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India is a key market for EDF

India is a key market for EDF

Marianne Laigneau, Group Senior Executive and Vice President- International Division, ElectricitT de France (EDF), believes that India and France see eye-to-eye on fighting global warming and in making low carbon energy choices. ‘Our company’s strategy in India,’ she says, ‘…is in line with the vision of the Government of India of generating 40 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and we look forward to a long-term partnership with the government and other Indian stakeholders, mainly on three pillars.’ 

Tell us about your strategies and plans in India?
The first pillar our partnership with India is based on is nuclear. India’s strong mission to increase the use of nuclear energy from 3 per cent to 9 per cent by 2030 is very ambitious. It is 60 GW of nuclear capacity, representing the total of France’s nuclear capacity. We are determined to be a part of this mission. Currently, we are in discussion with the counterpart NPCIL on the Jaitapur project to provide design for six EPR reactors which would roughly translate to 10 GW for building the largest nuclear plant in the world. The next milestone will be setting a General Framework Agreement (GFA) with our Indian counterpart. We are confident that we will be able to finalise the agreement in the coming months.

The second pillar is to be a partner for the development of renewable energy in India. With the aim of improving our current position from 400 MW up to 2 GW in the next five years, we intend to invest heavily in renewables, mainly solar or wind. Currently, EDF operates 371 MW of   renewable capacities in India, both in solar and wind power. The third pillar is related to energy optimisation. It covers areas such as energy services and smart grids and smart cities.

As far as solar sector is concerned, you must have seen the decrease in tariffs in India. It is as low as Rs.2.64. Since you intend to increase your installed capacity from 400 MW to 2 GW, how are you going to compete?
India is indeed a very competitive market. We believe that this competition is healthy. Recently, we managed to win some of these solar bids, and have been quite successful in India. However, the rates of tariffs raise other important questions, especially that of scalability as well as the amount of renewables that can be drawn from each grid. These aspects have a great impact on the future of solar development. I strongly believe that in a competitive market such as India, we are able to offer the best technology to our clients, thanks to our experience.

The government is intensifying its plans in rooftop solar segment? How would EDF leverage where there is hardly any competition and how would you shift your focus from large tender-based solar projects to rooftop solar projects?
We are considering all options. If it is a real business that is both profitable and manageable in terms of technology, then why not? For the time being, we are open, of course. The energy sector is full of innovation and we are not blocked or fixed on one solar technology. We believe in  diversified energy mix; like, for the Indian government, we want to include all sources of energy with a focus on nuclear and renewable energy sources. We strongly support the idea that nuclear energy is only a part of the solution and not the entire solution. Given that nuclear power is carbon free, it is a solution that meets the energy demand of 300 million Indians who have no access to electricity in India. It is a huge challenge and centralised generation like nuclear or hydro is essential. Having said that, we also need decentralised means of generation closer to customers’ needs, which are more flexible with partners as well. We have a very comprehensive view of our sector.

EDF is also in transmission business. So how are you likely to take this leverage and go further? Are you planning to bid for projects in India?
At EDF, we believe in the strength of an integrated approach to electricity. It is essential to have a robust distribution network, which is one of our strongest areas of expertise. In India, we are focused on the development of smart grids and smart cities. Last year, EDF won a tender from a public Indian company WAPCOS to develop smart grid of 75,000 smart metres for the New Delhi Municipal Council. 

Moreover, we are in advanced negotiations with Madhya Pradesh state, with MPPMCL. The idea of the project is to: one, reinforce the grid, reduce transmission and distribution losses, and two, integrate renewable energy into the grid and upgrade the existing SCADA system for which negotiations are underway. Since distribution raises technical issues, there is a need for strong expertise. With over 40 million clients connected to the grid worldwide, we have developed such expertise. In addition, we have already installed over 5 million smart metres in France.  You met Prime Minister, Narendra Modi recently.

What are the important matters discussed during that meeting?
It was a delegation led by Pierre Gattaz, the head of MEDEF, an association of all French companies in France. I had the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister, Energy Minister, Finance Minister, Commerce Minister as well the Chief Minister of Maharashtra in the capacity of being the Vice Chairman of the French delegation in-charge of the French Indian business council. I am leading the energy sector part of the delegation. We met Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to acquaint the corporates of the French projects and the opportunities of business partnership between the two company. The agenda of the discussion was transforming India through roads and business opportunities and how it can attract foreign investments in all sectors. Discussion on International Solar Alliance was also held.

Considering India’s last mile issues and EDF expertise, what role can you play in bridging the gap? 
There are issues pertaining to losses – both technical and non-technical û shortage of electricity and sometimes average quality of electricity. Here, EDF can play a role, especially in the field of smart grids and smart cities. We have a subsidiary within our group called Citelum. It is a worldwide company specialised in innovative urban lighting using digital technologies.

It provides solutions for regulating and modulating public lighting and organising traffic lights. With already two contracts in India, we want to be part of the 100 smart cities project.

India offers immense opportunity for smart lighting. And, with 100 smart cities plan, municipal corporation(s) is opting for sustainable energy…
It offers a large range of opportunities: you can start with smart lighting and then move to traffic regulation or even water and energy supply management. We strongly believe in the idea of decentralising energy. In fact, increasing energy needs require large and powerful centralised generation units. At the same time, the energy systems have to adapt to energy transition. Decentralised solutions based on renewables and auto-consumption integrated into smart grids or mini grids are all-important in fighting climate change. We need to invent the future and that requires us to be smart, agile and quick.

Are you connected to any state government or urban local bodies?
The issues pertaining to the energy sector are significant for both federal government as well as state government regulations, since they vary from one state to another. Thus, we are in constant dialogue with the local governments, such as municipalities, to have a clear view of the potential opportunities and partnerships. India is a huge subcontinent and there is a need to focus on certain locations under review.

According to you, what could be the right energy mix for India?
Each type of generation addresses specific needs. There is a need for centralised units like nuclear and thermal as well. However, thermal energy raises environmental concerns. As a result, EDF is no longer investing in building coal units. It takes a long time to move from coal to gas or nuclear. India would need some centralisation as well as base load units and peak load units to address the peak demand in the mornings and nights. The alternative to this could be hydro or renewable energies.

For wind, we have wind capacities in Gujarat and solar capacities in Rajasthan. In the countries where EDF is present, we are promoting a combination of different types of energy generation. Some countries have no nuclear, in which case a combination of gas and renewables makes sense. If you have nuclear, of course, nuclear is a part of the solution. However, this is up to the Indian government to decide.

Are you looking for an inorganic growth in India? Are there any players that you are already in touch with or with whom negotiations are on?
We are already involved in a joint venture with an Indian partner named SITAC Wind Management and Development. Presently, we are investing mostly in greenfield projects; we are developing most of it through organic growth and at times by inorganic [acquisition]. However, the focus is more on organic growth on a global scale. We have kept our options open. If there are lucrative opportunities, we will consider.

– Rahul Kamat

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