decarbonized electricity
Energy & consumption resilience
16 January 2024
4 MIN
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As a key driver to move away from fossil fuels, which are a massive source of CO2 emissions, renewables are an essential part of the future of energy. In this context of race against time to combat climate change, a growing emphasis is put on decarbonization of electricity.

The transition to renewable energy on a large scale is reliant on energy storage technologies. Energy storage is an essential part of the transition to clean energy and the foundation upon which the decarbonization of today’s grids must be built. Due to the intermittent nature of renewable energy — mainly wind and solar — grid operators must rely on energy storage systems to balance supply and demand. This interdependence means that storage is integral to grid resilience and reliability.

renewable-energy

It is projected that by 2030, global energy storage installations will reach a cumulative 411 gigawatts (GW), according to the latest forecast from research company BloombergNEF — an increase of 15 times the storage online in 2021.

Other significant factors driving energy storage growth are government policies aimed at curbing increasing energy prices, meeting peak demand, and energy independence. In 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) bill was signed into law, representing the U.S.’s largest investment to fight climate change.

Energy storage challenges: the need for widespread grid-scale technologies

A major challenge facing the industry today is the need for widespread grid-scale storage technologies. Today, the most viable solution is pumped-storage hydropower, which generates electricity by pumping water into a reservoir and then releasing it to generate electricity at a different time. Unfortunately, this technology can only be applied in specific locations. As such, grid operators must resort to fossil fuel energy sources to meet peak demand periods.

However, in recent years, advancements in storage technologies are now providing new opportunities for the potential to meet energy fluctuations in energy demand without resorting to fossil fuels. Thus giving grid operators the ability to store excess renewable energy and, to some extent, help balance in real-time energy demand to meet peak periods.

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Five renewable energy storage technologies ensuring a reliable power supply

Proper energy storage ensures a reliable power supply as the electricity grid becomes more dependent on variable renewable energy (VRE) sources. What often differentiates technologies are their storage capabilities, reactivity, scalability, and application requirements.

Battery storage: increasingly safe and cost-effective

Battery storage is increasingly vital in solar and wind applications as it can be easily installed and provides a cost-effective solution. In recent years, newer battery technologies, alternatives to traditional lithium-ion batteries, have made their deployment safer and more cost-effective. For example, zinc batteries provide a viable alternative due to their superior stationary storage capability, non-flammability, and stable supply.

Thermal energy storage: a viable alternative for commercial buildings

The emergence of newer thermal energy storage (TES) technologies is making it a viable alternative in commercial buildings. TES systems can store heat or cold to be used later and are divided into three types: sensible heat, latent heat, and thermochemical. When installed in a building, a TSE solution allows the building itself to act as a thermal battery — storing renewable energy in tanks or vessels to be used when needed.

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Hydrogen energy storage: leveraging electrolysis for a stable and reliable carbon-free energy

Hydrogen energy storage is an ideal carbon-free fuel that can lessen reliance on fossil fuel backup power plants to match supply and demand. Its high-energy storage capacity makes it attractive for grids integrating larger shares of variable energy. Because energy sources like wind and solar are variable, hydrogen storage enables any excess renewable energy to be converted into hydrogen through electrolysis. This surplus hydrogen, stored in fuel cells, ensures stable and reliable carbon-free energy.

Superconducting magnetic energy storage: for an instant and efficient release of energy

Superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) stores energy in a magnetic field. Because it can release stored energy instantaneously, it is considered ideal for grid applications requiring fast reaction time. Due to its negligible energy losses, there is increasing interest in finding a way to use it in large-scale energy storage applications. A few prototypes are currently in service, mostly under investigation, and they are beginning to be identified as a possible cost-effective solution.

Mechanical energy and pumped hydro-storage: ensuring grid reliability at scale

Mechanical energy storage encompasses a wide range of technologies, including pumped hydro-storage (PHS), flywheels, compressed air energy storage (CAES), and liquid air energy storage (LAES). Today, the technology most widely used in large-scale energy storage is PHS, considered the ideal form of clean energy storage for electricity grids reliant on wind and solar energy.

Absorbing surplus energy, PHS technology releases energy when demand spikes, thus ensuring grid reliability at scale. The International Hydropower Association (IHA) estimates that PHS projects worldwide store up to 9,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity, accounting for over 94 percent of installed global energy storage capacity.

What is the future of energy storage?

New materials and the development and supply of storage batteries for surplus renewable energy are quickly evolving to meet maturing requirements. Newer power electronics can convert stored energy into electricity to provide low to zero-impact solutions.

Nexans contributes in several ways to the energy transition, of which electricity storage is a key element, starting with the supply of transmission and distribution grids for the collection of renewable energy—wind and solar—at the source. It is crucial to collect electricity where it is generated (e.g. offshore wind farms) at an acceptable cost. The integration of storage sites is based on the same connection capacity, whether on a high-power scale or more widely distributed over a region.

Integrating variable renewable energies into smart grids will require an ever-increasing ability to monitor real-time usage requirements alongside automated systems in order to balance demand and supply loads. Faced with the need for greater flexibility, Nexans has developed new services accordingly.

For electric mobility applications, which are highly dependent on the technical and economic performance of electricity storage, Nexans supplies proper cable connections and protections, as for charging stations of electric vehicles, through specific safety functionalities to ensure safe energy storage.

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Nexans has also acquired worldwide expertise and leadership in electrical and fire safety, that can be extended to the new applications of storage, such as vehicle batteries as they are becoming increasingly crucial.

