Posts Tagged ‘decarbonization’

The Low Carbon Energy Revolution – Challenges and Solutions for the Transition

The most rapid and radical change in energy production and use in history is underway. Market signals for low carbon energy generation are abundant, if not definitive, and every sector including power generation, transport, buildings, industry and agriculture are in transition. Driving this transition is the consistently lowering cost of renewable energy technology, and the imperative to lower and eventually zero-out carbon altogether to meet the goals of the Paris Accords.

According to the International Energy Agency, “Limiting the global mean temperature rise to below 2°C with a probability of 66% would require an energy transition of exceptional scope, depth and speed. Energy-related CO2 emissions would need to peak before 2020 and fall by more than 70% from today’s levels by 2050. The share of fossil fuels in primary energy demand would halve between 2014 and 2050 while the share of low-carbon sources, including renewables, nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage (CCS), would more than triple worldwide to comprise 70% of energy demand in 2050.”

Deemed the “The Low Carbon Law,” carbon emissions will need to decrease by half every decade until 2040. That transition timeline requires

essential and intertwined changes in regulatory policies, infrastructure, technologies and fuels, markets and institutions, all happening concurrently. The transition is either evolutionary or revolutionary with a high degree of disorder depending on your vantage point.

With competing clean technologies riding the steep cost decrease slope, the energy transition is happening quickly and extemporarily, as the ship lacks any semblance of a rudder. Ambiguity is high and increasing, and the stakes could not be higher or less clear for incumbent market leaders.

The lack of regulatory frameworks in particular puts market participants, particularly fossil fuel related companies in a high-risk dilemma – jump now, assuming the regulation will come, continue with current products that may become stranded assets in the near future or adopt some middle-of-the-road strategy.

A mining company that recently engaged me to guide them in low carbon transition strategies illustrates this ambiguity vividly. The company has IP and extensive capabilities that may be transferable to solar, hydrogen, storage and high frequency data communications among others. Determining the new models and technologies to pursue, when to jump, and what the near-term consequences are, both economic and culturally, comprise the strategic and tactical questions we are working through the “ambiguity fog”. Fighting the business as usual momentum concurrently is a daily part the effort. Balancing these opposing forces in the company is the key to a successful transition and diversification effort.

This is the first of four posts looking at the following challenges facing oil & gas, mining, electric utilities, and their support supply chain partners as they look at potential strategies for the energy transition. Each post will feature an industry leader working in the field of the challenge examined.

The Challenges

  1. Management & Culture – By what method do you establish a new culture that rewards risk taking, innovation, and learning completely new ways to operate? Can leadership adapt and change to lead the transition in an entrepreneurial manner while integrating the effort into 50+ years of successfully managing an entirely monolithic company and product?

2. New Business Model Risk – What is the winning model for a given company, considering their historical core expertise, technical capability, intellectual property and market reach? As with a startup, it can be catastrophic to go down a particular path only to find it’s not the right strategy.

3. Margin Parity – How do you match the relatively high margins enjoyed in the oil & gas industry, for example, compared to lower margins (at this point in market development) in renewables? How do you launch a new low carbon offering with accretive profits from day one rather than sustaining losses which impact earnings in each quarter, triggering investor anxiety?

4. Timing – How quickly is a particular market transitioning? What if the launch is too early or too late? With quarterly pressure to produce, will the investor community be support the effort?

Regulatory Risk lurks in the background and is present in all the above challenges. For example, lack of a common mechanism for C02 value creates price confusion as subsidies for the fossil fuel industry are still highly out of balance with the renewable sector. Erosion of regulatory certainty, where a newly established requirement is abruptly changed, is still fresh in the memory banks  (e.g. Spain’s retroactive withdrawal of renewable energy subsidies for granted and operating generation facilities).

The Culture and Management Imperative

The first of four follow-on posts will focus on the Management & Culture challenge which has been described by some industry leaders driving the energy transition as the most important factor to work through before accelerating any diversification and transition effort.

Amy Steindler, an emotional intelligence coach for corporations and executives, and President of EQ Insights, will illuminate how emotional intelligence training and coaching are at the heart of successful corporate incubation of a new innovative group.

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