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EDF’s strategy to attract talents for renewable energy transition

Deux jeunes développeurs pendant le hackathon de Laval Virtual sponsorisé par EDF

EDF and its subsidiary Exaion were partners in the hacktathon competition at Laval Virtual 2023.

Crédits photos : Laval Virtual

EDF was a partner of the 25th edition of Laval Virtual, the event on virtual reality and the metaverse. With its branch Exaion, the company played a role of mentor during the student competitions (Limited Time and Demo). An opportunity for the French energy group to express its interest in immersive technologies. We talked about this partnership with Christian Taillebois, Head of Communications at EDF Pays de la Loire, and Alexis Bezverkhyy, Cloud Architecte at Exaion.

EDF was a sponsor of the 25th edition of Laval Virtual, the event on virtual reality and the metaverse. What was the purpose of this partnership between EDF and Laval Virtual?

Christian Taillebois: EDF is established all over the Pays de la Loire region and hires 5,000 employees. We want to demonstrate our local presence by being a partner of a number of events, as well as show our support to initiatives, to actors and to local dynamics. In the Mayenne region, Laval Virtual seemed essential to us.

Especially as immersive technologies are already very much alive in our businesses. Virtual reality and augmented reality are used in many jobs of EDF: in training, to train operators, to simulate the installation of equipment in our facilities, etc. It’s already a reality for us, and will be even more so tomorrow. That’s why we are very attentive to new immersive developments. That’s another reason why we’re interested in Laval Virtual and why we’ve been partners for the past 2 years.

Why did you decide to support this event, and the hackathon in particular, which is a student competition?

Christian Taillebois: It’s always rewarding to listen to the young generations, to give them a chance to speak and to give them a voice on issues that concern us all. Being aware of what’s going on around us is one of the levers of our innovation. That’s why we wanted to sponsor the hackathon by suggesting a theme that interested us.

Our desire is also to show that EDF is a company interested in immersive technologies. It’s hard to guess, but there are many great careers to pursue in digital at EDF and Exaion. So, being a partner of the students’ competitions is also an opportunity to express it and to get in touch with young talents that are studying those subjects with the goal of convincing them to join us. The purpose of this partnership is not only to give funding, but also to build a competition together, be part of the jury and the evaluation, and be able to meet with young people. That’s what we managed to do together, and we’re very happy about it!

The topic of this year hackathon was: “Collaborative XR for industry”. What was the conclusion of the 30-hour challenge?

Alexis Bezverkhyy: I had a great time! First, I would like to say that the hackathon is a very high-quality event. There is a pre-selection phase for the schools, so the candidates present were highly motivated. Then, it’s quite impressive to see them develop 3D and virtual reality applications in such a short time, and to test the demos. They managed to make the most of a problem that may have confused them at first, because they were expecting a video game theme. In the end, the productions were very interesting.

Some of them focused on EDF issues, even though this wasn’t a requirement at all. They made games where you find yourself in a regional office of a local authority and have to choose where to place wind turbines on a 3D map, with real-time constraints. This is a real problem for EDF! So we referred them to EDF Pulse [EDF Pulse is the EDF Group’s innovation network, ed.] to showcase their solution at another event.

Exaion is an EDF branch that explores Web3. Can you tell us how you use these technologies?

Alexis Bezverkhyy: The company was created in 2020 to offer infrastructure services around blockchain and high-performance computing. The first purpose was to increase the value of EDF’s IT equipment. A lot of hardware is not fully used, or is in the process of being recycled. For example, EDF uses supercomputers for 2-3 years before replacing them. But these are still high-value super-machines and servers.

At Exaion, we recondition these machines and power them with EDF’s largely decarbonized energy mix, to offer our customers services with a carbon footprint well below that of traditional market players (38 gCO2/kWh on average, compared with 350 g for North American players, and 600 g in Asia).

Our first area of work was blockchain. Today, we’ve created a service called Exaion Node. This enables companies to access blockchain nodes on demand. For example, a bank that wants to create applications can subscribe to nodes in a matter of seconds and be connected to the blockchain of interest, all on a low-carbon, sovereign and high-performance infrastructure. If they develop an application and simply use the peer-to-peer network, there’s no guarantee that the server will be available and able to handle the traffic the company is sending it. We therefore enable these banks in particular to secure transactions on the blockchain.

Does Exaxion offer other services besides blockchain?

Yes, we do offer other services, such as Exaion Studio. Its aim is to provide infrastructure for graphic designers and animation studios. This takes the form of remote workstations and render farms. The problem for people working in animation, for example, is that final rendering takes several weeks because it’s so computationally intensive. At Exaion, we offer them our advantages: data centers in France, low-carbon electricity and, above all, EDF’s super-hardware. So we have all the keys to meeting their needs.

Finally, with Exaion Compute, we offer secure, resilient edge computing solutions to large corporate customers for high-performance computing and artificial intelligence projects. To deliver these services, we rely on our technical expertise in high-performance computing, datacenters and cybersecurity. This range enables Exaion to be a provider of cloud infrastructure solutions on digital twins and on the metaverse for Industry 4.0.

Start-ups and companies generally come to Laval Virtual with specific problems, in the hope of finding solutions to them. Was this also the case for Exaion? How would you sum up your presence at the show?

Alexis Bezverkhyy: For my part, I focused on the hackathon. With the Exaion team, we hadn’t come to Laval Virtual yet. So we were able to discover the exhibition for the first time. It was a great way of taking the temperature, seeing which companies were present and what solutions they were looking for. Laval Virtual is a great event. I had heard of it, but had never been. The fact that we’ve managed to create it in France is quite unique.

Christian Taillebois: For EDF, many employees from various entities came to the event. We are using immersive technologies so we have to stay attentive to all new developments and solutions that may emerge in this fast-moving market. Laval Virtual is the place where EDF’s business units come to evaluate the situation.

Exaion describes itself as a low-carbon supplier, and is very proud of this approach. Has the environment become the most important issue for EDF today?

Alexis Bezverkhyy: At Exaion, reducing carbon emissions is a central issue. Everyday, we optimize the use of ressources in data centers. We have two data centers in Normandy, France, which benefit from the most carbon-free electricity possible. We also have a project to develop a data center in Canada to be launched shortly. From the design phase, we integrated a heat recovery system for heating buildings. It’s not just a display. They are daily challenges in terms of carbon footprint, and we also want to involve our clients. Soon they will be able to follow on their dashboard their carbon emissions generated by their consumption of cloud services.

Moreover, Exaion valorizes EDF’s decommissioned IT equipment: TOP500 supercomputers to which we give a second lease of life, and which we put to 100% use throughout their lifetime. The machines that we use are still extremely performing and updated. We also use other processes to reduce our carbon footprint even further: passive cooling, power shedding and the use of energy-efficient proof-of-stake blockchain protocols. All these measures have enabled us to achieve this remarkable score of 38 gCO2/kWh.

Christian Taillebois: The challenges of carbon neutrality are at the heart of the EDF Group’s missions. For us, CO2 emissions are the enemy. We are already well ahead of the game because 96% of the electricity produced by EDF in France is low-carbon, thanks to nuclear and renewable energies. Our goal is to move forward with our clients towards decarbonization. We provide them with solutions to gradually phase out the use of fossil fuels, boost energy efficiency and develop sobriety. Being a player in the energy transition is what drives us all every day.

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