The Group has been innovating for decades with industrial cryogenic and superconducting systems, such as with the development of a cryogenic transfer system of liquefied natural gas and hydrogen. As liquid hydrogen is very likely to play a key role in storage, Nexans will continue to innovate with breakthrough technologies to design tomorrow’s electricity grid.

Progress in energy storage technologies is vital to the transition to clean energy and the decarbonization of electricity. In the future, large-scale energy storage technologies will evolve and thus provide smart grids with the ability to reach their full potential. Diversifying and strengthening the supply chain of the new equipment for a massive deployment is a major challenge, especially for critical raw materials in a tense geopolitical context. Innovating by recycling materials used in end-of-life products is already a key driver, for which Nexans has prepared and positioned itself particularly well

Frederic Lesur

Author

Frédéric Lesur is senior engineer in high voltage cable systems and power grids at Nexans with 25+ years’ experience, holding several R&D positions at cable manufacturers and utilities.

In 2021 he becomes responsible for the Grid Engineering Design Lab, helping customers optimize the cabling architectures of utility-scale renewable farms projects.

His passion for science popularization made him the host of the YouTube channel WHAT’s WATT by Nexans.

Frédéric has always been an active member in standardization and working groups. Author of 50 publications, he contributes to major conferences and workshops in the field of power grids.

Grid flexibility and digitalization – integral to the transition to clean energy
Energy & consumption resilience
13 December 2023
4 min
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As intermittent renewable energy becomes a larger share of the world’s power, grid flexibility will become increasingly instrumental. According to the European Commission Joint Research Center, compared to today, grid flexibility requirements will more than double by 2030 and be seven times as large by 2050.

As clean energy transition advances, grid digitalization will be an enabler alongside flexibility management. In recent years, grid digitalization investments have progressively increased from 12% of total grid investment in 2016 to 20% in 2022, driven by system operators requiring digital solutions to improve the management of the grid with real-time monitoring and control of energy flows for transmission and distribution networks.

Grid modernization is imperative to accommodate the expected electrification growth. Moving away from fossil-fuel-based electricity means that today’s grid must be able to integrate large share of renewable energy resources and address associated technical challenges.

Virtual power plants: The big move for electric generation

A new generation of distributed electricity resources (DERs) is gaining momentum as a way to solve the increasing demand for clean, renewable energy.

Advances in battery storage, EV and solar technology, coupled with the desire of utilities to expand renewable power, mean Virtual Power Plants (VPP) are fast becoming a favored approach to meeting growing electricity demand and the need for more resilient power systems.

A VPP is both a technical and transactional platform connecting a vast number of diverse resources to deliver, in seconds, a megawatt-scale power response to an instruction, reducing complexity for grid operators. In addition to the technical aspects, it provides the transactional flow by remunerating each resource for its contribution to the final service receiving payment from the Transmission System Operator (TSO), Distribution Grid Operator (DSO) or power market upon the available opportunity. Revenue stacking is gaining importance in delivering value to the DERs owners.

Because a VPP can provide power by tapping into the Distributed Energy Resources (DERs)—building blocks of VPPs—it can quickly balance supply and demand, thus avoiding potential power outages and reducing energy costs to the end user. In recent years, VPPs have increasingly been implemented in residential and commercial buildings to attract new buyers and provide reliable, lower-cost electricity. Even consumers can join a VPP. As an example, last year, Tesla launched its new power utility provider service in Texas that lets Powerwall owners sell excess energy back to the grid.

DER: paradigm shift in energy distribution

The distribution grid is facing unprecedented transformation as the growth in DERs increases. This transformation will require new levels of grid management and monitoring. The Advanced Distribution Management System (ADMS) is an essential component of the modern control center. Instrumental will be the digitalization of power flow observability, fault detection isolation and restoration, network reconfiguration and outage management systems. The new challenge of the distribution grid will predominantly be at the low-voltage level, where a greater level of observability is needed and requires the flexibility from DERs. This is where the Distributed Energy Resources Management System (DERMS) complements the ADMS by enabling a grid aware DER flexibility orchestration down to low-voltage level.

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Grid digitalization: a journey

Realizing this digitalized future grid is a transformation journey with some key points we can highlight.

The first is to understand the network’s topology and the grid’s ADMS and DERMS platforms to see if the overall network is being used to its full potential. The second is the observability of the network at low-voltage level. The Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems predominantly cover medium-voltage, while investments to monitor and control at low-voltage levels are often lacking. Yet, data driven approach tapping into smart meters or other available monitoring devices can overcome this limitation enhancing capabilities offered through the ADMS and DERMS.

The third is the interoperability and cybersecurity of the VPP, ADMS, and DERMS. Interoperability is essential to enable a smooth operation between these different systems. Cybersecurity is vital as the connections between grids and third-party operators increase.

Finally, it is important to ensure that grid equipment and cable systems, in particular, are sized appropriately for variability. Optimizing resource allocation is essential to ensuring future network expansions.

To solve the lack of network observability, Nexans is collaborating with Sensewaves to create a computable grid topology for DSOs. Sensewaves’ Artificial Intelligence-based analytics software leverages smart meter data (or other sources) to enhance planning and asset reliability (particularly cable systems) for DSOs. This unique combination of data analytics and AI provides invaluable insights beyond operational management typically offered through the ADMS and DERMS platforms.

Grid modernization is imperative to adapt to the expected electrification growth. Moving away from fossil-fuel-based electricity means that today’s grid must be able to accommodate the interconnection of renewables. New technologies in distributing, transmitting, and managing clean energy will play an instrumental role in reducing carbon emissions.

