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French utility EDF is likely one of the greatest energy R&D spenders on the earth. It’s best-known for France’s nuclear fleet, however EDF is branching out today, not simply into renewables and hydrogen however into AI and blockchain.

Chief Innovation Officer Julien Villeret is a communications specialist who immediately heads up EDF’s innovation technique, main the corporate’s enlargement into new strains of enterprise, and investments in start-ups and enterprise capital funds. He began out as a journalist earlier than shifting into consulting and communications, the latter first in telecoms and later at EDF. Villeret was EDF’s director of communications earlier than taking on as head of innovation.

Julien Villeret, chief innovation officer at EDF, photographed within the PB6 tower – the ‘EDF tower’ – at la Défense in Paris, France, August 2021. (Photograph courtesy of EDF)

In dialog with Energy Monitor, Villeret discusses EDF’s innovation technique, its areas of focus and investments thus far in energy and past, what innovation may do for nuclear power – current crops, giant new-build and small modular reactors (SMRs) – EDF’s new hydrogen technique, R&D priorities inside renewables and the problem of discovering expert labour.

EDF is a giant state-owned French utility. You will have assets however are removed from an agile start-up. How progressive is EDF?

EDF is likely one of the few firms capable of handle energy innovation proper throughout the worth chain, from upstream to downstream. The Worldwide Energy Company has mentioned that fifty% of the options wanted to decarbonise the world in 2050 are nonetheless in labs or must be invented.

We goal to cowl your complete spectrum of innovation. Incremental innovation is completed by our enterprise items, like new affords for purchasers and new processes for nuclear [power plants]. Second, we’ve a world-renowned R&D functionality; that is primarily about technical experience. Third – and what we primarily do because the innovation division – we undertaking the group into new strains of enterprise.

Our mission because the innovation division is to outline the technique: what are our primary areas of curiosity? Tips on how to develop a tradition of innovation all through the group? Tips on how to incubate innovation tasks inside EDF? And we’ve a company enterprise arm that invests in start-ups.

What are EDF’s precedence areas for innovation?

We have now six precedence areas. The primary three are to rework our core enterprise. We’re working with our purchasers to decarbonise their energy use. We’re additionally taking a look at optimise the efficiency of our present era and storage belongings; there are numerous wants round web site decommissioning and reconversion additionally. And we’re exploring speed up the event of recent options for storage and manufacturing, akin to SMRs.

Subsequent, there are new actions to discover. We’re working arduous to develop cost-effective decentralised energy methods – energy hubs, organise energy sharing, and so forth. [For activities that cannot be rendered fully carbon neutral] we’re additionally engaged on options for carbon seize, ‘premium compensation’ and use, and we’re taking a look at leverage societal tendencies. By this we imply tendencies that aren’t core enterprise to us however might affect the way in which we do enterprise, such because the metaverse. How will we leverage these applied sciences?

What sort of start-ups have you ever invested in?

Our company enterprise capital arm has invested in over 25 start-ups. They’re largely French or European, however we’re beginning to increase – we invested in Persefoni, for instance, which is a US-based start-up, final 12 months.

[These investments] cowl practically the entire vary of our strategic targets. For instance, we’re engaged on carbon-neutral options for purchasers round agriculture – ITK is an agriculture AI firm – [and] round electric mobility by way of Monkey Manufacturing unit with mobility as a service, and Zenpark, which is a parking supplier.

We’re additionally working, in fact, on manufacturing and era – Enerbrain is an Italian firm we invested in two years in the past that’s engaged on decarbonise company and business buildings by way of AI and IoT like local weather management.

And we invested in McPhy, a supplier of electrolysers, and created Hynamics, which is our hydrogen subsidiary.

You mentioned EDF can be trying to develop new enterprise strains that transcend your core energy experience. What can be a superb instance?

Hynamics is a superb instance of how we create new companies, however Exaion is the proper instance of how we goal to decarbonise issues which are possibly a bit removed from energy, however actually impacted by it.

With Exaion we’re constructing the largest platform of blockchain as a service – however decarbonised and European. This implies we’re bringing low-carbon energy to data centres – in fact in France, however they might be anyplace in Europe – and offering a safe, low-carbon platform for everybody who wants blockchain.

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We’re working with, for instance, Société Générale, one of many greatest French funding banks, which is utilizing our blockchain to safe some transactions. We’re additionally working with large French film traders who’ve created a digital token referred to as Klapcoin to finance motion pictures.

Individuals are as a result of it’s coming from EDF. So in fact it’s green and naturally it’s safe. It is a European, state-owned firm. We at present have the fastest-growing blockchain platform in Europe. We’re opening workplaces in Canada, and they’re planning to open an workplace within the US.

