At the centre of the UAE’s decarbonisation efforts
Valerie Levkov, EDF's regional vice-president for the Middle East and Africa, talks to The Energy Year about how the company is aligned with the leadership role the UAE is taking in the energy transition and the current projects core to EDF’s decarbonisation efforts. Electricité de France (EDF) is a French multinational electric utility company.
How has EDF navigated the recent energy turmoil affecting global markets?
The past few years, marked by the Covid and the start of the war in Ukraine, have impacted most sectors, including the energy market. Like most global utility companies, EDF faced challenges, but we have managed to turn these into opportunities and have further developed our low-carbon solutions, such as nuclear, renewable energy activities and energy efficiency services, which are core pillars of our power generation and optimisation strategy.
EDF has come out of this period stronger than before and we’re focusing on growing the low-carbon part of our business in France and internationally, given the world’s current shift towards carbon-free energy. One of the main strengths of EDF is that the group is not only a massive enterprise; it is also able to react swiftly.
We are pleased to see that countries such as the UAE are developing their energy strategy upon the same pillars as ours: aiming at having more balanced energy mix, with a secured baseload from the nuclear plant Barakah, and from the utility-scale renewable plants up and running to provide clean energy to the Emirati households. The relationship between EDF and the local utility companies has strengthened during this time of turmoil, and we have become further involved in nuclear, renewables and energy-efficiency projects in the country and the region.
How is EDF aligned with the leadership role the UAE is taking in the energy transition?
EDF is present in the Middle East, and has been especially active in the UAE for the past 25 years. We entered the market with flagship transmission projects, supporting the Emirates through our expertise in engineering, design and transmission networks. We are therefore working closely with TRANSCO [Abu Dhabi Transmission and Despatch Company] on grid efficiency and expansion. Seven years ago, we started our development and investment strategy in the UAE. The first project where we took the lead as developers was the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park Phase 3 for our client DEWA [Dubai Electricity and Water Authority].
We are thus relatively new players in the UAE, but we have strongly consolidated our presence. We developed projects such as the Al Dhafra solar farm, which is the world’s largest single-site solar park and will soon be commissioned.
Moreover, we are partnering with Masdar on several distributed solar projects through the JV Emerge. Major industries that are part of our portfolio benefit from Emerge’s decarbonisation services.
We are also partnering with ENEC [Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation] and are supporting them with our knowledge about operations, safety and performance in order to guide the country’s nuclear ambitions, with the Barakah nuclear plant being the first milestone.
We don’t count our presence in the UAE only by generation projects. We are also very active in the services and demand-side management, as well as district cooling networks through our entity Dalkia.
We hope that our involvement in the country up to this point is only the beginning. Our local workforce has grown massively, and remains committed to pursue our long-term development and investment strategy in the region.
While it is up to the government’s leadership to launch tenders, we firmly attest to our will to participate. EDF teams are eager to leverage the existing synergies between the solar parks, the Hatta hydropower project and the upcoming street lighting initiative to further anchor the group and our low-carbon solutions in the country’s net-zero future.
Which current projects are core to your decarbonisation efforts in the UAE?
Decarbonisation is part of our DNA. Few people know that more than 90% of our energy generation is carbon-free. Therefore, we aim to bring our know-how into the region and to actively participate in the decarbonisation process undertaken by the UAE government. As a concrete example of how we contribute to the country’s decarbonisation goals, we are currently developing a major project with ADNOC, which is one of our key partners in the UAE.
The construction of this one-of-a-kind submarine transmission line, aiming to connect ADNOC’s offshore operations to the decarbonised grid onshore, is a testament to the will and success of our strong partnerships. Upon completion, this project will reduce the carbon footprint of ADNOC’s operations by 30%.
Our role is to invest, and to bring industrial capacity to this highly technical project, as well as to operate it safely and with the highest professionalism. All the major oil companies around the world are closely monitoring this project and will be quick to replicate our efforts once we succeed.