Anne-Soizic Ranchère

Author

Anne-Soizic Ranchere is in charge of Marketing for Power Accessories and Grid Design Lab at Nexans.

She has 16 years’ experience in the electrical sector, in strategic analysis, product innovation and project valuation. She worked at ENGIE in Belgium as a Senior Analyst, managing the valuation of investment projects in power generation infrastructure.

She has extensive experience in the field of smart grids and energy services, having held senior positions in marketing, operations and innovation at a leading company in the field of electrical flexibility in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in Singapore as principal in the energy research institute and a consulting firm.

Anne-Soizic holds a Master’s Degree in Science and Executive Engineering from Mines ParisTech.

5 sensor technologies for value-driven grid data management
Energy & consumption resilience
29 November 2023
6 min
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The necessary transformation of grids, in a context of a world’s transition to renewable energy and of a growing demand for decarbonized electricity, requires an infusion of digital intelligence.

In this context, sensors are essential. They are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the modern power grid, providing invaluable data critical to the reliability, efficiency, and adaptability of tomorrow’s grid data management.

Five sensor data technologies are transforming today’s power grids.

1. Smart meters for an effective energy measurement

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Smart meters have quickly become the innovative solution of choice to metering energy effectively. In the past decade, they have overwhelmingly replaced traditional meters and transformed the interaction of utilities and consumers with energy resources. According to the International Energy Agency, more than one billion smart power meters are globally in use, a ten-fold increase since 2010.

They allow consumers to monitor their consumption smartly and energy providers to analyze better usage patterns and forecast future energy consumption needs. They enable a reliable, efficient, and resilient network.

Smart meters come in three variations, each with different features:

  • Standard smart meters accurately measure electricity consumption and enable remote meter reading, eliminating the need for manual readings. They often support time-of-use pricing, allowing consumers to save money by using electricity during off-peak hours.
  • Intermediate models add two-way communication between consumer and utility. They offer load profiling, providing detailed data for optimizing grid operations and load management. They may also support outage detection, helping utilities respond promptly to power interruptions. These meters may incorporate tamper detection mechanisms, alerting utilities of potential electrical energy theft, which can result in important non-technical losses to the operator.
  • Advanced meters often support demand response programs, enabling utilities to control or adjust electricity demand remotely during peak times. As power quality sensors become the standard, it will help to identify voltage fluctuations and sags. Grid monitoring capabilities offer insights into the health and performance of the distribution grid, such as low voltage arcing or faults, allowing utilities to take proactive maintenance measures.

2. Single and multi-conductor current sensors

To meet ambitious net zero targets and avoid volatile and rising energy costs, grids must reduce unnecessary energy wastage.

Sarah Marie Jordaan, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment at Johns Hopkins University, says 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide can be cut by improving global grid efficiencies. These savings represent more than one percent of the worldwide CO2 annual emissions. But as Scottish-Irish physicist William Thomson, better known as Lord Kelvin, wisely said, ‘If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.’

Solutions such as single and multi-conductor current sensors are a game changer for process and plant managers. They are field-proven solutions that can be installed directly around conductors and cable feeders to selectively and rapidly deploy audit sessions. They enable installation without operation interruption so as to build concrete energy-saving strategies leading to energy consumption reduction of up to 20 percent.

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3. Energy harvesting: converting small amounts of energy from the environment

In remote or challenging-to-access locations, the deployment of sensors poses sustainability and operational expenditure challenges, primarily concerning battery management.

With the industry set to witness over 25 billion connected objects in the sector by 2025, energy harvesting emerges as a pivotal technology to facilitate the expansion of sustainable sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions.

As a concept, energy harvesting involves capturing and converting small amounts of energy from the environment or nearby power sources, such as cables. The most prevalent energy harvesting method is photovoltaic, which transforms light into electrical energy. Cost-effective and customizable for indoor lighting applications, it is an ideal fit for IoT solutions.

Inductive technology is another popular choice for cable systems. It empowers devices to operate independently by harnessing energy from power cores or terminations. This approach offers sensor functionality without the need for maintenance, delivers environmental benefits, and extends the system’s lifespan.

Recent advancements in electronic devices, including processing units and low-power wireless technologies, enhance overall efficiency and thus establish the harvesting approach as a reliable power source.

4. Edge-to-cloud: a revolution in maintenance practices

Edge-to-cloud integration is continuously revolutionizing maintenance practices, making them smarter and more efficient, particularly in the context of power grids.

At the edge, innovative hardware, including microcontroller technologies, such as advanced FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays), are strategically placed along the grid to collect real-time cable system health data parameters such as load, temperature, humidity, vibration, or electromagnetic transient.

They enable real-time feature extraction, allowing fast processing of critical data patterns from raw information at the edge. This capability enhances the quality and relevance of the data transmitted to the cloud for further analysis and storage.

Edge AI, driven by supervised machine learning, aids in raw data filtering, such as noise reduction and early detection of deviation from standard operating conditions.

This data is then transmitted to on-premises or cloud maintenance applications such as Nexans’ Asset Monitoring Platform designed to bring decision making insights to asset managers and maintenance teams.. The seamless connectivity between the edge and the cloud empowers grid operators to implement predictive and condition-based maintenance strategies. By harnessing the power of this technology, they can identify early warning signs of asset failures, optimize maintenance schedules, and reduce costly downtime.

Edge-to-cloud technology plays a pivotal role in making grid maintenance proactive and data-driven, ultimately leading to increased reliability, enhanced safety, and cost savings, all while ensuring uninterrupted power supply.