For a lot of, EDF stays synonymous with nuclear energy. But, globally, nuclear energy has been on a downward trend since the 1980s, and new builds in Europe immediately akin to at Flamanville in France are delayed and over price range. Present reactors are ageing. Can innovation give this expertise a brand new lease of life?

French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned the energy framework for France is predicated on nuclear, renewables and hydrogen, so we’re engaged on these three areas. For nuclear, particularly, there are two issues: one, how will you optimise new construct, and two, how will you optimise current belongings?

There’s a lot you are able to do. For instance, Metroscope [one of the start-ups we have created] is utilizing AI and ‘digital twins’ to optimise the time for fundamental upkeep work.

I read that half of France’s nuclear fleet was down for upkeep work on the finish of April.

That’s one thing else. Metroscope works on fundamental upkeep that occurs each 3–6 months. There are different points today with our [ageing] crops and people are being tackled by R&D. I can’t touch upon this, however I can inform you that we saved an estimated €15m final 12 months from utilizing Metroscope on simply 4 energy crops. So, for those who can generalise the answer to the entire fleet in France but in addition within the US, for instance, it’s a very cost-effective resolution.

We’re in fact additionally engaged on new methods of manufacturing energy, like in nuclear, SMRs. We’re working with the Nuward workforce – that is our SMR undertaking [EDF is leading the Nuward consortium] – to speed up time to marketplace for SMRs.

However we’re additionally engaged on floating offshore wind farms, for instance, which is a giant subject for us today. There isn’t any trade normal but and everyone seems to be looking for the perfect technical options.

And we’re working to speed up the event of applied sciences round storage, hydrogen and so forth.

How essential are SMRs for you and how briskly may they arrive to market? The idea has been round for years however has by no means made it to business viability.

We have already got hundreds of engineers engaged on our SMR Nuward undertaking. I’m not right here to invent the subsequent nuclear expertise – that’s an R&D job – however I’m right here to speed up and develop new companies.

Because the innovation division, we’re working with our design workforce – not industrial design however creating new methods of working and considering – to assist these engineers speed up time to market. We want to optimise the way in which they work and the inner processes of these nuclear tasks. The Nuward undertaking is because of ship [an SMR] in 2030 and we try to maneuver that ahead by 1–2 years.

Is there something in your innovation portfolio that might assist ship giant nuclear new builds?

Not but. We don’t have an ongoing undertaking on nuclear new construct, however all our AI capabilities will I’m positive be embedded in these tasks going ahead, akin to for EPR2 and possibly additional generations [of reactors], and, for instance, Metroscope and our cybersecurity arm are at present working with the individuals answerable for these tasks.

The place do you see the largest potential for innovation in nuclear?

Optimisation and automation of upkeep is the place innovation may actually make a giant distinction. Past Metroscope we’re testing extra options on this house. Whenever you cease a plant, it’s actually tough to restart it and daily we acquire is a sport changer from a monetary standpoint.

On new builds like SMRs – that’s not an answer we goal particularly for in France as a result of we’ve this fleet [of large nuclear reactors] and the EPR, and so forth – we see numerous innovation with SMRs [being used] for hydrogen to e-fuel era, for instance, however it’s early days.

EDF unveiled a new hydrogen strategy in April 2022. You goal to develop 3GW of electrolytic hydrogen tasks worldwide by 2030. These tasks will contain €2–3bn of funding. How a lot of this hydrogen do you intend to supply with nuclear versus renewable energy? What offtakers do you take into account?

We do not need to select between nuclear and renewables. We’ll do what’s greatest relying on the place we’re constructing the potential. Clearly, in France there will likely be each nuclear and renewables [produced hydrogen]; in Germany it could be absolutely renewable. That’s effective for us.

We’re eager about hydrogen for heavy mobility. We have now already developed a couple of tasks; for instance, in France, in Auxerre, a small group, with buses and possibly trains in future, however we’re additionally working rather a lot to develop decarbonisation tasks for [heavy] trade. Fertilisers, cement – that’s the place we predict hydrogen could have a huge impact. It’s the first expertise to decarbonise these industries.

How do SMRs and hydrogen match collectively?

Take Aéroport de Paris, the airport operator. They’re considering they might produce their very own e-fuels for [airline] companies utilizing the airport, [But] to supply e-fuels you want plenty of energy. You may get this from the community, in fact, however you may also think about this energy coming from your personal crops – your personal SMRs – which may produce plenty of energy in a really small house, in a really safe means.

