With the OPHELIA project, Nexans and its partners CNR, Schneider Electric, SNCF, and SuperGrid Institute drive innovation and launch a solar canopy demonstrator along the ViaRhôna
31 August 2023
7 min

The OPHELIA research project aims to promote the development of linear photovoltaic power plants by installing solar panels on long, narrow land surfaces (running alongside dikes, roads, railways, etc.). Selected in 2023 as the winner of the “DEMO TASE” call for proposals launched by the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), and developed by five partners (CNR, Nexans, Schneider Electric, SNCF, and SuperGrid Institute), OPHELIA is a research project focused on the electrical architecture of linear photovoltaic power plants and their integration into the built environment.

A solar canopy demonstrator will be deployed over a near-900-meter section of the ViaRhôna—a cycling route following the Rhône River—in the Vaucluse department by 2028.

Set to showcase a truly disruptive technology, the OPHELIA project will help accelerate regional photovoltaic development without creating any land-use conflicts, as it will make use of linear land that has already been developed.

Representing an investment of over €20 million, the OPHELIA project is funded by the French State as part of the France 2030 investment plan—executed by ADEME—and holds labels awarded by the Tenerrdis and i-Trans industrial clusters.

Projet Ophélia

A promising future for linear photovoltaic power plants

Though faced with a scarcity of land available for new projects, the photovoltaic industry remains key to hitting the energy transition targets set by the French State. Long linear photovoltaic power plants provide a response to land scarcity, as they help optimize the use of long, narrow land surfaces and structures that have already been designated for other uses (dikes, spaces alongside railways, roads, cycle paths, etc.), leaving natural spaces as they are. The wedges of land in question retain their original use while electricity production becomes a complementary activity. France’s gross development potential is estimated at more than 60,000 kilometers, corresponding to an installed capacity of nearly 60 GWp.

With the OPHELIA project, CNR and its partners will be testing a medium-voltage direct current electrical architecture and paving the way for the development of projects on long linear land, spanning at least 20 kilometers.

Disruptive technology developed for long-distance power transmission

In line with two of the photovoltaic industry’s goals, the OPHELIA project aims to exploit linear land running alongside existing infrastructure and reduce long cable-related electrical losses by developing technological building blocks that make it possible to replace alternating current with medium-voltage direct current (MVDC).

OPHELIA is an innovative R&D project comprising electrical architecture design, prototype production, and on-site testing, and involving five partners—CNR (the project coordinator), Nexans, Schneider Electric, SNCF, and SuperGrid Institute.

Demonstrator characteristics

The demonstrator will consist of a series of three solar canopies, installed over around 900 meters of the ViaRhôna cycling route—which follows the Rhône River—in Caderousse in the Vaucluse department. Expected to have an installed capacity of around 900 kWp (generating enough electricity to meet the annual needs of approximately 700 people), the demonstrator will comprise 30 solar canopy structures. The panels will be angled toward the east and the west, forming a roof.

The partners involved in the project will be given the opportunity to design and conduct on-site testing of an electrical architecture and all the equipment required to transmit MVDC electricity from the point of production to the point of delivery.

The construction and testing phases are scheduled to take place between 2025 and 2028, following three years of engineering design studies, R&D, and prototype development.

An innovation-focused project supported by the French State and executed by ADEME

The OPHELIA project was selected as the winner of the “Technologies Avancées pour les Systèmes Énergétiques : DEMO TASE” call for proposals launched by ADEME in 2022.

Representing a total investment of over €20 million, the project is co-funded by the French State (contributing around 40% of funding) as part of the France 2030 investment plan, which is being executed by ADEME in a bid to enhance the country’s industrial competitiveness and future technology development.

This funding is key to supporting the partners involved in developing this large-scale R&D project. OPHELIA has also been awarded labels by the Tenerrdis and i-Trans industrial clusters.

The Rhône Valley offers the perfect natural conditions to explore new innovative and promising technologies capable of meeting regions’ renewable energy needs and local stakeholders’ expectations. This demonstrator, developed with our partners, forms part of CNR’s “Photovoltaïque Grand Linéaire” innovation program, designed to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of long photovoltaic power plants, stretching several kilometers. It provides a response to the need to integrate new solutions into a restrictive built environment and paves the way for the development of projects on long linear land, spanning at least 20 kilometers.

Frédéric Storck

Head of Energy Transition and Innovation, CNR

Max-André Delannoy

Nexans is proud to be involved in the OPHELIA project to develop a new, optimized electrical architecture for linear photovoltaic power plants. The replacement of alternating current by medium-voltage direct current for power transmission purposes marks a technological breakthrough that reduces power losses. Innovation capable of facilitating the energy transition and sustainable electrification is a key focus for us as well as a means of developing new solutions like this demonstrator, helping to reduce our impact on the environment.

Max-André Delannoy

Technical and Innovation Vice President, Nexans

Direct current represents a new technological horizon in the field of medium-voltage power transmission after more than 100 years of development focusing on alternating current. It should facilitate better grid integration of certain applications like long linear photovoltaic power plants, promoting significant development of renewables while avoiding land take. Schneider Electric’s purpose is to empower everyone to make the most of its energy and resources, bridging the gap between progress and sustainability for all. That’s why we’re particularly proud to be involved in this project to provide the technical building blocks for more efficient interconnections between production and distribution facilities.

Christophe Prévé

Chief Technical Officer of Medium Voltage Offers, Schneider Electric

Photovoltaic energy generation is a key priority for SNCF, as it enables us to cover some of our energy needs while contributing to the collective effort to strengthen France’s energy sovereignty. By testing the operation of solar panels on a long stretch of land, OPHELIA is paving the way for the use of railside land. This project therefore fully aligns with the strategy adopted by the Group, which has just launched “SNCF Renouvelables”, our new photovoltaic development subsidiary, to generate carbon-free energy on our land.

Carole Desnost

Director of Technology, Innovation and Projects, SNCF Group

The OPHELIA project is fully aligned with SuperGrid Institute’s mission of providing technological innovations to accelerate the development of future power grids and the massive integration of renewable energy. We are very proud to be contributing to this project with our expertise on innovative power conversion systems and our testing facilities. By improving efficiency, limiting the consumption of raw materials and reducing the overall footprint of the conversion solution, new converter technologies are at the heart of unlocking the full potential of linear land electricity production.

Dr. Piotr Dworakowski

Power Convertors Team Leader, SuperGrid Institute