5. Fiber optics: minimizing power disruptions

Optical fiber can be applied for remote data acquisition or as distributed sensor applications where traditional techniques are impractical or costly to deploy.

The emergence of fiber optic sensing technology is providing grid operators with a more cost-effective and accurate way of acquiring data compared to punctual sensors.

Distributed fiber optic sensing is the ability to continuously measure activity throughout the power grid, helping operators to quickly pinpoint the exact location of potential or actual disruptions and thus minimize or even avoid costly power outages.

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Sensitivity of fibers to temperature and mechanical strain offer a comprehensive approach to distributed sensor applications:

  • Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) enables the early detection of abnormal events such as hotspots and thermal bottlenecks due to condition changes in the surrounding laying environment of the cable. When combined with real time temperature rating algorithm, DTS systems allow to assess the operational condition and circuit power rating, allowing safer operation of the cable to its real conditions.
  • Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) offers precise fault detection, localization and third-party interference detection both onshore (e.g., cable theft, digging, and drilling) and offshore (e.g., anchor drops and drags). Thus, providing efficient power cable condition monitoring by listening 24/7 to acoustic signatures.
  • Distributed Strain Sensing (DSS) continuously measures strain and deformation along the cable’s length. It enables the assessment of cable structural health data, ensuring that cables are not subjected to excessive mechanical stress (bending, stretching, etc).

Nexans has been at the forefront of distributed fiber optic sensing measurement technology for high-voltage (HV) cables since the early 1990s, beginning with the installation of a Distributed Temperature Monitoring (DTS) system used for the Skagerrak 3 link between Norway and Denmark. Since then, these technologies have undergone continuous enhancements in length, precision, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

With the emergence of innovative new technologies, sensors play a vital role in shifting to smart electrical grids. Sensors provide invaluable data critical to the reliability, efficiency, and adaptability of tomorrow’s grid data management.

Aymeric André

Authors

Aymeric André works as New Solutions Manager at Nexans within the Sales & Marketing department of the Generation & Transmission Business Group.

In 2019 he joined Nexans Services and solutions team within the Innovation Service and Growth Department as a Design Lab Manager for asset monitoring to help enhance the company’s digital offers.

He has previously worked at the SuperGrid Institute where he led a research program on high voltage subsea technologies.

Samuel Griot

Samuel Griot is the head of electrical engineering department within Nexans Innovation.

He leads a team of experts developing new innovative solutions for low, medium and high voltage applications in order to answer the future needs for the electrical grids. Samuel joined Nexans in 2021 and has a strong background in electrical grid architecture and switchgears.

He holds a Master degree in electrical engineering from INSA of Lyon, France.

Sustainable buildings for a brighter future
Energy and consumption resilience
12 October 2023
6 min
Sustainable buildings

Today, governments from around the globe with bold commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are pressuring the construction and building sector to reduce its carbon emissions and consumption of raw materials.

And for good reason. Commercial and residential buildings are responsible for almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and consume 30% of final energy globally. Decarbonizing the building and construction sector is critical to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Doing so will need fundamental changes in how buildings are designed, built, and operated worldwide. This shift will require the sector to favor more environmentally friendly building materials and practices, institute better material efficiency strategies, and reduce raw material usage.

Innovative construction materials

The move to innovative low-carbon building materials is essential to reduce the building and construction sector’s environmental impact. Concrete is not only the most commonly used building material but is responsible for 8% of global GHG emissions.

A viable alternative to traditional concrete is low-carbon brick made from recycled materials or traditional clay bricks fired in a low-carbon process using biogas from waste, biomass methanation, or solar and wind power.

Construction materials company Saint-Gobain, for example, is leading the way in the production of sustainable, low-carbon products. Earlier this year, the global company announced the production of zero-carbon plasterboard at its modernized plant in Fredrikstad, Norway. Decarbonizing the manufacturing process was possible by switching from natural gas to hydroelectric power, thus avoiding 23,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. In addition, the company is the first in the industry to produce zero-carbon flat glass, made possible by using 100% recycled glass (cullet) and 100% green energy produced from biogas and decarbonized electricity.

Eco-friendly materials such as hemp and flax are viable alternatives for reducing the sector’s environmental impact. Cavac Biomatériaux, specializing in the industrial application of plant fibers, manufactures insulation from hemp and flax.

Better material efficiency strategies

The 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction foresees global consumption of raw materials to double by 2060. By implementing better material efficiency strategies, there is a massive potential for the building sector to reduce its GHG emissions, according to the report’s panel.

Furthermore, material efficiency strategies, including recycled materials, in G7 countries could reduce emissions in the material cycle of residential buildings by more than 80% in 2050. Globally, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that the circular economy would reduce CO2 emissions from building materials by 38% in 2050.

A key initiative within the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) is the Digital Product Passport (DPP). This initiative aims to make sustainable products the norm in the EU by facilitating transparency throughout the value chain and boosting circular business models. Instituting a circular business model in the building and construction sector is key to reaching important sustainability targets.

Reducing raw materials usage

Construction materials and products are estimated to consume 50% of all raw materials extracted from the Earth’s crust, and demolition activities represent 50% of all waste generated. To reduce its cables’ environmental impact, Nexans increasingly uses low-impact materials throughout the production value chain.

It is projected that the availability of important raw materials will continue to decrease in the years to come. An example is copper, an essential component of electrical cables and wiring due to its high conductivity and strength. Because copper mining can no longer meet global demand, 40% of copper production comes from recycled copper.