Energy safety and certainly autonomy has moved centre stage with the war in Ukraine. On high of that we’ve a cost-of-living disaster. EDF is closely indebted but now anticipated to additional speed up the energy transition. What do these circumstances imply for innovation? How do they have an effect on what you concentrate on and what you possibly can ship by when?

We’re nonetheless investing the identical quantity in innovation and R&D as in earlier years. In order that’s round €600m for R&D and roughly €60m a 12 months for start-ups and innovation. It will keep flat for the foreseeable future. So, my first message is, we don’t need to cease investing in innovation.

Second, we’re working actually arduous on demand-side response. We’re serving to our prospects eat much less and we’re working rather a lot with our industrial purchasers on technical options to watch their use of energy and the way they’ll modulate this.

What’s essential for us [when it comes to REPowerEU] is to be a part of the [European] ecosystem. There’s a very vibrant ecosystem in Europe round energy – higher, if I could say, than what we see within the US. It [the US] could be very targeted on a couple of applied sciences: largely {solar}, a couple of hydrogen applied sciences and storage.

How are you divvying up your R&D price range? How a lot are you investing in renewables?

The thought of our R&D division is to work on every little thing energy-related. We have now to learn about each expertise below growth now and within the subsequent 10–15 years. The R&D workforce additionally works on very particular matters akin to applied sciences for nuclear new-build.

Of the €600m R&D price range, about €200m is spent on nuclear and doubtless about €100m on renewables. Our three renewables priorities are floating offshore wind, agriphotovoltaics [where crops are grown underneath elevated solar panels], and we’re additionally exploring wave energy.

The remaining is admittedly about downstream – develop digital applied sciences to raised serve our prospects, and offgrid applied sciences akin to minigrids, for instance. We have now a giant minigrid enterprise in Africa, and we’re growing it in India and South East Asia.

We’re additionally working rather a lot on energy hubs – these are large in Italy – which suggests how do you share energy between a community of consumers. These will also be B2B. You possibly can generate your personal energy and tokenise it – utilizing blockchain – to alternate it.

Lastly, we’re additionally investing in storage belongings – that is additionally very large for us.

Do you face a abilities scarcity?

I don’t assume we face abilities shortages, however it’s very tough these days. That’s why we’re investing in a couple of issues. First we’re working with companions to construct colleges round nuclear energy, largely welding – it is rather tough in Europe to search out nuclear welders. We’re additionally working rather a lot with the engineering group to indicate them how EDF approaches innovation. As a result of when college students have to decide on an organization for his or her first job, they’re largely searching for a accountable firm and an organization that innovates. What we are able to supply [among other things] is the chance to create your personal firm in EDF. Exaion, Metroscope and Hynamics are all examples of this.

Editor’s observe: The EDF Pulse Begin-up Awards are open to purposes from exterior and inner innovators from 10 Might till 24 June 2022.

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Cybersecurity innovation among power industry companies has dropped off in the last year

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Cybersecurity innovation among power industry companies has dropped off in the last year


Analysis and innovation in cybersecurity within the energy business operations and applied sciences sector has declined within the final 12 months.

The newest figures present that the variety of associated patent functions within the business stood at 158 within the three months ending April – down from 203 over the identical interval in 2021.

Figures for patent grants associated to adopted a special sample to filings – rising from 73 within the three months ending April 2021 to 88 in the identical interval in 2022.

The figures are compiled by GlobalData, which tracks patent filings and grants from official workplaces all over the world. Utilizing textual evaluation, in addition to official patent classifications, these patents are grouped into key thematic areas and linked to key corporations throughout numerous industries.

Cybersecurity is likely one of the key areas tracked by GlobalData. It has been recognized as being a key disruptive pressure dealing with corporations within the coming years, and is likely one of the areas that corporations investing assets in now are anticipated to reap rewards from. The figures additionally present an perception into the most important innovators within the sector.

Siemens was the highest innovator within the energy business operations and applied sciences sector within the newest quarter. The corporate, which has its headquarters in Germany, filed 109 associated patents within the three months ending April. That was down from 137 over the identical interval in 2021.

It was adopted by the US-based Honeywell Worldwide with 25 patent functions, South Korea-based Korea Electric Energy (7 functions), and Switzerland-based ABB (6 functions).

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Team creates anode-free Na batteries with high energy densities and long cycle lifetimes

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Team creates anode-free Na batteries with high energy densities and long cycle lifetimes


Graphic displaying how the Sodium batteries developed by the researchers work. The batteries with cooperative interfaces use a graphitic carbon coating as the present collector and BPG because the electrolyte. Credit score: Li et al

In recent times, engineers worldwide have been making an attempt to plan new battery and energy storage applied sciences which might be extra sustainable and cost-effective. One of many options attracting explicit curiosity is sodium-based battery expertise.

