Total’s low-cost, low-carbon strategy in the UAEMarch 30, 2021
Christophe Sassolas, president of Total E&P UAE and Total country chair for the UAE, talks to The Energy Year about the company’s role in the UAE’s energy transition. Total is active in all areas of the UAE’s energy industry, from upstream oil and gas to LNG, solar power and lubricants.
How will Total’s long-standing partnership with ADNOC evolve in line with energy industry trends?
Total’s predecessor, Compagnie Française des Pétroles, was born in Abu Dhabi more than 80 years ago, so Total and ADNOC have grown in parallel over so many years and our partnership is deeply rooted. One of our ambitions is to produce low-cost and low-carbon-intensity hydrocarbons, and that’s one of the reasons we are committed to Abu Dhabi. Along with ADNOC, we produced oil with one of the lowest CO2 intensities and the lowest costs in our global portfolio.
Moreover, in line with ADNOC’s gas self-sufficiency strategy, we are working hand-in-hand to develop the gas potential of the UAE. Proof of that is our achievement in delivering the first unconventional gas project from the Ruwais Diyab concession [in which Total holds a 40% stake] in November 2020.
How is gas important in the UAE’s energy transition journey?
Gas has always been at the core of the Abu Dhabi power system. Globally, gas is a good transition fuel. When you switch on the light and the AC, you expect them to work, i.e. to have a constant power supply. The more you put renewables on the grid, which are intermittent by nature, the more you will need gas as gas-fired turbines can rapidly compensate for variations in renewable supply.
What are Total’s most recent advances in AI and data analytics?
I am a big believer in artificial intelligence. This year we opened a research centre here in Abu Dhabi, within the Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, called the Sorbonne Center for Artificial Intelligence. Its research will be dedicated to the optimisation of oil and gas processes through AI. The reasoning is simple. We are one of the industries with the biggest volumes of data. We’ve got valves and sensors everywhere generating a huge amount of data over time. Now we are ready to utilise all that data to optimise our oil and gas production.
We are also working on data analysis that predicts CO2 emissions, flaring and energy consumption, hour by hour. This is a great tool to limit CO2 emissions, typically when plants stop and restart and when the restarting sequence can be optimised to reduce emissions. That’s an example of a massive benefit from AI in our industry.
What set of actions is Total putting in place in the UAE to achieve its net-zero carbon goal?
In our efforts to continue lowering greenhouse gas emissions, we are working very hard to not only reduce emissions from Scope 1 [direct emissions from owned or controlled sources] and Scope 2 [indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed] but also to tackle Scope 3 [all other indirect emissions]. For Scope 3, we need to co-operate with regulators, whether regional, national or worldwide, and with other industries.
As an example, we can try to sell something other than fossil-originated kerosene to make a plane fly, but if no airline buys it, we will never solve the issue with Scope 3. And the good news is that the customers are changing. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, several cargoes of LNG were bought by Asian customers on a net-zero basis, including some sold by Total. This is very important because what is changing now is not just regulation but what the customers want. Once customers start pricing CO2 into their decisions, then we can take more action on Scope 3.
Now, for scopes 1 and 2, there’s a lot we’re doing. Deploying artificial intelligence is one strategy, as I mentioned before. Electrification of processes is another big action. The more we can connect to the grid – especially as the power in Abu Dhabi becomes less carbonised – the more we can use energy in a less CO2-intensive way, especially offshore.
How has Total E&P UAE maintained employee safety and ensured business continuity over the past year?
Safety, and hence the health of our people, is the prime value for us. We’ve been very strict about that. Here in the UAE, be it with ADNOC or in our smaller operations, we never stopped producing gas, oil or power and for that I want to thank the frontline workers. The commitment of our people was outstanding.
When you are under pressure because you can’t get personnel on the site as easily as you want, you realise that you can adapt and do things with fewer people. You reorganise, for example doing maintenance in campaigns rather than as a routine job. That’s one trend that has definitely been accelerated in Abu Dhabi. We’ve also increased our use of remote inspection.
We’ve obviously had difficulties moving people across borders, and our back-to-back worker replacement scheme has gone through hard times due to regulations bringing additional quarantine periods. But the priority has always been the health and safety of our people.
On the other hand, our shift to remote working in the office was swift and successful. We changed overnight. We decided to close the office on a Tuesday and the next day was a normal day.
How do you assess the UAE’s response to the global crisis?
The UAE has a unique combination of strong and wise leadership and an ecosystem of partners that make the vision of this leadership a reality on the ground. The leadership said how they wanted to address the pandemic, and the ecosystem was able to carry it out.
It is both strong leadership and individual accountability and partnerships that bring ideas. Total contributed by bringing some operational ideas from other parts of the world. Resilience comes from a stable environment with dedicated people and partnerships.
What is Total’s renewables strategy in the UAE?
It is important to mention that even in the most drastic scenario in terms of demand, we will still need oil. Globally, if investment drops significantly as they do today, we will face a strong decline of supply. Focusing on low cost and low CO2 emissions is key. And our strategy in the UAE, continuously building on our 80 years of partnership history with ADNOC, is indeed to invest in developing those resources.
But the UAE has also been a pioneer in the energy transition. And Total has always been alongside, with technology and vision. We were a pioneer with the Shams solar power plant, in partnership with Masdar. We are one of the leaders in solar rooftop solutions in the UAE, an area which is booming, particularly in Dubai and Jebel Ali. In two years, we’ve installed 70 MW on rooftops, which is a lot of projects.
For us the energy transition is about combining, in the smartest way, all of these technologies to achieve an affordable, reliable and cleaner energy for all.