For over 35 years, Nexans has been recycling copper and aluminum scrap as part of its Sustainable Development policy to reduce raw material usage and promote a circular business model. In 2008, Nexans and SUEZ launched RECYCÂBLES, France’s leading recycler of cables and non-ferrous metals. The joint venture processes 36,000 tonnes annually of cables, generating 18,000 tonnes of metal granules and 13,000 tonnes of plastic. The combination of leading-edge technologies enables the generation of 99.9% pure copper granules.

Today, Nexans uses up to 15% of recycled copper in new cable manufactured and is on target to use recycled aluminum by 2024. Employing recycled copper, aluminum, and plastics provides Nexans’ customers a sustainable product without compromising quality.

Environmentally friendly building materials

With the global floor area expected to double by 2060, implementing energy-efficient and environmentally friendly building materials and practices is vital.

Nexans is working to improve the impact of its products by sourcing components that meet reduced energy usage guidelines established by the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) directives. In addition, Nexans’ R&D product development aims to protect the environment and human health by managing the chemical substances used in its manufacturing processes and ensuring that all new projects take into account the end product’s environmental footprint. For example, starting in 2025, a large part of cables manufactured at the Nexans facility in Autun, France, will be halogen-free to reduce their toxic gas emissions in the event of a fire.

Energy-efficient, zero-carbon buildings will require looking at how building materials are designed, made, and used. This will mean examining the value chain and changing how we make, use, and reuse all materials—from the actual product to the packaging and transportation—to reduce the industry’s overall environmental impact.

Christophe Demule

Author

Christophe Demule is the Building Innovation Director at Nexans, working within the Innovation Service and Growth Department. Previously, he held the position of Engineering VP for our Business Group Industry Solutions & Projects, bringing with him extensive experience in manufacturing. In 2021, he designed and launched the implementation of the Building Innovation Strategy with the creation of six Design Labs worldwide. With a focus on User experience by using the Design Thinking Methodology, Innovations are solving pain points of our customers and bringing added value to all stakeholders.

Unleashing the power of DC buildings
Energy and consumption resilience
25 July 2023
7 min
Direct current powered buildings

With the global demand for electricity expected to increase 20% by 2030 and the increasing pressure to transition to renewables, the War of the Currents is once again in the spotlight.

Back in the 1880’s, when Westinghouse and Edison were battling for their respective approach to electricity distribution, the infrastructure to transmit direct current (DC) power was at the time inefficient and expensive. And as such, Nikola Tesla’s approach using alternating current (AC) ultimately won. And since that time, our current electrical infrastructure is dominated by AC technology. But times have changed since then.

Today, over 70% of devices in a building need DC to operate. A conversion from AC to DC results in energy wastage of upwards to 20%, according to EMerge Alliance. Reducing the need to convert has profound implications regarding energy savings and environmental impact. And this is why eliminating or reducing AC to DC conversion in buildings is critical.

The International Energy Agency reports that in 2021 the operation of buildings accounted for 30% of global final energy consumption and 27% of total energy sector emissions. As a result, governments are placing increasing pressure on the building sector to move towards ambitious energy performance directives to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings. Directives such as “nearly zero-energy buildings” in the U.S. and in Europe aim for buildings to require a low amount of energy provided by renewables produced on-site or nearby.

Directives like these, along with the growing usage of self-consumption, onsite battery storage and DC-powered devices from LED lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems to electric vehicles (EV) and electronic devices, are driving the building industry to switch to DC power distribution.

The move towards to reliable DC cable systems for DC microgrid

In terms of electric power distribution, there is a progressive shift towards DC due to the growing interest in low voltage (LV) and medium voltage (MV) microgrids reflecting the fundamental changes in how electricity is generated, stored, and consumed. We are convinced that AC and DC networks will coexist with a significant share.

However, expert knowledge of the behavior of the insulation system is vital to ensuring the reliability of LV cables and accessories in buildings.

The behavior of LVAC cable systems is largely known but not for LVDC.

One of the focuses of Nexans’ R&D center AmpaCity is to optimize our cable design: we perform this optimization, which is achieved by understanding the electrical behavior of insulation systems under DC stress conditions and the impact of DC current on cable breakdown, ageing and corrosion. We’re also committed to investigate on more effective polymers for DC cable insulation with lower environmental impact than AC classical solution.

DC building transformation is a Fact

As mentioned earlier, power generation is moving closer to demand. Rooftop solar photovoltaics are becoming more commonplace. According to the EU Solar Energy Strategy, EU will make compulsory the installation of rooftop solar in new public and commercial and residential buildings. Furthermore, PV panels produce natively DC. In addition to the widespread implementation of on-site battery storage for uninterrupted power supplies (UPSs) used by businesses and data centers to maintain supply security, along with the growing deployment of battery energy storage systems (BESSs) for grid balancing.

Another major change in recent years is the growth of electric vehicles (EVs) and the need for DC charging stations in commercial, residential, and office buildings. With global policies encouraging and mandating the move to EVs, the market for chargers is growing rapidly, at an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 29% from 2023 to 2050.

Local DC-power distribution

Distributing DC power locally throughout a building provides important benefits in safety, costs, and device reliability.

From a safety point of view, AC power is inherently more dangerous. In fact, the risk of electrocution of the human body by DC is considered to be lower than with AC, as the total impedance of the human body decreases as the frequency increases. And for high growth categories such as EV chargers, the move to DC versus AC chargers means better overall safety.

The data center sector accounts for around 4% of global electricity consumption, and is set to continue growing. Improving energy efficiency in this sector is crucial. For example, cost savings in electricity-intensive buildings such as DC-powered data centers can represent savings of 4-6% compared to conventional AC installations.

