Mike Theobald, Director: LNG to Power and EPC Delivery, AECOM
What do you see as the key challenges facing gas-to-power in Africa and how is AECOM positioned to overcome these challenges?
Geographic spread of communities and the slow pace of industrialisation creates the reality that the vast majority of the sub-Saharan population are still living without adequate or basic electricity supply. The answer will inevitably be based on bankable infrastructure investment to connect abundant supply with demand. AECOM see power integration such as the 2000km ZTK interconnector where we are already involved as a vital enabler for creating excess grid capacity and stimulating investment in gas to power. Where the cost of transmission infrastructure is prohibitive, LNG to power will have its place in the energy mix among competing applications such as waste to energy, solar and battery storage.
Where do you see the opportunities for growth within the EPC industry in Africa in the next 5 years and how are you positioned to support this?
We are seeing significant planned O&G investment across many areas in Africa. After several years of delays, the rebound in commodity prices is unlocking funding needed for many of these projects to advance. It is particularly encouraging to see large capital project plans in frontier regions. Large capex investment in East Africa (Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya etc.) and West Africa (Ghana with potential in Senegal and Mauritania) are particularly exciting for us.
Specific areas of interest for AECOM include on-shore upstream oil (and some gas) developments, large gas and oil pipelines for both export to world markets and distribution across country boundaries where we believe that the right mix of international experience, local knowledge and leveraging the regional supply chain will be the model for success
How important is the Gas-to-Power Africa Congress as a meeting platform for the industry and what are you most looking forward to at the show?
As individuals we are broad in understanding but relatively narrow in the direct conversations we can have through the normal business rhythm. Bringing organisations across the value chain together to share know-how and form connections helps the diversity of conversation immensely.
We are looking forward to meeting with organisations who we have already been in discussion with across a range of energy projects. The value of 30 minutes of face-to-face discussion can easily surpass multiple dial-ins and video conferences.
Tell us about the session you are speaking on and why you chose to present at the Gas-to-Power Africa Congress?
I am presenting AECOM’s global capabilities in this sector and also participating as a panel member for the world’s first, Delimara 4 LNG to Power project in Malta. AECOM supported ElectroGas Malta for over 4 years from bidding stage to operational delivery. We provided project management, engineering and construction expertise and services across all the development stages and are proud to have been intimately involved with this award winning project.
Another driver is that we are in the early stages of a range of opportunities with similarity to Delimara 4 as well as potential participation in much larger opportunities where we can provide full delivery services for infrastructure in advance of the process and power EPC stage.
What do you see as AECOM’s competitive advantages when it comes to differentiating yourselves from the rest of the field?
Being part of the Delimara 4 story is a great thing and displays what AECOM can bring to the market as a proven delivery capability, however it is much more than that. Direct or close-coupled LNG to Power is still a new concept that did not exist as a joined up and proven solution until now. The most striking point of other progressing developments is that none of them are direct ‘copies’ of Delimara 4. Even when our clients approach us to investigate a similar solution, the outputs from early strategic discussions indicate that what makes Delimara 4 the right sized solution for Malta is not necessarily shared for other locations.
We therefore see AECOM’s competitive advantage in two parts:
- We have full coverage and contemporary expertise in all the sectors needed to converge LNG fuel receipt and storage, ports and harbours, coastal and maritime, process and utilities, infrastructure and power engineering into a solution that is tuned efficiently to the particular requirements of each opportunity.
- Our interaction across diverse clients and value chains allow us to help major global clients look at their strategies as if through the eyes of smaller ‘fleet of foot’ developers to challenge their concept ideas and development norms. Corollary, through AECOM’s connectivity with larger organisations, we can also assist our smaller developer clients with introductions and help fast track strategies to create packaged bankable investment opportunities.
What have been the key developments in AECOM in the last 5 years?
Today’s AECOM business of 87,000 skilled personnel operating from a truly global office network is the result of substantial M&A activity, most notably the acquisition of URS in 2015 to broadly double our size. Together, these created global reach, very deep and broad capability at the same time as laying firm foundations for AECOM’s growth through its integrated design, build, finance and operate services strategy. This is a response to emerging market demand for integrated infrastructure solutions.
What are AECOM’s goals for the next 12 months?
We have two goals directly related to growth in LNG to Power. The first is to fully implement our global energy sector strategy to finesse the way that market intelligence, best practice and resources are efficiently shared across operating groups and geographies. The second is to implement integrated DBFO solutions in the EMIA (Europe, Middle East, India, Africa) energy sector by migrating proven ways of working from our Americas business, where DBFO solutions are commonplace. We anticipate that these changes will accelerate our growth by providing leading edge solutions that we know our clients are seeking.
How will regulatory and climate interests impact future natural gas supply and demand?
From a carbon reduction energy mix perspective, the case for switching to gas is already clear and widely supported by regulatory and climate policies. The switch is even more compelling when Global LNG supply is expected to double over the next 25 years with 40% of that increase achieved within the next 5 years, outpacing demand significantly. The demand outcome therefore seems to be more predicated on policies that unlock industrialisation and urbanization, the latter to meet significant population growth.
How is the gas and LNG supply/demand balance adapting to today’s market needs?
Having a robust time based energy strategy and governmental backing is of paramount importance. Accurate projection of the energy needs for the next 25 to 30 years and then mapping the most likely and appropriate technologies to meet short and longer term requirements is essential for sustainable value chain alignment and positioning, and provides confidence for inwards investment. The Malta model worked well in this perspective as it plugged a gap that was urgently needed and allowed longer term renewables and interconnectors to continue progressing. It can now generate clean energy and even use the power interconnector to export to the European Grid via Sicily.
Describe yourself in 5 words.
Inquisitive, outgoing, inclusive, candid, strategic. A lot of my character is rooted in 3 pieces of guidance my father gave me at the start of my career, I cannot recall the exact words but they were along the lines of:
“Make sure you know what you are talking about, before you talk”
“Listen to what is being asked”
“Remember you are always part of a team”
How do you define success in your career?
I cannot think of a better measure of success than fully enjoying your own career and enabling others to be their best so they enjoy theirs also.
What are three things still left on your bucket list?
Extended sailing voyage, having my (unfinished) book published, taking the family on safari…but it’s a big bucket!
Mike Theobald is AECOM’s global LNG to power lead where he is a business unit director providing EPC delivery solutions across EMIA with oversight across a range of sectors including energy and power. As executive director of AECOM’s involvement on the Delimara 4 LNG to power project in Malta, Mike was instrumental in supporting and guiding the client on a broad range of value chain and development strategies from early bidding through to contract award stages, and also provided leadership to the construction delivery team.
Prior to joining AECOM, Mike worked across a range of sectors, largely focused on power, process and industrial. He has over 25 years’ project identification, development and project management experience and has worked in various positions and on multiple assignments focused on delivering capital expenditure and operational delivery safely, and under robust governance. Mike majored in mechanical engineering and started his career with Davy International in the UK and has also worked within other large EPC organisations such as John Brown and Kvaerner.