Q&A with Antin Infrastructure Partners and IDEX

In 2018, the City of Nice in southern France signed a 25-year contract with IDEX to design, finance, realise, operate, and maintain a heating and cooling network as well as to implement a smart grid for energy efficiency. IDEX is implementing this project in the 500,000m² Nice Méridia district, which is home to office space, retail, leisure, housing, schools, and a hospital.

IDEX created a smart grid that uses 80% renewable energy, mainly geothermal and solar. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 20% and lowers consumer energy bills by as much as 40%. The project uses dedicated fibre, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, communications technology, data analysis, internet of things (IoT), smart sensors, and renewable energy technologies.

A case study for the project was developed in collaboration among the GI Hub, World Economic Forum, and Antin Infrastructure Partners, the majority shareholder in IDEX. The full case study is shared in the GI Hub’s InfraTech (infrastructure technology) case study library.

Today, Antin Infrastructure Partners’ Principal Alex Kesseler and IDEX’s Eduard Maldonado, Director of the Nice Meridia project, join us to share further insights on the technologies used in the project.

Q: Can you provide us a brief overview of the solution IDEX has created in Nice Méridia, and specifically its unique and innovative features?

A: IDEX has created one of the first Smart Energy Networks to be fully realised, combining renewable energies with intelligent consumption and storage. Five new approaches have been introduced into the local energetic ecosystem:

  • Flexibility and energy aggregation
  • Energy sharing among users
  • Coaching on energy usage
  • Introduction of local energy managers
  • Open information system and interfaces.

Q: What makes this project so attractive in terms of energy transition?

A: The production of energy is eco-friendly, via geothermal energy, photovoltaic panels, and thermo-fridge pumps. Heat and cold are then transported through a district heating and cooling network, allowing for energy efficient distribution. Finally, the smart grid uses artificial intelligence to provide for only the energy actually needed to meet demand, while any energy oversupply can be stored for later use.

Q: The City of Nice has made a long-term commitment to smart grid technology with this project. Did the longer-term nature of the 25-year contract present any specific opportunities or challenges, at any stage?

A: The long-term contract was a major enabler of the project, as significant up-front investments were required, but the alignment of key stakeholders in the public and private sector was also critical to the project’s success.

The alignment of all stakeholders obviously required time, but this can also be considered as an up-front investment. Interests are now fully aligned, among the municipality, the region, the state government institutions, and private companies – enabling a successful rollout.

In addition, the agreement has been specifically designed to allow smooth integration of further innovations and new types of energy at a later date, once they are mature for integration.

Q: IDEX is delivering the project under a DBFOM (design, build, finance, operate and maintain) contract. In what ways did the contract structure influence the InfraTech solutions that were considered and ultimately selected?

A: The long-term nature of the contract and the end-to-end responsibility provided us with the ability to combine proven clean energy solutions and innovative new technologies. Strong buy-in by all involved stakeholders was crucial to implement the project. In addition, the contractual framework of a Public Service Delegation ensures ongoing alignment of interests and risk-sharing among IDEX and public authorities.

Q: Were there any notable lessons learnt related to the InfraTech used on this project?

A: The cooperation of multiple public and private stakeholders enabled the realisation of an innovative energy transition project, which will be economically viable in the long-term.

A lesson learnt during the project was the need to integrate the establishment of a Smart Energy Network into the building permit process. At that early stage, real estate developers must commit to participate in the Smart Energy Network and to install all required equipment.

Q: Are there plans to further extend the technology used in Nice Méridia?

A: Yes, the 25-year concession contract is designed to foster the integration of new, even more efficient technologies. As part of that contract, IDEX will actively monitor the emergence of new technologies throughout the concession period. If a new technology is identified by IDEX, it will be offered to the conceding authorities, who can then decide whether or not to implement the technology. This allows the Smart Energy Network to benefit from the latest technologies across its full lifespan.

For example, a new concept of a local energy economy might be set up. The underlying idea is to allow small energy producers, such as building owners, to sell their energy locally. This would avoid the need for energy to be transported over longer distances.

Q: What has been the community and client response to the project?

A: The response was extremely positive, as the project provides clean energy with lower greenhouse gas emissions at significantly lower cost. Moreover, the proximity of homes, work, schools, and other public infrastructure is highly appreciated by the local community. The occupancy rate of the commercial buildings and private dwellings is in line with the ambitious plan.

Q: Where do you see opportunities for technology to be more frequently and fully adopted on energy projects more broadly? And in what ways do you think the sector is making good use of technology?

A: There are many opportunities to create Smart Energy Networks. Depending on the local environment, the sources of energy might be different due to geologic formations, insulation, climatic conditions, etc. Nevertheless, while parts of this highly innovative project can be adjusted to take into account specific conditions, the Smart Energy Network technology remains the backbone that optimises the production, storage, and usage of energy. This will be a key enabler for efficient deployment of renewable energies.

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