In addition to the reduction in electrical losses linked to the transport of electricity in cables, there is also the reduction in AC-DC conversion losses.

Providing DC devices (loads) with DC power eliminates power losses incurred through conversion and thus eliminates an estimated 5 to 20% in energy waste. In addition, the AC to DC conversion process at the device level can shorten its operating life. For example, distributing DC power directly to a LED fixture (thus avoiding the AC to DC conversion) can substantially extend its operating life. Plus, distributing DC power locally reduces the cost and footprint of AC to DC adapters and converters.

Transition to DC-powered buildings

In conclusion, DC power distribution in buildings is on the horizon, but change will take time. Even with a move to DC microgrids, there are other significant challenges to be addressed in the coming years, notably the uptake by industry professionals, many of whom need to become more familiar with DC power and its benefits. This is due to the long experience and knowledge of AC power.

Furthermore, advancement in building standards and codes which address specifications for DC-powered devices is required, as with the further analysis of the cost-effectiveness of DC power distribution in retrofit and new construction.

Cables are a fundamental part of a building’s electrical infrastructure and are a critical player in the transition to DC-powered structures. The buildings of tomorrow will be smart, connected, sustainable, and powered by DC. Nexans is committed to this transformation by manufacturing specific cable systems compatible with these new infrastructures. And our strategic partnerships and involvement in key industry groups are helping to make the transition to DC-powered buildings a reality.

Lina Ruiz

Author

Lina Ruiz is responsible for the LVDC, MVDC and new architectures technical platforms for Nexans within the Research and Territories Techno Centre.

She previously worked as a project manager and technical innovation team leader in the field of renewable energies. In 2023, she joined Nexans to accelerate the exploration program on direct current for low and medium voltage. In her current role, she is responsible for providing new and differentiated solutions in the field of direct current.

Electrical fire safety solutions: Protecting lives and assets
Energy and consumption resilience
01 February 2023
9 min
Fire safety

Safe and sustainable electrification is at the heart of our mission

Over 1.1 million fires break out in Europe every year. That’s one fire every 30 seconds. And the human toll is huge: 4,000 fatalities and 134,000 injuries per year. Not to mention the economic impact, with damages running into the billions: in its Global Claims Review 2022, Allianz insurance listed fire as the largest single identified cause of corporate insurance losses, having resulted in more than €18bn worth of insurance claims over five years. Out of those businesses hit by fire, an estimated 70% of them will not restart.

The latest report from the FEEDS (Forum for European Electrical Domestic Safety) shows that more than 25% of fires are caused by electrical failures – mainly due to electric appliances or to obsolete, overloaded installations.

But aging infrastructure is only one part of the story. Accelerated population growth and urbanization around the world mean more people are using electricity every day. At this rate, a 20% increase in demand is expected by 2030, and up to 40% by 2040.

And with new forms of energy use come new risks. From tablets to smartphones, our reliance on electrically powered digital devices is only growing. The rise of new energy usages in building, such as electric vehicles or rooftop solar panels, increases the burden on domestic wiring systems, and the risks related to fire.

This higher electrification has a strong impact: the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) found out that electrical distribution, lighting, and power transfer equipment accounted for half of home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction. Knowing the devastating impact of fire, such threat requires an adequate answer to protect assets and life.

How do electrical systems contribute to a safer world?

Cables are the electrical backbone of a building, being present everywhere and in large quantities to transport energy and data. They link rooms and floors, go through the walls without interruption, and their number keeps increasing with new energy usages. The fact that they are usually hidden makes it easy to forget their presence. Yet a typical office building will have over 200kg of cables per 100m². It is therefore essential to ensure that cables are as inert as possible when exposed to fire, to avoid spreading flames throughout the building.

In recent years, the emphasis has been on improving fire performance in response to new regulations, such as Europe’s Construction Products Regulation (CPR). Nexans is deeply engaged in this process, working with its partners, customers, and regulation bodies to promote electrical fire safety in buildings, and to adopt higher safety standards at both the national and international level.

Combating fire propagation

Cables do not represent a danger as such, but due to their omnipresence, they can act as fuel for fire and be a vector of flames propagation. A fire that starts in a vertical electrical installation that comprises low-performance cables will reach the first floor of the building in less than three minutes, and will continue to spread with growing speed.

At Nexans, we aim at revolutionizing the safety of buildings, infrastructures and homes, by using our technological expertise to design cables and wires that offer the highest level of performance against fire. Our Nexans Fire Safety offer underlines what can be achieved: thanks to our Low Fire-Hazard cables, smoke emissions, fire propagation and heat release are minimised. Moreover, the cohesiveness of the cable structure is maintained during fire, reducing or eliminating the production of flaming droplets, hence avoiding the start of secondary fires and limiting the risks of injury for firefighters.

All those elements have a major impact on people’s ability to evacuate safely, on time, and with the best possible visibility. In the meantime, low fire-hazard cables facilitate the work of firefighters as they release water when exposed to flame, reducing the fire temperature and diluting combustible gases.

Now a breakthrough to boost the fire performance of cables is in our pipeline. Based on geopolymer technology, this innovation works by creating a hard and hermetic crust around the stranded wires that makes them incombustible. In addition to improving fire resistance, this technology has the benefit of improving the environmental performance of cables by reducing their embodied carbon content – cutting CO2 emissions by 10 to 15% at the manufacturing level.

Smoke reduction during a fire

Smoke and hazardous emissions are the main cause of causalities during an indoor fire, being responsible for 80% of fire-related deaths. Corrosive gases in smoke attack the lungs, as well as the eyes and skin. On top of this, smoke severely limits visibility, making emergency escapes from a building more difficult.

