A standard-bearer in clean energyApril 26, 2021
Valerie Levkov, EDF’s senior vice-president in charge of the Middle East and Africa, talks to The Energy Year about the company’s critical contribution to the UAE’s nuclear energy drive and to producing low-carbon electricity in the region, as well as its growing activity in hydrogen. EDF provides energy solutions and services as part of supporting a net-zero future.
How has EDF contributed to the nation’s Nuclear Energy Programme?
We have been working alongside ENEC [Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation] and Nawah for a few years now and we are very happy to be a reliable partner for them, transferring our know-how in nuclear safety. As the leading nuclear operator worldwide, it was our duty to bring our knowledge to a new operator like Nawah.
As for the local supply chain, EDF, representing the French nuclear team, proposed to ENEC a partnership whereby small and medium-sized French nuclear suppliers team up with local Emirati companies in order to create joint ventures. This resulted in a strategic agreement. The programme is ongoing based on bilateral co-operation, and I am convinced that it will support the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the medium and long term.
Twenty years ago, we did the same thing between French, Chinese and South African suppliers. I would say that this knowledge transfer is key to long-term nuclear safety and development. And it is also a key subject for Saudi Arabia as we are planning to work in the same spirit when that programme kick-starts.
What is needed to boost local holdings’ confidence to venture into the nuclear energy services sector?
At the moment, it is too early for such initiatives, as nuclear activity takes place over a long term. Barakah is starting up, and the need for maintenance, for the equipment and for services will come progressively over decades. In the nuclear sector, major maintenance activities are performed every 10 years. In France, these 10-yearly maintenance programmes activate the whole nuclear supply chain, which represents thousands of businesses. Of course, nuclear suppliers are absolutely necessary for the recurrent day-to-day maintenance activities, but the big spike in demand occurs every 10 years for each reactor.
So, it is a question of time – and also of qualification because there are specific regulations and qualifications for becoming a nuclear supplier. Safety is crucial in the nuclear sector, and even though the qualification process can be quite lengthy and complicated, it is rewarding and necessary.
How has EDF managed the global pandemic?
EDF has kept its entire global workforce during the pandemic to maintain, operate and build our assets and run our commercial operations. This is because energy is not only a strategic business sector, but also an essential service for the well-being of populations worldwide, including in the Middle East.
Therefore, we have adapted our operations to protect our employees while maintaining our activities. Of course, we extended remote working for office work. As for the operators on the ground and in the power plants, we adapted the working conditions taking into consideration all the recommendations of the local authorities and the WHO.
This enabled us to carry on with our projects in a safe and responsible way while limiting the impact on the projects’ schedules, including our work as owner-operators in the Hatta pumped-storage hydroelectric power station and Al Aweer power project here in the UAE.
How has the pandemic spurred EDF’s digital transformation?
Digitalisation is embedded in our DNA as a company. We deployed many digital tools years ago in most of our power plants and grid management systems. Through digital twins, we are able to monitor and organise maintenance of our assets remotely. We offer this service to our clients all over the world and it has proven its efficiency during this period.
Furthermore, we have deployed an online work environment for our 70,000-plus French employees to connect to, ensuring efficient and secure digital communication in our business environment, avoiding travel and limiting CO2 emissions.
In Abu Dhabi, we had a training contract with one of our partners and, obviously, this could no longer take place physically so we organised a digital training for the young Emiratis with all our experts based in France utilising our 3D models, simulator tools and virtual models of our power plants, allowing us to make virtual visits to the installation.
How is EDF contributing to producing low-carbon electricity in the region?
Our ambition is to triple our business outside Europe and more than double our overall installed capacity in renewables by 2030. That is why the Middle East plays a strategic role. I foresee tremendous renewables capacity in the Middle East, so green hydrogen may become a sustainable reality in terms of costs.
As we have been present in the region for more than 20 years, we have started renewable energy activities. These began with the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park here in the UAE. Our newest project, Al Dhafra solar PV plant [awarded to a consortium consisting of EDF Renewables and Jinko Power Technology Company], is part of this journey to reach 60 GW of renewable capacity worldwide in 2030.
As stated by H.E. Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, “We are here to recognise the vision, but also the action.” In this regard, EDF will support the nation not only in utility scale, but also in smart grids and distributed solar facilities on rooftops, and in energy efficiency. For this, we are establishing a joint venture with Masdar, a company that is doing an amazing job.
Our goal is to be a partner to Abu Dhabi throughout the entire value chain of the energy sector.
What are EDF’s planned activities in hydrogen?
EDF is one of the key players in hydrogen. We are a member of the Hydrogen Council, organised in Abu Dhabi during the World Future Energy Summit. As part of this council, we have made strategic moves in this field with two subsidiaries, McPhy and Hynamics. McPhy designs electrolysers and hydrogen stations. Hynamics designs and implements hydrogen distribution networks. In 2020, Hynamics alongside other partners won its first project in Germany, for a 30-MW electrolyser at the Heide oil refinery, with electricity coming from an offshore wind farm. This is an example of what we are currently doing with hydrogen.