DUBAI: Like many executives around the world, Bruno Bensasson wasn’t on a plane much last year. One of the few flights he recently took was to Riyadh to review the progress of two massive renewable energy projects. This shows the French company’s commitment to both the UK and the renewable energy sector.

Saudi Arabia aims to generate 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, the rest from gas. Bensasson is Chairman and CEO of EDF Renewables, a subsidiary of the French state-controlled energy company EDF.

His flight to the kingdom was scheduled for the unveiling of a solar power plant in Jeddah being built in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar and the privately owned Saudi company Nesma Co.

The consortium received the 300 megawatt utility-scale photovoltaic solar power plant from the Saudi Energy Ministry after submitting a bid of SR 60 ($ 16.24) per megawatt hour. The group signed a 25-year electricity purchase agreement and the facility is expected to be operational in 2022.

“These large-scale renewable plants are in perfect harmony with the CAP 2030 strategy of the EDF Group, which aims to double the global net capacity for renewable energies between 2015 and 2030 from 28 to 60 gigawatts net,” said Bensasson currently .

At the end of 2020, 13.7 percent of EDF’s electricity production came from renewable energies, 76.5 percent from nuclear power plants, 9.3 percent from fossil fuels (excluding coal) and the remaining 0.4 percent from coal.

EDF Renewables’ other major project in the UK is the 400 megawatt Dumat Al-Jandal utility-scale wind farm project, located 900 kilometers north of Riyadh in the Al-Jouf region. Construction of the Middle East’s largest wind farm began in August 2020 and reached halfway in April of this year.

“We are now aiming to have all turbines in operation by the fall of 2021,” Bensasson told Arab News. Similar to the solar power plant, the wind farm was built as part of a consortium of EDF Renewables and Masdar.

The $ 500 million wind farm will comprise 99 wind turbines with an output of 4.2 megawatts each. The first turbine is predicted to start generating electricity in the coming weeks and when completed will provide electricity to 70,000 Saudi households per year and save 988,000 tons of carbon dioxide, helping the kingdom achieve its 2030 vision and Saudi environmental goals. As with many projects around the world, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has slightly delayed the progress of the project. “Over the past year, employees and construction workers have had some difficulty accessing the site. We understand this very well, so it took us a few months – several months – to get a chance to access the website, ”said Bensasson.

It wasn’t just the wind farm that was affected – the coronavirus affected the entire region. The Middle East saw its renewable energy capacity grow 5 percent last year, up from 13 percent in 2019, according to the United Arab Emirates-based International Renewable Energy Agency.

However, the global agency said that despite slower growth in 2020, Saudi Arabia’s capacity has grown significantly over the past nine years – from just 3 megawatts to 413 megawatts in 2020.

Bensasson has been in the renewable energy industry for nearly 20 years but believes the technology is only now becoming a reality.

He said, “It’s my everyday reality, it’s really a booming reality. I would say that it has really changed since 2010. To give you a number: in 2000, 70 percent of solar energy was developed in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Spain. And you will agree that they are not the biggest or sunniest countries. And the same goes for wind. It’s very different. China and India currently account for around 60 percent of the growth. “Many countries have chosen it.

I would say the reason for this shift is twofold: one is economic and the other ecological. Bensasson added that another contributing factor to the growing popularity of renewable energy is the cost of wind production, which is decreasing 8 percent per year and solar energy by about 15 percent per year, making them “easy solutions for many countries” .

EDF has been active in the Middle East for 20 years and has offices in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain and Doha with 199 employees.