STRONGER THAN YESTERDAY

UAE, Dubai 2015 | ENERGY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Benoit Dubarle, President of Schneider Electric UAE, Oman, & Pakistan, on Dubai's potential as a smart city and the work that the company does in the Emirate.

What have been your milestones in the past year?

We are continuing to grow very quickly. There has been double-digit, record growth in the region, and subsequently we are investing more here. Today, in Dubai we have more than 1,500 employees, mainly engineers, to cover the Gulf region. We are present in all the GCC countries. It is a continuous investment in local resources to support our growth. More precisely, we have taken two new initiatives in 2014. Firstly, we created a stronger services department with about 450 people dedicated to maintaining our equipment that is installed in various infrastructure in the region. Good maintenance of the equipment allows for more energy savings for the organizations. It is a big focus at the moment for us to invest and to support our customers with this services business model. The other important thing that happened was Schneider Electric's acquisition of a large worldwide corporation, Invensys, at the beginning of 2014. Locally, we are also merging our team with this company. This means about 450 additional engineers are joining Schneider Electric in the Gulf. Invensys specializes in process automation, and is very active in the oil, gas, and water sectors, where there is a strong need for the control and monitoring of processes. It is therefore an interesting element to add to Schneider's capabilities in the energy segment.

Which of Schneider Electric's business segments has the most importance in Dubai and the UAE?

We have seven targeted segments that bring us the strongest growth and where there is a strong differentiation in our offer to our customers. The first one is oil and gas, where we have a dedicated team to follow the sector from the beginning of pre-fitting to the installation of our equipment in the field. The second one is water infrastructure, which is very important in this region. We provide not only the electricity needed to treat the water and run the desalination and wastewater plants, but also all the software needed to monitor these plants, with a clear focus on making them save energy. Water is a significant consumer of energy at a country level, so saving electricity in the water segment represents a big saving in global energy spending. The third segment is energy, especially oil and gas. Energy is part of the utility sector in our world. Here what we focus on is delivering electrical solutions equipment and also the smart grid software that allows the utility providers to manage their energy supplies in the most efficient way possible. The fourth segment is more in the real estate segment, especially hotels. There are many hotels in Dubai and across the UAE. The authorities plan to grow the tourism industry, and we are partnering with hotel chains to provide facilities with fully integrated automation for air conditioning, video surveillance, and everything else that is smart. The fifth segment is healthcare. There are a lot of healthcare investments in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC, where we have very specific solutions to provide secured energy in an operation theater, for example. Another segment is data centers. More and more data is needed all the time, and this is where we can provide a full turnkey data center for storing and securing data. The last segment is the smart city concept itself. The point at the country level is to make all the component parts communicate together to have a layer of data control that manages the data, the water, and the grid as one.

“We have seven targeted segments that bring us the strongest growth."

What is the potential for Dubai to become a smart city and how can Schneider Electric contribute to this goal?

I think Dubai is already a smart city to some extent, and there is a big focus on bringing it to the next level. For example, there are a number of data and operational services you can do with public services through your smartphone. Now they want to go to the next level, and in every public entity we do business with currently, there is an extremely strong focus on transforming themselves into a smart entity. We provide a lot of training for these entities. Schneider Electric is well recognized in this field globally. We are one of the top three companies worldwide in terms of creating smart cities, along with Cisco and IBM. And we are already recognized as a strong player in the region because we have been present for 30 years and are heavily involved in regional development. The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is just one example, monitoring the energy grid and also monitoring the controls in buildings, such as hotels.

How important are public-private partnerships (PPPs) in developing the energy sector in Dubai?

I think they are critical. The public sector will operate the energy sector. It can be the utilities or the oil and gas sector. However, private companies would provide the people who can design this sector, as per public entity wishes. There is a way to find the right expert private companies to deliver and build these infrastructures. It is obviously essential and important to have these types of arrangements and understandings between the public and private sectors, and I think it is already happening.

Dubai is developing an integrated energy strategy to improve its energy matrix by 2030. What are the main challenges that Dubai has to face in this sector?

The smart grid is really something that Dubai should embrace, and we have high-level workshops with DEWA and other authorities in this area. Demand is clearly rising in the Dubai energy sector, and there are several initiatives by the Dubai government to try to control this. One is being carried out by DEWA. It has a department called Etihad Energy Services (Etihad ESCO), which specializes in doing energy saving work on existing buildings. They encourage the private sector to save energy by retro-fitting their buildings with better technology that will allow their buildings to consume less. This is the demand side of the issue, where we can decrease the consumption of energy through existing infrastructure. Schneider Electric is the main provider of this type of technology for these buildings. Then there is the production side. In every country and city, there are certain seasons where you consume more than in other seasons. All of this should be managed to properly dimension new investments into producing new plants. This is about demand response technology managed by a smart grid. It's about supply. It's important to monitor this consumption based on data so that we can adapt production in real time. In the UAE there is certainly some progress needed on smart grid implementation. It's also one of DEWA's main priorities at the moment to be able to produce just enough energy in accordance with what customers need in real time, while not overproducing and creating more of a carbon footprint.

What are your main plans for investment in the region in 2015?

We will continue to invest heavily to accompany our growth and support our customers. The services area is something that will continue to grow. In these emerging countries, companies are usually focused on building, and then they forget to maintain what they have built. There is a real demand for that and on energy efficiency because when it's not maintained, it's not energy efficient. Utilities in the Gulf are also something that we are putting a bigger focus on at the moment because there is an understanding that today doing utilities is inefficient. There is a need to develop this smart grid and smart utility approach. That is another area we will focus on specifically in 2015. We will keep the rest of our activities as they are today: oil and gas, data centers, and industrial applications.

© The Business Year - November 2014