Nexans Fire Safety range is designed to transform fire safety. Our cables minimise smoke emissions, enabling a visibility ten times higher than with traditional designs in the event of a fire – five times higher than the recommended threshold. Furthermore, they reduce the emission of hazardous and corrosive gases, increasing drastically the chance of escape, as well as assisting firefighters as they tackle the blaze.

Fire safety systems

Fire resistant cables play a crucial role in maintaining the continuous operation of fire protection and life safety electrical systems – even when a building is on fire. Minimum durations for maintaining electricity supplies in the event of fire are set out in national regulations. Cables must be capable of performing reliably even in extreme conditions, with temperatures up to 1,000°C, and for a duration up to 120 minutes.

Fire protection and life safety systems include:

  • Fire detection systems: smoke detectors, heat detectors, manual call points
  • Fire alarm systems: alarms/sounders, and control panels
  • Fire protection systems: active (sprinkler) and passive (such as fire walls and fire-rated doors)
  • Smoke control systems (pressurisation and extract systems)
  • Building egress systems (including exit signage).
Fire safety systems

Fire safety systems

Safety system components rely on connection to the power network. Fire resistant cables are often used to provide power, or to make connections between emergency equipment and control panels. When this is the case, they function as “active” elements since they must maintain electrical continuity or transmit a signal for an adequate amount of time.

Three main technologies are used to produce fire resistant cables.

First generation designs were based on copper conductors wrapped with mica tapes and cross-linked polyolefin. In this case, the core technology is the mica, and cable performance is related to its quality, nature, suppliers, and taping.

Second generation cables were based on conductors insulated with silicone rubber. This material has the property of forming a ceramic shield when burned. This maintains high electrical resistance and it is the most common solution for building applications.

For the latest generation of Fire-Resistant cables, we broadened our range with innovative cables based on the patented INFIT™ insulation technology which combines the advantages of both mica and silicone rubber insulation, but without their drawbacks (mica is difficult to strip, while silicone is soft and brittle). INFIT™ fire performances are similar to usual market technologies (silicone rubber or mica tape), but brings exceptional mechanical performance, making the installation easier and creating value with important time-saving and thus cost-saving advantages.

With INFIT™ cables, it is possible to connect all the devices of a fire detection system, including smoke detectors, to ensure that fires are detected and alarms raised. All of this ensures a rapid escape and contributes to effective firefighting.

We focus on your needs

At Nexans, our mission is to provide innovative products and solutions that meet the safety needs of our cable customers. We give our clients the power to design, install and manage their projects with the highest level of safety for your customers. Nexans Fire Safety solutions and services allow to Anticipate fire risks, Secure assets and Protect Life.

We back this up with comprehensive information and advice to help you make informed fire safety decisions – so we can electrify the future with confidence.

Franck Gyppaz

Author

Franck Gyppaz is the head of the Fire Safety Systems Design Lab at AmpaCity, the Nexans Innovation Hub. He has been working in the cable industry since more than 20 years, being involved in the domain of fire safety and developing innovative technologies, cable designs and a fire test lab with the ISO17025 accreditation and UL certification. He is also active in the field of standardization members of different groups at national and international levels. His position leads him to manage relationships with all the actors of the fire safety ecosystem to propose integrated systems to our customers.

EV innovation: Accelerating the transition to sustainable mobility
Energy and consumption resilience
13 January 2023
10 min
Electric vehicles

Like other sectors, the automotive industry must evolve to meet future economic and ecological challenges. Currently, thermal vehicles are responsible for nearly 10% of CO2 emissions worldwide. In developed economy such like in France, this figure rises to 15%. The electrification of these vehicles is therefore a key issue in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

According to the World Energy Outlook 2022 published by the International Energy Agency, the increase in global electricity demand between now and 2030 is equivalent to adding the current electricity consumption of the United States and the European Union! Such an increase in electricity is in the range of +5,900 to +7,000 TWh depending on the scenario.

The main contributors to such an increase are:

  • electrical transport in advanced economies,
  • population growth and demand for cooling in emerging markets and developing economies.

Electric mobility is an important stake and a major driver of additional electricity demand. However, this objective should not only focus on the development and evolution of vehicles by manufacturers but also take into account the infrastructure. It is important to focus on the need for recharging infrastructure and innovative technologies dedicated to electric vehicles (EVs), which should enable users of this type of vehicle to travel anywhere, at any time, with complete peace of mind and ensure the functioning of the electrical system.

Electrical vehicles: a major change coming required by energy transition

The public authorities in several countries are multiplying initiatives to foster this evolution of mobility solutions. Among the actions in force or under study, a growing number of countries have pledged to phase out internal combustion engines or have ambitious vehicle electrification targets for the coming decades. In Europe, the objective set is to stop the sales of new combustion-powered vehicles by 2035.

The IEA Announced Pledges Scenario (APS), which is based on existing climate-focused policy pledges and announcements, presumes that EVs represent more than 30% of vehicles sold globally in 2030 across all modes (excluding two- and three-wheelers). While impressive, this is still well short of the 60% share needed by 2030 to align with a trajectory that would reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.

By 2025, it is estimated that the electric vehicle market in France will be worth 12 billion euros, including 8 to 11 billion euros in sales of electric vehicles, 150 to 250 million euros for charging stations and 300 to 600 million euros for the sale of electricity needed for charging.

