EDF, the French electricity company with a global footprint, is the world leading nuclear power generating utility.
In France, where 80 per cent of electricity is generated by nuclear power, EDF considers Rolls-Royce as a key partner in the supply of all the Instrumentation & Control (I&C) systems required to manage reactor performance and provide emergency shutdown if necessary.
Dominique Minière, Executive Vice President of EDF and Head of Nuclear Power Plant Operations in France, has 19,000 people to manage. ‘My main daily challenge is to produce electricity in complete safety. Produce and safety are two words which I never separate,’ he stresses.
‘Our principal challenge, over the next decade, will be the renovation of all our plants. Eighty per cent of them were built between 1980 and 1990. That means their average age is 24 and so we are entering a period when we will have to renovate some of the major components, such as the pumps which have a static part which just needs to be checked and an hydraulic part which must be entirely dismantled and the coils changed,’ Dominique says. ‘Sometimes it's cheaper and faster to simply change a part than to try and renovate it,’ he adds. ‘But in any case we are bound to dramatically increase our spending on renovation between now and 2020 because we want these plants to work for more than 40 years. US reactors, among which we operate four, have today currently licences to operate for 60 years.’
With power plants lasting such a long time, how does EDF take innovation and new technologies on board? ‘Well, certain major things such as the vessel would not be changed over the whole life-cycle of the plant,’ Dominique explains. But, he adds, ‘during the major check-ups, so once every ten years, we would seek to integrate any new technology which has come along and which we feel would be useful. We're particularly looking for equipment which can easily be inspected during the shorter shut-downs.’
One area, however, which has changed considerably over the years is the I&C which have a direct influence on operational availability, efficiency and safety of the reactors.
‘Electronic circuits made today don't last as long as those made 30 years ago: those were less complex but more robust.’ A bit like cars. The issue with these fast-changing technologies is one of obsolescence. ‘We have to be very careful,’ warns Dominique, ‘because if a company stops making an instrument or parts that we need it can have serious consequences.’
This is why he is so pleased with the 25-year ‘Perennité’ (Perennial or long-term support) agreement signed with Rolls-Royce in 2003. ‘It is a win-win solution: we win because Rolls-Royce agreed to continue manufacturing and supporting the I&C we need, which solves the obsolescence problem, and in return we agreed to guarantee a certain income to Rolls-Royce every year for 25 years. We only have long-term contracts such as this one with a very few companies, three or four at most,’ he notes. Complex For Rolls-Royce the guaranteed income enabled the group to develop its nuclear business, notably in Eastern Europe and China. But it was also a steep learning curve. As Françoise Baillon-Martos, Head of Customer Services Department and EDF Customer Relationship Manager, remarks: ‘It was not easy, for example, to increase an annual production rate of few highly complex sensors made by experienced craftsmen to double or triple amounts per year. But for Dominique that is water under the bridge.
‘The advantage of such a long-term relationship is that we can just sit down around a table and talk out any problems or issues we may have. It's a good, intelligent partnership,’ he says forcefully, ‘which we want to develop over time.’
This relationship is an example of the important role played by Rolls-Royce in the civil nuclear market. Providing such long-term support solutions for nuclear plants is key for Rolls-Royce. For nuclear plants that are young, ie less than ten years old, the Rolls-Royce long-term support solution, which is tailor-made for each customer, includes providing technical assistance, expertise, on-site maintenance, repairs, supply of spare parts and customer training. For mature nuclear plants the same services are provided, but refurbishment and limited modifications are added to the list. For lifetime extensions, like those required by EDF today, the solution offered by Rolls-Royce includes upgrading, modification and retrofit.
For Françoise, key to the success of the partnership with EDF is not only that its scope and performance objectives are well defined but also that there is permanent collaboration between them ‘which is built on trust and confidence at all levels over time,’ and ‘Rolls-Royce being proactive in finding solutions.’