Humanising energy and the link to the COP-26 race-to-zero agenda

18th December 2020

ViewsGlobalMiddle East and North Africa

Humanising energy and the link to the COP-26 race-to-zero agenda

The World Energy Council Secretary General and CEO, Dr Angela Wilkinson, gave the keynote address to the Energy Strategies Summit. Below are her remarks.

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Good afternoon.

I would like to thank His Excellency Dr. Hassan Diab, the Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut and the Women Engineers Committee for the honour of the opening keynote of the Energy Strategies Summit – Mapping the Future.

Let me also shout out to our Lebanese member community and committee. You are a bright point in our community. Welcome back into action after all difficulties you have experience in Beirut this year.

I will focus these keynote remarks on strategies for humanising energy and the link to the COP-26 race to zero agenda.

Let me start by recalling the origins of the World Energy Council. In 1924, we started up as the World Power Conference, when the world was recovering from the global influenza pandemic and about to face the Great Depression. Sounds familiar?

COVID-19 has been a brutal shock to all societies. It has also shown that individual actions have global impacts. 2021 is not just another year, it’s a new world.

The crisis has highlighted the importance of energy in our lives – for health, hospitals and fridges for vaccines and for convening digital events like this! Lockdown has triggered a widespread pattern of working from home and greater use of digital technology.

Crisis also reminds us all that energy is more than carbon – it’s a big story of human development and progress over centuries.  Energy is the ultimate connector of hopes and fears, of people and geography. And as the unevenness of crisis shows, the energy industry is not a single sector but a complex, interdependent system.

We have seen huge drops in demand for fossil fuels especially for transport and a shift in demand for power from industry and offices to homes. And whilst we should expect some permanent destruction of demand in some places, we must also prepare for the return of global energy demand growth. In fact, we should anticipate a tsunami of pent-up demand.

No crisis happens in a vacuum and the Covid-19 crisis impacts on an already stressed world energy system. Yet even as the world came to a stop - the lights have stayed on. And we have an experience of the new energy future – clear skies and quiet, uncongested city streets. Resilience has been tested and extended to include people and supply chains.

Recovery will not be easy – even with a vaccine. It cannot rely on wishful thinking, linear projections or increment improvement of what worked in the past. Any hope of transformation will involve the greatest financial capital reallocation in history. Billions of lives and hundreds of trillions of dollars are at stake.

And a new context of affordability and social justice is becoming crystal clear. A new social energy agenda is on the rise. It will involve new metrics for the ‘S’ in ESG reporting. An even bigger picture is the essential place to start if we really want to emerge from crisis - as stronger, connected energy societies and be successful in managing global energy transition together. The energy industry – our industry – is grappling with a new era of energy transition – energy for people and planet.

During the 24th World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi last October, we noted value generation is moving closer to the end user. We highlighted a shift in leadership mindset from supply-side thinking to demand-driven solutions and the rise of customer centricity. We added a fourth D to the three key global drivers of change we have been tracking for over a decade. The fours Ds are:

  • Decarbonisation – with the ambition of achieving a climate neutral energy system by 2050
  • Decentralisation – an accelerating pace of a distributed and renewable power generation
  • Digitalisation – which brings a step change in energy efficiency and process improvements
  • AND Disruption-as-usual, which highlights that the ways in which energy is being used, traded and transported are changing fast.

The new pattern of demand side disruptive innovation has emerged – it involves engaging effectively with the increasing diversity in energy – not only technologies and energy mix, but also diversity in people, skills and business models.

We maintain our pragmatic position that managing energy transition as a balancing act - there is no one size fits all solution or and regional transition pathways differ. The ‘how to’ secure clean, affordable and reliable energy transition for Africa or Asia may not be right for Europe – and vice versa.

Lebanon, and the Eastern Med region also need to prepare for new and different energy opportunities and challenges.

Societies need us to help them join the dots. That is why we created the World Energy Trilemma Index over a decade ago. This practical and objective tool is designed to help leaders across the world to balance the need for energy security, energy equity and affordability, and env sustainability – and as they strive to build and transition their underlying energy systems.

Lebanon ranks 81st globally. Due to the current low diversity of energy supplies and electricity sources and high dependence on imports it has a relatively lower security score. Lebanon maintains a particularly strong Equity performance and consistent improvements in the Sustainability index.

As we have done for nearly 100 years, our members across nearly 90 countries have been sharing their experiences, actions and outlooks through this crisis. Our regular worldwide surveys reveal different and shifting priorities for action.

Crisis has added a new emphasis on resilience - which extends to include people and supply chains - and even bigger hopes about a role for clean hydrogen and flexible storage solutions. There are different perspectives on how long it will take to recover from peak crisis and the what the ‘next normal’ will look like.

Societies want their leaders to building back better! Better is not a colour ‘green’ – it is a colourful blend of solutions that deliver more affordable energy, wider and better quality access and climate neutrality.

Even with hopes of a vaccine, uncertainty will be the hallmark of next year. To help leaders with the essential job of recovery we are using a set of four Covid crisis scenarios to 2024 - they are called Rewind, Pause, Fast Forward and Re-Record. Each scenario explores three critical uncertainties - about ambition, trust and ability to control the virus – and how these might combine and impact recovery.

We have used these scenarios to build the first World Energy Transition Radar which decodes real time signals from across the world. The global radar snapshot show that more signals for two highly transformative scenarios – fast-forward and re-record. The regional radar snapshots reveal a different pattern to recovery, reflecting different starting points, circumstances and ambitions.

During our World Energy Week in October, we used these forward-thinking tools to help leaders better understand the future through a simulation of their decisions, rather than relying on forecasting and projections. 

By convening neutral ground and open futures dialogues we can better inform the ‘how to’ design new options, ‘how to’ stress-test recovery plans and ‘how to’ better prepare post-pandemic strategies.

Innovation, cooperation – and an open mind - remain the keys to successful recovery and transformation. Innovation is not the same as progress. Cooperation extends beyond governments and global energy firms to effectively engage many and more diverse people and communities in new energy ecosystems.

That’s why in 2021 we will like our pragmatic humanising energy agenda to the ‘race to zero’ agendas of the COP-26, the new Biden administration, and the growing numbers of nations, blue-chip companies, cities and local communities. The world will need many and more diverse clean and net zero carbon energy solutions and investment opportunities.

As we move into 2021, we will focus on three ‘how to’ priorities:

  1. Affordable Pace – achieving a more human pace in the race to net zero
  2. Progress Resilience – recognising diversity to achieve recovery
  3. Engage People Power – resetting market design for the shift to customer centricity

We can – and have a responsibility to - help societies to understand that new and inspiring models of human and economic development – digital, circular, clean and just – will require more energy and quality energy access for all – at least in the medium term.

Let me conclude.

I believe we need more energy to stop fuelling fear of the future. Societies are still reaching for the stars and we need a new narrative of humanising energy so that no one is left behind – as part of a bigger story of energy for humanity. This is the theme of the St Petersburg World Energy Congress in 2022: Energy for Humanity.

I also believe it takes a whole community to build and change an entire energy system. I know that WE – the world energy community - can engaging regional- technological and social diversity as a strength to inform more affordable solutions for reducing, reusing, recycling and removing carbon emissions in the race to zero.

I am truly grateful for the commitment and contributions of our Lebanese member community and the Lebanon member committee - who will host World Energy Week in Lebanon in 2023. I am confident it will be a moment of celebration of all that the world energy community will have achieved together in humanising energy and inspiring new possibilities for humanity.

Thank you.

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