The fast deployment of EVCS, key condition of the development of electric vehicles

This transition to electric vehicles requires three main conditions to reach the target ambition:

  • The development of new & attractive vehicles, with the following issues at stake: battery capacity vs. the energy density of a litre of oil, the availability of mineral resources to fully renew the world’s car fleet (due to the scarcity of rare metals), the challenge of the environmental footprint of an electric vehicle (beyond the sole issue of metal scarcity).
  • The availability of energy where and when the vehicles will be charged. While the impact of an EV on the electricity grid is very limited at the domestic level, the 22 million electric and hybrid vehicles expected in 2025 in Europe will significantly increase the overall demand for electricity (from 4,860 in 2020 to 47,000 GWh in 2025).That will require both grid reinforcement, more energy and moreover a smarter way to manage load to balance usage with energy availability.
  • Finally the deployment of a dense network of charging stations (EVCS) to provide a solution to the consumer in mobility.

Basically the EVCS network will be efficient if it is deployed as a global ecosystem fitting with consumer needs in four main applications:

  • Charging “at home” (90% of EV loads are today done at home, individual or collective);
  • Charging “at work” (tertiary or institutional buildings, factories,..);
  • Charging “in the city” (shops, restaurants, public parking,…);
  • Charging “in journey” (highways).

Each of this application obeys to its own constraints regarding economical cost of deployment, expected time for loading, competition with other vehicles “in queue”, energy billing to the user… Whatever the type of charging solution to be offered (in AC for the majority of needs or DC for fast charging), it will impose significant constraints on the electrical network that needs to be anticipated.

This large and complex ecosystem to deploy in a decade will require major investments but also strong innovation for a maximized installation scalability and smart energy management.

Partnerships and innovation are key

To illustrate this challenge of innovation, we can highlight for instance 2 projects involving Nexans R&D teams in partnership with Enedis in the last years:

  • “BIENVENU” project: How to propose scalable and economical Charging infrastructure in collective housing buildings designed far before Electrical Vehicle rising (only 2% equipped in 2022 in France, for ~45% of population living in collective housing) ?
  • “SMAC” project: How to create technological conditions to allow Vehicule-to-Grid (V2G) to inject the energy stored in EV batteries in the grid during the peaks of energy consumption or to compensate intermittent energy production from renewable sources?

Nexans also propose with its partner e-Novates a complete range of AC charging stations from 7 to 22 kW designed to fit various indoor/outdoor applications for Business or Public customers.

This product range will be entirely renewed in 2023 with new models fast to install and compatible with the new standard ISO 15 118. In parallel will be introduced the new version of Nexans scalable cabling solution “NEOBUS”, designed in partnership with MICHAUD, dedicated to underground parking with specific fire safety risk integrated.

Nexans is therefore a key player in this evolution of the electric vehicle market. The new solutions proposed will greatly facilitate the daily life of users, both in the private sector and on public roads, and will improve the attractiveness of these new vehicles.

It is clear that the elements of differentiation are the key factors of innovation:

  • for vehicles, overall design, autonomy linked to battery power and efficiency, and reliability over time are differentiating factors;
  • for recharging infrastructure equipment, we believe that the main differentiation criteria are not linked to hardware but to the digital layer which allows monitoring of the charging stations, interfaced with payment methods, and applications which improve the customer experience. The second area of differentiation is the ease and speed of installation of the kiosks and their connection to the electrical network.

To limit the impact on the environment

The deployment of electric vehicles and their growing share in mobility will have a significant impact on reducing global warming, provided of course that decarbonised electricity is produced and used. However, it is also important to consider the impact of electric vehicles on resources, particularly copper. In 2020, production was 21 Mt for an almost equivalent consumption. Demand will accelerate due to electrification and particularly electric mobility.

In concrete terms, a traditional thermal vehicle requires 20kg of copper, a hybrid vehicle needs twice that amount, 40kg, and an electric vehicle requires 80kg of copper on average, i.e. 4 times more than a conventional vehicle (this amount can reach up to 200kg for certain models like Tesla).

20kg

of copper are required for a thermal vehicle

40kg

of copper are required for a hybrid vehicle

80kg

of copper are required for an electric vehicle

To this consequent increase in metal dedicated to electric vehicles, we can add the copper needed for the recharging infrastructure, the AC and DC recharging equipment, but also the connection system to the electrical network. A conservative estimate is that 3Mt of metal will be needed for this transition.

To limit the impact of the electricity transition on copper resources, it is necessary to accompany the change by a copper recycling chain and the establishment of a circular economy ecosystem.

Buckle up! Frédéric Lesur is about to take us on a test drive with Thibault Dupont. Electric vehicles and charging stations, their build, and the future challenges that lie down the road – it’s all in this episode of What’s Watt.

Cyrill Million

Authors

Cyrill Million is in charge of Electric Vehicle Charging Solutions department, part of Nexans Power Cable & Accessories BU.

Cyrill joined Nexans in 2021 as Marketing & Strategy manager with mission to amplify Nexans position on energy transition markets and to promote innovative solutions to Nexans key partners.

He holds a Master of Aeronautics Engineering from Supaero, France.

David Myotte

David Myotte is Marketing and Strategy Manager in the Power Distribution Cables & Accessories Business Unit of Nexans.

After 15 years in automotive industry and 7 years in steel industry, mainly in sales positions, he joined Nexans beginning of 2020, in charge of Nexans Accessories Sales in North and South Europe. In his current role, on top of elaborating marketing strategies and new offers aiming at enhancing Nexans customers’ experience and satisfaction, he is responsible of the sales of Nexans Electrical Vehicle Charging Stations (EVCS).