ENERGY FOR THE FUTURE

With climate change a growing concern for leaders across the globe, many countries are rethinking their energy policies. Those countries with first-generation nuclear plants are at crossroads and are investigating the possibility of extending the lifespan of those plants, building newer ones, and increasing their investment in renewables.

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“For countries like Finland, the United Kingdom and China, there are new nuclear power stations on the cards. But for others, it is a question of whether or not to invest more in renewable energy, or structure their policies to include both nuclear and renewable—others are just waiting. Either way, everyone has started to question the future of energy.

“Most of the world’s leaders know that climate change is happening, and will become a major issue for the next generation. Nobody can ignore that. Just recently, we have experienced powerful hurricanes on a number of French islands, and we have to face this issue. Low carbon generation is a key issue for the future and, therefore, renewable energies and nuclear have their role to play,” says Électricité de France (EDF) South Africa CEO, Luc Koechlin.

EDF is the world’s first electricity company, generating 71 billion Euros in revenue annually with 155 000 employees worldwide. The company dedicates about 700 million Euros annually to research and development and around 88% of EDF’s power generation is currently CO2-free.

“We are a world leader both in renewable and nuclear energy production, but very few people know about the renewable side of our business. This is perhaps because renewable energy is still relatively new. Today, however, we as a company invest in both, treating them as complementary solutions for the future,” Koechlin says.

EDF has been in South Africa for 30 years—their involvement in the country starting with the construction of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant in the 1980s. EDF South Africa was officially created in 2007 and is now a company dedicated to all solutions that the EDF Group developed in the world (nuclear, renewable, transmission, smart cities, energy efficiency, etc).

With the creation of EDF SA, three domains were identified. First was low-carbon power generation, which includes not only nuclear energy and maintenance of existing plants as well as building new capacities, but also renewable energy production.

“We have a subsidiary company in South Africa, Innowind, which focuses specifically on building wind farms and solar installations. We have also made it our mission to make energy available for everybody, developing off-grid capacities across the African continent. Selling and operating off-grid generation has become an excellent way to improve energy access in places where building new grids is either impossible or too expensive, and there is great potential in southern Africa for that,” he says.

Another focus for EDF SA is engineering and energy efficiency, where they assist companies and municipalities in saving energy and optimising their system.

According to Koechlin, South Africa has some advantages when it comes to reconsidering our energy policies for the future, with a great deal of resources and experience already at our fingertips.

“South Africa already has good experience in nuclear and Koeberg has run with outstanding results. You also have a lot of renewable energy sources, specifically wind and sun, and in a long-term view, there is no debate that we have to work harder to develop renewable energy in South Africa. You also have the existing coal industry and it would make no sense to stop it now.

“EDF can give some advice to help run these plants better. But we must think about an energy transition; we must think about our children because, in the future, South Africa can’t be the country that produces the most CO2. You have to be competitive when it comes to saving CO2. We have to find a way for this using existing infrastructure, available resources and expertise but when we build, we must build for the future. Part of this is to develop nuclear and renewables while helping existing power plants to be run more efficiently,” Koechlin explains.

He believes that cheap energy is essential to a growing economy and that good economic results cannot be achieved without cheap energy, an important base for most of the production in the country.

“Another point to consider is that nuclear is itself an industry, one that generates jobs, as well as revenue. Nuclear alone accounts for 220 000 permanent jobs in France but more than 400 000 additional jobs are induced by the nuclear industry,” he says.

In France, 80% of electricity generation is nuclear, also proving a very reliable source with more than 90% availability and it is considered both safe and cheap. From these nuclear power stations, EDF also exports electricity to most neighbouring countries including Germany, Spain and Belgium.

“French people enjoy the cheapest electricity in Europe; nobody pays a lower price. Our neighbours in Germany pay double for their electricity and their carbon emissions are three times higher than in France,” says Koechlin.

“I personally think that it’s a mistake to oppose nuclear and renewables. We, as EDF, believe that the future is made up of a balanced mix of energy sources, not just nuclear or renewables. When it comes to renewables, there is a lot of research still needed in the technology for the long-term storage of renewables. At present, solar panels or wind farms only run about 25% of the time because there is no way to store this energy and so you have to have other sources. There has been a lot of investment in storage but we are still a long way off from a solution that adequately addresses this problem,” he adds.

Koechlin, who has only been in the country for just over a month, sees his new post as a great opportunity, both in a personal and professional capacity.

“Not only is this my first experience abroad in a very beautiful, English speaking country, but I am also a former rugby player, I love wine and I love meat, so I feel like I’ve come to the right place. But, jokes aside, this new position is very exciting and I have huge objectives for the company over the next four years,” he says.

The newly-appointed CEO has been with EDF in France for 13 years. He was first appointed as a Group Auditor and later, as CFO for the north-west quarter of France. He has also served as the Commercial Director for the same region.

“My clients ranged from very small businesses to huge corporates and it was my job not just to sell electricity and gas but also to oversee energy efficiency, showing them ways to save on energy. From dealing with every type of customer, these roles also taught me invaluable lessons when it comes to finance and management. The full range of activities made my job very enjoyable and they really prepared me for where I am today.

“I am by nature a curious guy; I love to discover new countries, new cultures and I am passionate about energy. I have stayed with EDF for all these years because, for me, it’s an industry where everything is always changing, even though energy is, and will always be, a critical issue for everything. We will always need it. And I think that when you work in this industry, you know you are working for the future. It would be difficult for me if I didn’t believe that we were going in the right direction. I am here for my children, to save the planet, and I don’t think I could work for a company that was burning the world and still look them in the eye.

“EDF is thinking about the best for the plant and the future. And maybe I don’t know the future but at least I know I work for a company that is thinking about it,” he concludes. 

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