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You need to climb higher to see further ahead

When you think about Sustainable Development, it's usually wind turbines or solar panels that come to mind. Nicolas Eyraud has a broader vision. Although he sees green electricity as the future of our planet, for him renewable heat is equally important. And he has plenty of arguments on his side.

Sensitive to environmental issues

A brilliant engineer trained at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussée in Paris, then at Imperial College London, Nicolas Eyraud is passionate about everything environment-related. Air quality, pollution, climate change, and so on, all fascinate this lover of winter sports and rowing, always up for a mountain or forest hike. And with a mother working at EDF, he was bound to be interested in the world of energy, and its challenges. His research was all about controlling energy consumption, and he put his skills into practice at the engineering office, Tribu. "My first one-year internship taught me a lot about the overall design of sustainable buildings, along with experts whose disciplined approach aims to find a balance between reducing energy consumption and providing comfort to residents." Nicolas assisted architects during the pre-project phase, on bioclimatic issues and the calculation of consumption. He also monitored the progress of projects, which reinforced his desire to work on the ground, as well as buildings in operation.

Heating buildings, not the climate

Keen to complete his studies with a module related to energy production, Nicolas moved to the UK and chose renewable energy as his main subject. When he discovered that two-thirds of the energy produced by thermal and nuclear power plants evaporates into thin air, the subject of his dissertation was decided: how can waste heat from power plants be used in district heating networks? "I found that heat networks are an excellent solution for sustainable development. Using waste heat from a plant means its energy efficiency rises to over 80%." He studied networks in Copenhagen, Reykjavik and Paris. The latter, run by a subsidiary of ENGIE, CPCU, hired him as a project manager for distribution network activities. "I look after the pipes under the streets of Paris, from the boiler to the end customer." Users include schools, swimming pools, nurseries, museums, commercial offices, social housing and large Parisian housing complexes. And Nicolas has multiple missions, including extending the district heating network, maintaining its maze of pipes, and managing projects. "I like the diversity of my work and contacts, from handling technical aspects with our teams and engineering offices, to dealing with regulatory issues with local authorities and elected officials, as well as government and corporate clients." Alongside a three-year pipeline maintenance plan, he is currently developing a network in the North-East of the capital, powered by geothermal energy. Like something out of a Jules Verne novel, hot water rises from the centre of the Earth from a 2000-metre well.

A constant challenge

A district heating system must never break down. Especially in winter. Nicolas quickly grasped the difficulty of this continuity of service in spring 2014, when he discovered the extent of work needed to renovate a strategic pipeline between Vitry and Ivry. The pipe carries water from the Seine to a boiler where it is converted into steam. Two kilometres, and lots of leaks. "I was told: it's impossible, we’ll never be able to do it in six months. And it's true that with the various technical issues, road problems, permissions, files to be submitted to town councils and regional authorities, etc. it was a race against time. But we got there and the pipeline was delivered to the operator in October.”

"I feel like I have a job with a purpose"

The concept of sustainable heat is very important to Nicolas, who is convinced that it's a promising solution for the future. "Calculated in equivalent housing, our networks allow about 1/3 of Parisians to heat their home using 50% renewable or recovered energy." With waste incineration, wood pellets, geothermal power, and more, production methods are diversifying. And while the use of gas is still necessary, it can be used for cogeneration plants that generate both electricity and heat, an environmentally friendly mode of production. ENGIE's strategy of accelerating energy transition is an additional source of motivation for the young man. "The Group’s strategy is completely in line with my values and my mindset. Energy solutions are becoming increasingly decentralised, tailored to local circumstances. It is an amazing opportunity, both professionally and from a personal point of view, to be a part of this transition.”

With his thirst for knowledge, Nicolas knows he has chosen the right company to satisfy his curiosity. "This is one of the most diverse groups in the energy world, it's a chance to flourish through a multitude of projects both in France and abroad. " He is now planning new experiences, perhaps in solar or wind power.

Guillaume Escala