OPPORTUNITIES ABOUND

Abu Dhabi 2019 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ali Vezvaei, Executive President & CEO of Bilfinger Middle East, on its keys areas of focus in the UAE, trends in the hydrocarbons sector, and the application of energy efficiency technologies to new sectors.

Ali Vezvaei
BIOGRAPHY
Ali Vezvaei is the Executive President & CEO at Bilfinger Middle East, where he oversees the group's engineering and operating companies in the region, focusing on the oil and gas and petrochemical sectors, energy utilities and water, as well as biopharma industries. With many years of experience as a senior executive in the energy and hydrocarbon industries, prior to joining Bilfinger Tebodin Vezvaei served as the President, Middle East & North Africa of Linde Engineering and as a global senior vice president of Siemens Oil & Gas, among other senior management positions at the German conglomerate. He has published several papers for the industry with Cambridge University Press. He earned his executive education at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School and holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

What are your key priorities in the UAE, and how do they reflect the trends in the country and Middle East?

The dynamics around us define and refine our priorities. The UAE and Middle East are transforming away from a traditional, purely hydrocarbons-based industry and using that natural wealth to diversify and build a future of efficiency and sustainability. Bilfinger is well positioned within these plans. Our century-long focus and expertise in both the worlds of CAPEX and OPEX give us the privilege to serve our clients along the entire value chain and support their efforts not only to build things better, but also to run and manage them more efficiently and sustainably. On the CAPEX side, we begin with an idea all the way to detailed value engineering and then onto the project to ensure that the money being spent results in the highest return.

How do you project the recent asset allocation toward natural gas impacting the hydrocarbon industry?

New exploration, marginal fields, sour and ultra-sour, and even unconventional assets have all come into focus, albeit at a higher production cost, thanks in part to energy security considerations and the economic viability of the petrochemical industry. However, there is an internal source of productivity and additional capacity that is not fully explored. It starts with basic efficiency measures in the power sector to produce more with the same, enhanced desalination solutions to reduce power consumption, integration of refining, and petrochemical assets to better utilize side streams and leverage hydrogen, CO, and CO2 as strategic molecules. Furthermore, the energy and hydrocarbon industry have not truly tapped into enormous technological possibilities here. The role of digital transformation starts in better designs and more efficient processes but stretches on far beyond into the world of data; digitization will have a much bigger impact on enhancing operations.

What is the biggest challenge of the oil and gas industry in the UAE and Middle East?

Apart from the markets' volatility translating into more pressure on the margins, unconventional supplies continue to drive the cost race. For Middle East producers, blessed by the low lifting cost, the game is all around the availability, reliability, and maintenance. As long as the oil price is around USD70-75, shale producers have a healthy cash flow and solid margins to service their debt and continue to drill. The same holds true for Middle East producers, even though the elements are somewhat different. At this oil price, the net margins are healthy, allowing the social cost and economic spending to continue at the right pace. The challenge comes when the needle drops to around USD40-50. That is where social priorities prevail, growth CAPEX freezes, and the entire eco-system suffers. This very familiar and somewhat cyclical scenario suggests continuous focus on cost reduction, efficiency, and productivity is more than prudent.

How can energy efficiency technologies and concepts be applied to the power generation issue that the UAE faces?

There are many opportunities on this front; the basic rules of thermodynamics that suggests a combined cycle power plant provides much higher efficiency to advanced technologies like Bilfinger's Heat-Reclaimer that looks at that efficient combined cycle power plant and finds another few percentages of efficiency to be extracted. On the other hand, looking at the significant installed thermal generation capacity in the UAE, we could build a bridge between concentrated solar and existing thermal generation units through another innovative technology that Bilfinger has developed HyCSP. Desalination processes also have to be revisited given very high energy consumption in both thermal and RO units. We have managed to crack the code with some of our patented solutions along with our partners. Keeping in mind that industry is conservative and is not comfortable with revolutionary solutions, we are taking incremental steps, co-piloting some of these and showcasing the results.