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In the Loop

A brief history of CIGRE from 1921 to 2021

As CIGRE moves into its second century of operation, it is continuing to evolve to meet the needs of its members and the requirements of the communities the industry serves.  It has always adapted to meet the needs of the time.  In fact, this is a core strength of the organisation.The current evolution of CIGRE is underway and has been widely consulted with the members and attendees at our recent Session.  This article, prepared by Alex Cruickshank, Chair of SC C5, provides a brief history of CIGRE and how it is evolving to meet the needs of its members.  It is particularly timely considering Australia is celebrating its seventieth anniversary of membership.

CIGRE began in 1921 as a conference, the International Conference on Large Electric Systems, in French the Conférence Internationale des Grands Réseaux Electriques, with the acronym of CIGRE [1].  

It was created to prepare for standardisation in the electricity sector, stimulated by a post-war economy, but has grown and adapted during its first 100 years.

In 2000 the organisation became the International Council on Large Electric Systems, the Conseil Internationale des Grands Réseaux Electriques and in 2018, the term CIGRE was adopted as a brand name, no longer an acronym.

To its members and supporters, it is still just “CIGRE”.

The evolution of CIGRE matches four key phases of the electricity industry:

  • Electrification of territories (1920 - 1950)
  • Transmission and interconnection (1950 - 1990)
  • Electricity markets (1990 - 2010)
  • Energy transition (2010 - 2030)

The Core purpose of CIGRE

While CIGRE has evolved to meet the needs of its members and to address the changing challenges facing our industry, its core purpose has remained constant.  CIGRE, at its heart, is about gaining and disseminating knowledge.

We gain knowledge by collaborating, sharing, investigating and discussing.  This was the role of the initial conferences and continues through our colloquia, symposia and, of course, the biennial Session in Paris. 

It is also the focus of our working groups, which I will discuss later.

CIGRE is also in the business of disseminating and sharing the knowledge that we have gained.  We do this by publishing the results of our discussions in proceedings, technical brochures and Electra.  We also invite non-members to share in our discussions at the Session and other public meetings.

A strength of CIGRE is how many people seek to access our knowledge via the Session and, of course, our knowledge receptacle e–CIGRE, where all of the papers and proceedings are available to members and the public.

What is the focus of CIGRE?

CIGRE started with just local electricity systems, then expanded to include larger scale systems and interconnections. 

CIGRE has moved into markets and covers end to end power systems.  We now focus at all levels of the electricity industry including demand side response and beyond the meter activities.

The scope of CIGRE has also increased to cover from Ultra High Voltage, at one end, to low voltage supplies at the other and from large scale storage, primarily pumped storage, to grid based batteries and home based batteries.

This has changed the focus of operations, planning and markets as the nature of supply changes and new forms of markets develop — we now have virtual power plants that incorporate small scale storage and demand side response into dispatchable units.

CIGRE is also now considering renewable gases, primarily hydrogen, as the market transitions away from fossil fuels.  For example, a recently formed working group is examining certification of renewable gases, which also has ramifications for electricity source verification.

Therefore, a question for CIGRE to address is where are the edges of our work?  Do we move into fuels, per se, or just the interaction of fuels with the electricity system? For example, renewable gases are a storage medium and also a way of reducing the emissions intensity of the industry.

If CIGRE is to examine more than electricity as part of the current energy transition, what else should be considered?

Who is CIGRE for?

Initially, CIGRE was a place for engineers and planners to gain and disseminate knowledge on the operation of electrical systems.  This was the audience for the first seventy years.

Increasingly, the audience is broadening.  Now CIGRE provides information for market designers, regulators and government.  The initial focus was on engineers and now includes organisations and the community.

The scope of our expertise now covers economists, planners and regulators as well as the core aspect of engineering.  An important question for CIGRE, as we support the industry transition, is who else should we involve in our gaining and dissemination of knowledge?

How CIGRE works is also changing

CIGRE was started as a conference for National Committees to share the advances in their countries.  The sharing and refining of industry knowledge were important for the requirements of the time; electrification and standardisation.

The National Committees are still the mainstay of the organisation, with 59 currently in operation across 94 countries.  CIGRE has also evolved to increasingly focus on disciplines with the development of the 16 Study Committees[2].  These are grouped as the “A” committees on equipment, the “B” committees on technologies, the “C” committees on systems and the “D” committees on new materials and IT.  This structure is being retained in the next evolution while noting the increasing overlaps in scopes.

The engine room of CIGRE continues to use a large number of working groups, over 250 at last count with about 40 new WGs each year, plus some task forces for specific topics.  To cater for the required inter-disciplinary investigations noted above, there is increasing use of joint working groups

CIGRE gains knowledge in a collaborative way through its Sessions, Symposia, Colloquia and other meetings.  It also collaborates via a knowledge management system — KMS — to allow ready discussion and dissemination of knowledge within our committees and groups.

Externally, our focus has been on allowing access to information via e–CIGRE, our library of knowledge, which contains all of the outputs of our Sessions, meetings etc as well as the outputs from the working groups.  This has traditionally been a key point of access for professionals seeking ideas and knowledge of the industry.

Increasingly, the new forms of our work; tutorials and webinars are being made available via e‑CIGRE and the platform is being enhanced to provide easier access and searching.

In addition, we are enhancing our other forms of disseminating information.  Electra, the magazine of CIGRE is now available electronically and was joined a few years ago by Electra CSE, which is a SCOPUS registered journal.  This is now being actively promoted by newsletters distributed to CEOs and other interested parties.

CIGRE has also partnered with Springer to produce a series of books, either distilling our knowledge or advancing key aspects of the current transition, such as the recent work “The Grid of the Future” produced by the Technical Council.

CIGRE is also increasing its strategic links to other organisations.  We have always been linked to the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) but are increasingly working with the IEEE (formally the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and now moving to establish a relationship with the IEA (International Energy Agency).  

Less opaque, more accessible and still evolving.

The recent emphasis of CIGRE is to be less opaque to outsiders so that our expertise is better used and recognised.  We are also seeking to be more accessible and more inclusive to better achieve our core purpose — the gaining and dissemination of knowledge.

As CIGRE evolves into our second century of operation, we find ourselves increasingly needed to assist the industry as it transitions to meet community expectations.


In the main, this paper is based on a presentation at the Australian Technical Committee Annual Seminar in November 2022, which was recorded and is available at the ANC YouTube site: 

The entire first section on the history of CIGRE is, however, drawn from a presentation by Philippe Adam, the Secretary General of CIGRE, who also planted the seed for the presentation to the Australian Conference.


[1]      Formally, CIGRE has two languages, French and English, and It is headquartered in France.

[2]     This transformation was not direct but for the confines of a short article, some intervening steps have been omitted.