In Conversation With Antonio Valentin Diaz, Head Of Projects Delivery – Middle East, EDF Renewables Middle East

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In an exclusive interview with SolarQuarter Middle East, Mr. Antonio Valentin Diaz, Head of Projects Delivery, EDF Renewables Middle East talks about the major projects done by his company along with the challenges and future outlook on the solar sector in the region. Mr. Valentin has over 18 years of professional experience in project execution and delivery of large solar energy-related projects worldwide, particularly with PV and Concentrated Solar Power IPP Projects. He has been deploying his knowledge and building his career in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. 

  1. Please give our readers brief insight about the recent major project done by EDF Renewables in the Middle East Region. As a developer, what challenges have you faced?

EDF renewables is currently involved in the development, financing, design, engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning, operation, and maintenance of several utility-scale solar and wind projects. One of our latest projects is Al Dhafrah PV2 Plant, a solar photovoltaic power plant with an installed capacity of 2,000 MW, once completed. The site is located 30 km from Abu Dhabi city. 

The selected site surface for Al Dhafrah PV2 Plant is over twenty (20) square kilometers, equivalent to more than 3,000 football pitches. The project capacity will be reached through over 4 million PV modules. Once completed, in 2022, the site will be the largest single-site PV utility-scale project in the world and will provide clean electricity to power over 160,000 local households.

Al Dhafra PV2 solar project will be the first plant of such scale to deploy bifacial module technology, capturing sunlight on both sides of the PV modules and thus benefiting from the reflection of light by the ground in order to reach a higher generation. 

One of the biggest challenges is the performance of the key components exposed to harsh conditions in terms of temperature and soiling. Soiling by dry deposition affects the power output of photovoltaic (PV) modules, especially under dry and arid conditions that favor natural atmospheric aerosols (wind-blown dust). This expected issue during the operation of the plant, was evaluated throughout the bid stage, assessing the energy losses, and developing the final design of the plant in a way to optimize the solar energy production.  

2. What are the current challenges and opportunities especially in the utility solar sector in the Middle East? How can the challenges be faced?

Polysilicon prices are still breaking new records each week due to the persistent tight supply of polysilicon and the strong demand. Price hike may slow down when production capacity gradually increases.

In 2020 we saw growing dominance of Tier-1 PV manufacturers. Aimed the ongoing trend to expand capacity and increase market presence.

At EDF Renewables, we intend the implementation of N-type TOPCON modules. N-type technology can provide significant boosts in power and longevity to solar modules, especially with the bi-facial, as they have superior performance at higher temperatures.

Moreover, the new battery business models emerge at utility and residential scales. The energy storage is becoming one of the fastest-growing asset classes in the energy industry. 

Furthermore, another emerging economy is hydrogen, and it is now expanding throughout the clean energy infrastructure. At EDF Renewables, we consider hydrogen production and storage projects, in addition to wind and solar, to find ways to reduce carbon emissions and help fighting climate change.  

3. How do you see your company contributing to the clean energy sector in the Middle East in the next couple of years?

Middle Eastern countries have set ambitious goals in terms of reducing their carbon footprint and developing low-carbon energy solutions. 

EDF is integrating a low-carbon approach across the entire energy value chain from electricity generation to distribution. 

More globally, we are a player clearly involved in supporting the Middle East Green Initiative for Climate Change. We are perfectly in line with the local strategy for developing renewable projects in the region and are committed to support the economies with a wide range of low carbon solutions. 

EDF is aiming to become Carbon Neutral in 2050. It is an enforceable commitment to become Carbon Neutral, approved by EDF’s shareholders and driving all our businesses in 2020 states: “our reason of being (raison d’être) is to build a net-zero emission, energy future with electricity and innovative solutions and services, to help save the planet and drive wellbeing and sustainable economic development. “

Furthermore, at EDF Renewables innovation is KEY in our large utility-scale wind and solar projects. We are actively developing innovative solutions to meet specific electricity demand vs. variable renewable energies. We support the Middle East region in its energy transition with different PV and Wind utility-scale projects, to be in operation in the coming two years:

  • DEWA MBR parc Phase III PV Technology (under operation) UAE
    • Capacity: 800 MW
  • Dumat Al Jandal Wind Technology (under execution) KSA
    • Capacity: 400 MW
  • AL Dhafra PV Technology (under execution) UAE
    • Capacity: 2 GW
  • Jeddah PV Technology (under execution) KSA
    • Capacity: 300 MW 

4. Lastly, how do you see the solar sector progressing in the Middle East market in the next 5 years?

Renewables have a key role to play in the sustainable energy transition and the Middle East renewable energy market is expected to grow, especially when it comes to solar, wind and storage. 

At EDF Renewables we believe that the Middle Eastern countries will continue with their renewable energy plans and the production of solar energy on a large scale will be increasing in the coming years.

Moreover, the continuous growth in the energy storage solutions will help reduce the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), using thermal storage in CSP technology and batteries in PV and Wind technologies. 

Additionally, hydrogen as a storage solution is also an up-and-coming technology.

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