Another project we are working on is the Hatta hydro-pumping storage power plant. We are designing and constructing a renewable generation facility that relies on gravity energy storage. Solar energy powers the pump, and water is stored between two reservoirs located at different altitudes.
The water in the lower reservoir is pumped to the upper reservoir when there is low demand. When demand is high, the water from the upper reservoir drives turbines to feed electricity back into the grid. The water is then collected in the lower reservoir. Saudi Arabia is looking into the same kind of project, which demonstrates once more that the UAE is a leading examplar.
To further the decarbonisation and positive impact we create in the UAE, we are strongly committed to managing the demand side through energy efficiency services, O&M excellence, and district cooling networks via the DBO (design, build and operate) model. Through our entity Dalkia U.S. Chillers, more than 200 clients in the zone benefit from O&M excellence while reducing energy and water consumption.
Emerge is deploying massive distributed solar installations all over the Emirates, providing clean energy to the industrial sector and reducing its electricity bills. One of Emerge’s major clients is Miral, for whom we installed solar panels on Warner Bros and SeaWorld entertainment parks in Abu Dhabi.
In other words, we are acting on the entire energy value chain: from low-carbon generation to demand management.
What are the main technologies EDF is using to tackle the challenges of the power generation sector?
We see three key opportunities in our sector: decarbonisation, digitalisation and decentralisation. We are channelling our R&D efforts towards these areas and are investing about USD 660 million per year to continue improving our solutions.
The technologies we have been working on for the past 20 years allow us to address these challenges. An example is our increasing deployment of remote monitoring technologies. Independent of the type of power generation infrastructure, we can use digital twins or e-monitoring systems to detect failures before they happen. This type of preventive maintenance enhances safety, reduces costs and increases efficiency.
Our position as an infrastructure designer, builder and operator allows us to best leverage the synergies between our technological expertise and integrate the systems at the core of these assets. We can operate and maintain hydro, solar, wind and nuclear plants throughout their lifecycles and thus be a partner of choice for such projects.
What is the importance of this year’s COP28 taking place in the UAE?
We take to heart the sustainability goals we have all pledged to achieve. They lie at the centre of all our decisions. The energy sector is under a lot of scrutiny. We must showcase the efforts being made and the results already being achieved.
We are therefore happy that COP28 is being hosted in the UAE under the leadership of Dr. Sultan Al Jaber. The oil and gas sector cannot be left aside in the discussions on sustainable development. We see ADNOC leading the way and demonstrating that all sectors can work towards reducing their carbon footprint.
This COP will be massive and will probably see a lot of friction due to the different interests at play, with NGOs and developing countries pressing for greater commitment and alignment with their interests. We see this dialogue as productive, and we will of course engage in it. The group and our teams are liaising with our local partners, such as TAQA, DEWA and ADNOC to understand how we can showcase our solutions.
How is EDF looking to consolidate its market leadership in the region?
There are bidding rounds occurring across the region, and we have been building up our capacity over recent years through our supply chain, R&D and technologies. We are at the forefront of innovation and have the industrial performance required to always remain the most competitive.
Our head office for the region is located here in the UAE, but we are active across the region. We have recently been awarded a 500-MW solar project in Manah, Oman. We are also bidding there for the deployment of a smart metering system and the accompanying IT infrastructure, as well as management capabilities. In India, we’ve been awarded a contract to install 5 million smart meters – a huge demonstration of our expertise. We are also present and very active in Saudi Arabia, where we are developing iconic projects such as the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Nonprofit City district cooling and the management and implementation of energy efficiency solutions for the famous Kingdom Centre in Riyadh.
An array of pilot projects and future opportunities lie ahead of us. We are currently working on a small modular reactor in France with our company Nuward and will look towards building these abroad. There are also tremendous opportunities in hydrogen. As a member of the World Hydrogen Council, we are investing a lot in that area.