The Compagnie parisienne de distribution d’électricité (1914-1946)

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Compagnie parisienne de distribution d'électricité building dating from 1908, power substation Temple, rue Jacques Louvel Tessier, Paris 10e. BNP Paribas photo

Compagnie parisienne de distribution d'électricité building dating from 1908, power substation Temple, rue Jacques Louvel Tessier, Paris 10e. BNP Paribas photo

In 1888, in the run-up to the 1889 Universal Exhibition, when electricity was almost non-existent in the capital, the Paris City Council decided to create an electricity distribution network. In France, large cities were divided into several networks: in Paris, they were entrusted to six companies, in the form of concessions, which had to develop and operate the electricity distribution network, dividing Paris and its suburbs into eight electrical sectors.

Six companies that form a company

In order to unify and simplify the development of the electricity sector and its access to the capital, a transitional regime was provided in 1907. Concessions were reunified and entrusted to the “Union des Secteurs” until 1913, in an attempt to optimize the costs of electricity production and transmission.

« Parisian sectors » map before the agreement in 1907. The Civil Engineering, 1914. BNP Paribas Historical Archives
« Parisian sectors » map before the agreement in 1907. The Civil Engineering, 1914. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

On 1 January 1914, a single company – the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricité (Paris Electricity Distribution Company – CPDE) – was created and took over from the six concessionaires. Dedicated to the production, transmission and distribution of electrical energy, CPDE had a monopoly in Paris on electric lighting. In accordance with the terms of the agreement of 5 September 1907, it leased the existing installations and shared the profits with the municipality, as well as the cost of work to extend the distribution network.

CPDE electric network map in 1914 (left) and in 1929 (right). BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CPDE electric network map in 1914 (left) and in 1929 (right). BNP Paribas Historical Archives

Modernization of the Paris electricity network

CPDE, new facilities at Saint-Ouen generating station , machinery room view. 1929. Germaine Krull photo. BNP Paribas historical archives
CPDE, new facilities at Saint-Ouen generating station , machinery room view. 1929. Germaine Krull photo. BNP Paribas historical archives

In 1914, production in small plants gave way to production grouped together in two large power stations, commissioned in Saint-Ouen in the north and Issy-les-Moulineaux in the south, and their program was subsequently extended between 1922 and 1926. The gradual modernization of the Parisian distribution networks was carried out and made it possible to cope with the rapid growth in electricity consumption for the lighting of public spaces and homes, as well as for industrial uses. At the time, capital requirements were considerable and recourse to the financial market and bankers became vital.

Paris City Hall illuminated on the occasion of the awarding of the War Cross to the city. 1919. Roll agency. French national library
Paris City Hall illuminated on the occasion of the awarding of the War Cross to the city. 1919. Roll agency. French national library
The electric light in houses–laying the electrical tubes, W.P. Snyder drawing. 1882. Congress Library
The electric light in houses–laying the electrical tubes, W.P. Snyder drawing. 1882. Congress Library

As far as the CPDE is concerned, it takes the form of a group with a capital of FRF 100 million, listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1908, and headed by Émile Richemond, director of Continental Edison, an American electrical company, regent of the Banque de France, president of Weyher et Richemond and of the Paris Commercial Court.

When distribution takes precedence over production

Until 1930, only by the CPDE plants supplied Paris, but the company’s north and southwest plants reached their production limits. In order to avoid the construction of a third plant and ensure a better quality of supply, but also to take advantage of the supply of electricity from hydropower, the CPDE gave up producing electricity in 1930 to devote itself solely to its distribution. CPDE’s plants were thus connected to a vast interconnection network.

CPDE. New facilities at Saint-Ouen generating station , 1929. Germaine Krull photos. BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CPDE. New facilities at Saint-Ouen generating station , 1929. Germaine Krull photos. BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CPDE. New facilities at Issy-les-Moulineaux generating station , 1929. Germaine Krull photos. BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CPDE. New facilities at Issy-les-Moulineaux generating station , 1929. Germaine Krull photos. BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In April 1946, the energy sector was nationalized and the Centre de Distribution de Paris Electricité (Paris Electricity Distribution Centre) replaced CPDE, continuing the capital’s electrification mission.

Find out more about the financing of the electricity sector by BNP Paribas

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