“The progress we've made on sustainability has been stuttering at times. I think we've got to harness all of the power, creativity, and ambition of the human being to drive this forward.”
This is how Nial McCollam, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Lloyd’s Register, described the journey toward decarbonization for the energy industry on a panel discussion on Building Sustainable Futures at the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Forum 2021.
That both power companies and their end users in transport, industry, offices, and homes need to work even harder to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change is clear, not least since the conclusion of the COP26 Summit in Glasgow. But there are several challenges that need to be resolved—the question is how this can be achieved in time for the Paris Agreement’s looming 2050 net-zero emissions target.
The power of ecosystems for the energy transition
Dr Lene Hviid, Global Key Accounts Manager – Metals, Shell, believes the answer lies in ecosystem play. She says, “I am a true believer in that we cannot do it alone. We need to have the right partnerships, not only working with policymakers but also with all parts of the society around us.”
This is particularly critical for the ‘hard-to-abate’ sectors such as steelmaking and the cement, glass, and paper industries. They are heavily reliant on fossil fuels as feedstock for their processes, and are among the greatest CO2 emitters globally.
Moving to net zero carbon emissions is technically challenging and requires high levels of investment. Given that many low-carbon or carbon-free technologies are only just entering the mainstream, there is also a higher element of risk.
“We need to have a good mix of a top-down policy change as well as bottom-up technology solutions,” added Seema Mehra, VP and Business Head, Energy and Resources – UK, Europe, and ANZ, TCS.
Digital technology and experience win out
Panelists agreed that digital technology is key to helping the energy sector along the way.
Alongside developing renewables, oil and gas company Neptune Energy is using a two-pronged approach to decarbonize its value chain, as its Chief Information Officer Kaveh Pourteymour explained. Electrifying all the company’s assets is one of them. “The other lever is digitization and digital technologies.”, he says.
In shipping, digital technologies enable the companies to increase the efficiency of operating existing ships, for example, to reduce fossil fuel consumption, Nial McCollam,said. This is particularly important as the industry needs to manage the “transition to clean fuels that don’t exist at scale commercially,” McCollam highlighted.
Another factor in energy transition is that it does not happen in a vacuum—new technologies can be retrofitted to make older ships more fuel-efficient, and existing oil and gas technologies can be repurposed as energy transition technologies.
In addition, the fossil fuel industries can contribute a great amount of expertise to energy transition, for example, in areas such as carbon capture and storage, Neptune’s Pourteymour stressed.
The importance of people
That innovation must pull everyone with a relevant background was also stressed upon by K Ananth Krishnan, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, TCS. “It is about getting into the right partnerships, the right ecosystems, and let everybody play to their strengths,” he said.
But critically, the public must also be included in the energy transition, as its success relies on all of us to ‘do our bit’. TCS’ Seema Mehra pointed to electric vehicles as an example. While they have seen increased adoption in the developed world, they have yet to achieve the same in emerging economies. “If we are to make it together and solve the issues, people also need to actively participate in this journey,” she added.