Sodium-ion batteries might have quite a few benefits over standard and broadly used lithium-based batteries. Most notably, as is considerable on our planet and could be simply sourced, they could possibly be inexpensive and simple to supply on a large-scale.

Regardless of their potential benefits, most developed to date exhibited low energy densities, as a result of comparatively massive atomic dimension of sodium and its appreciable weight. Usually, these batteries exhibit energy densities beneath 160 Wh kg-1, which is considerably decrease than that of .

Researchers on the Chinese language Academy of Sciences, HiNa Battery Expertise Co., the Yangtze River Delta Physics Analysis Middle, and the Tianmu Lake Institute of Superior Energy Storage Applied sciences have not too long ago launched a design technique to realize sodium-ion batteries with greater energy densities. Their strategy, launched in a paper revealed in Nature Energy, entails the introduction of a graphitic carbon coating contained in the batteries, particularly on the aluminum present collector.

“We report an preliminary anode-free Na with an of over 200 Wh kg-1, which is even greater than that of the industrial LiFePO4||graphite battery,” the researchers wrote of their paper. “By introducing graphitic carbon coating on the Al present collector and boron-containing electrolytes within the battery, we present that uniform nucleation and sturdy interphases allow reversible and crack-free Na deposition.”

The researchers used their design technique to fabricate anode-free sodium batteries. These batteries have been fabricated utilizing an interfacial engineering methodology, and every included a boron-based electrolyte, a graphite present collector and a layered oxide cathode.

They then evaluated their batteries in a collection of checks and located that that they had outstanding energy densities when in comparison with different sodium-based . As well as, their batteries had a protracted cycle lifetime, which counsel that they may reliably function for lengthy intervals of time.

“Benefitting from the synergetic results derived from the constructed cooperative interfaces, the biking lifetime of the Na battery with out making use of extra strain reaches 260 cycles, which is the longest life for large-size cells with zero extra Na,” the researchers added of their paper. “The insights gained from the Na plating/stripping habits and interfacial chemistry on this work pave the way in which for additional improvement of Na batteries with even greater efficiency.”

The preliminary outcomes gathered by this crew of researchers spotlight the promise of their design for creating sodium-based batteries that could possibly be launched on a large-scale in real-world settings. Sooner or later, their paper might encourage different groups to check related design methods, in the end paving the way in which in the direction of the fabrication of latest and implementable sodium-ion battery options.


Researchers develop alternative to lithium batteries


Extra info:
Yuqi Li et al, Interfacial engineering to realize an energy density of over 200 Wh kg−1 in sodium batteries, Nature Energy (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41560-022-01033-6

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AI hiring levels in the power industry rose in May 2022

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AI hiring levels in the power industry rose in May 2022


The proportion of energy trade operations and applied sciences firms hiring for AI-related positions rose considerably in Might 2022 in contrast with the equal month final 12 months, with 52.3% of the businesses included in our evaluation recruiting for at the very least one such place.

This newest determine was larger than the 41.5% of firms that have been hiring for AI-related jobs a 12 months in the past and a rise in comparison with the determine of 49.1% in April 2022.

When it got here to the speed of all job openings that have been linked to AI, associated job postings rose in Might 2022 from April 2022, with 3.1% of newly posted job ads being linked to the subject.

This newest determine was the best month-to-month determine recorded up to now 12 months and is a rise in comparison with the two.5% of newly marketed jobs that have been linked to AI within the equal month a 12 months in the past.

AI is likely one of the matters that GlobalData, from which our knowledge for this text is taken, has recognized as being a key disruptive power dealing with firms within the coming years. Corporations that excel and spend money on these areas now are regarded as higher ready for the longer term enterprise panorama and higher geared up to outlive unexpected challenges.

Our evaluation of the information reveals that energy trade operations and applied sciences firms are at present hiring for AI jobs at a fee equal to the common for all firms inside GlobalData’s job analytics database. The common amongst all firms stood at 3.1% in Might 2022.

GlobalData’s job analytics database tracks the every day hiring patterns of hundreds of firms the world over, drawing in jobs as they’re posted and tagging them with extra layers of knowledge on the whole lot from the seniority of every place as to whether a job is linked to wider trade tendencies.

You’ll be able to hold monitor of the newest knowledge from this database because it emerges by visiting our dwell dashboard here.





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